Minutes felt like hours over the course of the NHL Draft weekend for Calgary Flames fans, who had to wait until the 105th pick to finally feel relevant compared to other teams. Of course Brad Treliving had quite the trick up his sleeve that sent a shockwave through the hockey word, and broke the hearts of many Calgarians. Dougie Hamilton, the prized future number one defenceman was shipped out of town to the Carolina Hurricanes. He wasn’t alone, as forward Micheal Ferland and defensive prospect Adam Fox were packaged in the deal as well, with forward Elias Lindholm and defenseman Noah Hanifin being the return.
The initial reaction was of course pure disbelief, as Treliving had just denied the rumors of a potential Hamilton trade, citing red wine as the catalyst behind the rumblings, less than a day before. Like in Boston nearly three years ago to the day, where there was smoke surrounding Hamilton there was fire, and he is now a member of the Hurricanes. During his tenure as a Flame, trade rumors seemed to be following him at every step, the writing may have been the wall for a long time.
Still, the trade stings. How could the 26 year old RHD who led all NHL defenseman in scoring last season be moved? Hamilton may never have been used efficiently under Glen Gulutzan, but he was still able to excel in almost every statistical category. Ferland was coming off his first 20 goal season and Fox was one of the organizations highest valued prospects. It’s very easy to say that the Flames lost this trade when looking at it from a pure Flames hockey standpoint. The Flames gave up more pieces than the Hurricanes did, and definitely gave up the better player in Hamilton.
All that being said, and even though it may be the unpopular opinion, there are reasons to be optimistic about Saturday’s blockbuster trade. Right now the team may appear to be on the way to rock bottom, but patience is key with this trade.
Reason #1 – Untapped Potential
The clear reason to be excited about this trade is purely from an age perspective. Lindholm and Hanifin are both former fifth overall picks from 2013 and 2015, respectively, and neither have hit their prime.
Hanifin, the younger of the two players at 21, sits first in number of games played (239) and second in points amongst defensemen in his draft class. When compared to Hamilton’s first 239 games played, here are how the numbers stack up:
Hamilton has the clear edge in terms of offensive production. Both players possess a similar skill set in terms of skating abilities, but Hamilton was always projected to be much more of an offensive minded defender. Hanifin however, played 239 games over the course of three seasons, while it took Hamilton around 3.75 seasons to reach the same number of games played.
When comparing each of the players’ 21 year old campaigns, there are several interesting similarities.
|21 yr Season||Goals||Assists||Points||PIM||CF%||SCF%||HDCF%|
Hamilton may have generated more offense during the 2014/15 season, but Hanifin held the edge in terms of advanced statistics. Last season, Hamilton had the benefit of being paired with Mark Giordano, and the duo formed one of the best pairings in the entire NHL. Hanifin didn’t have the same luxury though, normally partnered with Trevor Van Reimsdyk who is not nearly the player Giordano is.
Hanifin was able to significantly improve his offensive production this past season, and if he is able to follow the same trajectory, he could be well on his way to becoming a top pairing defenseman himself. He may not ever be the same player Hamilton is right now, but with Hanifin has a very high ceiling and could be a welcomed surprise as soon as a couple years down the road.
Moving towards the forward exchange, Lindholm was the player taken immediately before Sean Monahan in the 2013 draft, and is also 23 years of age. Although Monahan has him beat in statistical categories, Lindholm is no slouch either, as he sits fifth in points and tied for second in games played from his draft class. He is three years younger than Ferland and plays a much more complete two way game. Last season’s stats for both Lindholm and Ferland are very similar:
Ferland had his best season scoring 20 goals, and he may never eclipse that total. Lindholm has yet to hit his stride. His career high is 17 goals in a season, but he has always been much more of a distributor. Ferland’s totals are likely inflated due to playing a majority of the season on a line with Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau, whereas Lindholm was not given the same consistent opportunity alongside Carolina stars Sebastian Aho, Jeff Skinner, and Teuvo Teravainen.
Lindholm is also a more valuable player than Ferland purely from a positional standpoint. Lindholm is a natural right wing with the ability to play center, a trait that is uncommon these days. Lindholm is probably the better player already, and may even be better from an offensive standpoint once he plays beside Gaudreau and Monahan. Even if he doesn’t last on the top line, he will definitely play in the top six, a role that Ferland struggled to hold down his entire career.
Hanifin and Lindholm still have great potential and a gigantic opportunity ahead of them in Calgary. Both players will be matched with linemates and partners who should be able to increase their production as a whole.
Reason #2 – Team Control and Cap Situation
Hamilton’s contract is a bargain, that is a simple fact. With him under contract for the next three seasons at $5.75M it provides amazing value for a budget team like Carolina. Ferland has one more season at $1.75M before he becomes a UFA and will be in line for a raise. Fox, as a college player, decided not to turn pro and return to play at Harvard next season. There were serious concerns that Fox would sign with the Flames after his senior year and it was beginning to seem like an inevitability that he would walk in free agency.
Hanifin and Lindholm are both RFA’s and are in need of new deals. Hanfin is coming off his ELC and is in clearly line for a raise after a promising start to his NHL career. Lindholm is one contract ahead, as he is finishing his first bridge deal that paid him $5.4M over two seasons. He is also due for a raise. With $24M+ in cap space right now, getting both players on long term deals for under $10M AAV combined would bode well for the future of the team. They may command more money than Hamilton and Ferland did last season, but over the hopeful term of their deals, it will be worth it. The Flames will still have enough cap space to fill out their roster in the offseason, and maybe make a splash on July 1.
More importantly, with both Hanifin and Lindholm being as young as they are, they are guaranteed to be under team control for the next two to five years, regardless of their new contracts. That type of security will allow the organization to better build around such a young talented core group of players. The guarantee that the duo will be around for the foreseeable future most likely added to the acquisition cost.
Reason #3 – Helping Positional Needs
The Flames were in desperate need for a top line RW, it was on the top of their off-season to do list. Whatever way you look at it, they have found that player in Lindholm. Lindolm will most likely be playing on the right side with Monahan and Gaudreau, according to Peters. Frankly this top line is already more appealing that it was all last season. Lindholm not only brings his play making abilities to the line, but his defensive prowess should allow for Gaudreau’s defensive holes not to be taken advantage of as frequently. With Monahan’s defensive game also improving, having two solid players alongside Gaudreau will allow him to take his risks with minimal consequences. Additionally, Lindholm’s ability to play C will also help that line take specific draws, as well as slide down the lineup if needed.
It’s never good to lose a top RHD like Hamilton, but it’s safe to assume the organization wants TJ Brodie back on the right side of Giordano. The second pairing last season of Travis Hamonic and Brodie never worked, but perhaps the projected Hamonic – Hanifin one will. Brodie’s game diminished last season, but perhaps pairing him with Giordano again could be the change he needs.The defensive depth chart does look weaker on paper at the moment, but last season it failed to live up to high expectations going into the season. With so many young defensive prospects in the system, the removal of two players should make the distribution of these players easier moving forward.
Reason #4 – Coaching Fit
When Gulutzan was brought in to coach the Flames at the start of the 2016-17 season, it was clear that there would be a learning curve for the players. It unfortunately took the team many months to adjust to the new system and for some it never really clicked. Bill Peters coaches a somewhat similar style of play as Gulutzan: possession heavy, faceoff focused, and an emphasis on discipline. Having two players who have already operated in this exact system for the past three plus seasons is a considerable asset. This isn’t to say that this will cure the issues that plagued the Flames under Gulutzan, but having two core players assist the rest of the team during transition isn’t a bad thing.
Hanifin and Lindholm are extremely disciplined players after playing under Peters the last few years. In fact, last season alone, Hamilton took 32 minor penalties whereas Hanifin and Lindholm took a combined 17.
Reason #5 – The “Calgary” and “Off-Ice” Factors
Finally, there begs the question if all three players wanted to stay in Calgary long term. From Treliving’s comments after the trade occurred, it was clear that Fox did not desire to sign a contract in Calgary after his college career was completed. It’s possible other teams around the league were aware of this issue, therefore making Fox less of a valuable piece to trade for the Flames. It is tough to see a college free agent not sign with the team that drafted him, so if Fox was the piece that Treliving needed to include for the deal to happen, perhaps it was better to package him now rather than wait for Fox to leave on his own.
Hamilton always seemed to be the scapegoat for a lot of issues in Calgary which was simply unfair, and a lot of the trashing of his character after the trade was frankly offensive and uncalled for. We don’t know what the team dynamic was or what went on behind the scenes, but for whatever reason, Treliving felt that this move would benefit the team both on and off the ice and hopefully he is right. There is no telling what his thoughts are, but Treliving was quick to say this was more than just a hockey trade.
Ferland may have only played for one franchise and the Flames have been a huge support to him personally, but financially it may have made sense for him to go to another franchise after next season.
Off-ice matters didn’t made these three expendable, but it sure played a role in Treliving’s decision.
Moving Hamilton shouldn’t have been at the top of the Flames’ to do list during the off season, but now he is gone. It is completely fair to be discouraged with management’s decision, as Hamilton was an important asset to this team. The return may not have been as bountiful as once expected, especially with Ferland and Fox included, but the acquisition of Lindholm and Hanifin should not be overlooked. Both players provide this team with a potential bright future and were traded for players that may not have been in the long term plans for the team. It may hurt right now, but don’t be so quick to judge before the team hits the ice.