And Now For Something Completely Different

A changing of the guard in Banff has grown excitement around the team.
by Ed Whalen | November 26, 2020, 6:00 PM ET

3 years ago, The Banff Rockies were born. One of a set of twins (the other The Toronto Metropolitans) from the former Winnipeg Falcons and Toronto Titans. At that point the Rockies GM decided that he did not have the guns to go for it and planned a 5 year rebuild with the pieces he would be able to acquire in the 2017 dispersal draft. Some of those pieces were immediately moved for younger players, prospects and draft picks. For those first 3 years, the on ice product reflected this exodus of talent and was a brutal collection of cheap unrestricted free agents and not ready for prime time youth. The results were terrible and Banff finished in the bottom 5 of the league all 3 years including a last place inaugural season. The small glimmers of hope in that dark period came in the form of future hall of fame goaltenders. Henrik Lundqvist and Carey Price each played a season for the Rockies. But even they couldn’t right the ship. The team was so bad they finished dead last in the 100th episode all time power rankings. This was devastating to the Rockies and GM Constable decided at that point the next year would be a little different, the rebuild would need a little kick start.

 

Over those years however, the Rockies continued to pick up more early draft picks and more prospects. The higher level talent was allowed to grow on the GHA Jasper Avalanche and get a chance at some playoff experience. Players who were originally drafted by the Rockies in the dispersal draft that are still around today include top line winger Kyle Connor, third line center Roope Hintz, fourth line winger Ivan Barbashev, 3rd d pairing Mikhail Sergachev, GHA top line center Adam Gaudette and GHA second line center Henrik Borgstrom. The team still rosters 11 more players that were picked up in that dispersal draft. 

 

During the 19-20 season, the Rockies began the slow process of picking up some players that would begin to help them in the 20-21 season. In the 2019 free agency, the Rockies added a 4 year contract for goalie Antti Raanta and veteran defenceman Andrej Sekera was FPed to a team friendly 2 year $1 mil AAV deal. Some picks and prospects started to go the other way during the season. Players like Connor Brown, Tyler Toffoli and Derek Ryan were added mid season in the hopes of some decent improvement and for the most part, this came true. The team went into the 2020 offseason with a half a team. Some luck would help them turn that into three quarters of a team right before the draft.

 

Each year the Rockies spent very little on payroll. Thus turning a starting $10 million bankroll into a league leading $146 million before the 2020 free agency. This however, changed in a big hurry. After the team lucked out and won the 2020 SICHL Draft lottery, moving from 3rd to the 1st overall pick in the Entry Draft (Alexis Lafreniere), the team traded that pick to acquire Aleksander Barkov and Esa Lindell (and as some have said, thus angering the lottery gods). This team would have to not rely on the lottery again. Now with a top line center to go along with a first line winger, a couple of middle 6 wingers, a few top 4 defencemen and 2 1b goalies, the team decided they had a chance to be competitive, 2 years ahead of schedule. It was then that the Rockies bank started a quick descent. Banff hit free agency with vengeance. Shock radiated around the league when TJ Oshie was signed for 27 million dollars. This was quickly forgotten about when Tuukka Rask was paid almost double that, but the Rockies didn’t stop there, spending $80 million in free agency. On top of Oshie, the team added Dustin Brown, Zdeno Chara, Andy Greene, Alex Stalock and a couple of minor league pieces.  

 

Throughout the offseason, Banff and Boston had many talks surrounding potential 21 UFA David Perron. After game 1 of the regular season, the two teams reached an agreement that sent newly acquired Brogan Rafferty, prospect Maxim Cajkovic and a 3rd round pick for the feisty winger. Thus deepening Banff’s wing depth. The team is not a favorite for the Continental Cup, but it definitely has a shot at the playoffs this year. A far cry from the unfortunate reputation this team has built. Young players like Nick Suzuki, Denis Gurianov, Miro Heiskanen and Rasmus Andersson were either drafted by Banff or were acquired by trade in the past 3 years and will be counted on to play some important minutes this year. All in the hopes of helping this franchise to their first ever playoff berth. 

 

The issue the team now has is the high number of UFA’s it will have at the end of this season. The spending the team did this offseason is not sustainable. The team is hoping that a number of its players who are on the cusp of breaking through will have a strong year of development and be able to replace a number of these 1 year deals. Kirby Dach, Joel Farabee, Adam Gaudette and Matthew Benning will all be playing on the Jasper Avalanche this year and GM Constable is hoping they show enough improvement to take a few of those high priced veterans spots next year. Rasmus Andersson is currently the 7th defenceman on the Rockies, but is not eligible to be sent down. He has been trending upward over the last few seasons and the team is very hopeful he will be able to step into a top 6 role on the blueline next season.

 

The team feels they have mixed not just the right amount of veterans with the youth, but the right ones in particular. “We’re very excited about our transition year, but we hold no visions of grandeur.” remarked GM Constable. “Any success we have this year we feel is a bonus. Most importantly, we are excited to give the fans a treat after their extreme loyalty over the past 3 years. We hope the product on the ice satisfies their patience and thirst for excellence.”

 

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