Sunday Census: Geoff Ward, Taylor Hall, and the playoffs

Welcome back to The Sunday Census. Throughout the week, The Win Column will be posing topical and intriguing polls on Twitter (@wincolumnblog) to gauge the fan-base’s stance on pressing issues. Want to make sure your opinion is taken into effect? Vote in the polls, start a debate, and propose alternative suggestions on the polls!

It is with great sadness that we announce the end of Geoff Ward’s undefeatedness as an NHL head coach. The Flames were finally beaten for the first time in eight games last night by the Carolina Hurricanes, and Ward’s record now sits at 7-1-0. His seven straight wins to start his head coaching career is the best in almost 20 years in the NHL, and he ranks second all time in the NHL in terms of points percentage as a coach. Of course, he’ll lose more games between now and when he retires, but there’s no doubting how impressive his start has been.

The Flames have had three coaches in the past three years; the head coaching gig in Calgary doesn’t come with a ton of job security. Still, this Flames team isn’t like versions past. This one can win. This one can play with the big dogs of the league. So, with Ward righting the ship, so to speak, our question this week was what it would take for Ward to shed the interim tag from his title.

Most respondents said that the only way Ward would be able to secure the head coaching job was to advance past the first round of the playoffs. It’s a lofty bar considering the Flames have only done that once since their run to the final in 2004 when they were robbed of the Cup by the Lightning. (Everyone knows it was in.)

It’s probably a little unfair to set the expectation for Ward higher than the team has performed in 15 years. The second most popular answer, making the playoffs, seems more reasonable. The Flames had to go on a seven game heater just to re-enter the playoff conversation. They followed up that streak with a 4-0 shutout loss on home ice. This team still has a lot of work to do and a playoff spot isn’t a sure thing by any means. If Ward is able to take a team that was sixth in the Pacific to the playoffs, that’s probably enough to earn himself the job.

However, I would put money on the least popular answer being the right one: it doesn’t matter how the team does this season, the Flames will still do a full coaching search in the offseason. Brad Treliving isn’t one to keep stones unturned. Yes, Ward was one of his interviewees a few years ago. And yes, Ward has shown strong results early on. But after a season that didn’t start the way it should have, and there still being a ton of runway left, it would be prudent to make sure the best person is hired for the job, and it didn’t go to the next man up, if you will.

It wouldn’t be surprising to see Ward behind the bench for game one next season, but if he is the head coach, it’ll be out of merit, not necessity.

Big things are happening. Taylor Hall, one of the most prized pending free agents, was healthy scratched for precautionary reasons for the Devils’ game against the Coyotes last night. This is the kind of move teams will make near the trade deadline, when they know they’re trading a high value player and don’t want to risk an injury. It’s uncommon to see this happen in December. Hall is a bonafide elite player in the NHL though, so it does make sense that the Devils want to keep him bubble wrapped until a trade is finalized.

Hall has been linked to Calgary for, well, since day one. He was born in Calgary and played his minor hockey here before moving to Ontario for junior. He’s a bonafide elite player in the NHL. He’s fresh off a 93 point season that saw him win the Hart Trophy in 2018, has averaged 0.91 points per game over his NHL career, and has worn a letter in seven of his past eight seasons. He would be a game changing add for any team in the league; it’s no surprise that there are plenty of teams lining up for his services.

However, the kicker with Hall is his durability. Over his 10 year NHL career, he’s suited up for 592 games. On average, Hall misses 23 games each season (almost 30%). As well, he’s on an expiring contract and rumour has it he could command eight figures on July 1.

Even with several higher priced assets expiring at the end of this season, the Flames simply cannot afford to pay another left winger big money, especially when the price tag could start with a 10. Still, if they wanted to load up for a big playoff run, Hall would be a terrific add. Our question was simply: who would you trade one-for-one for Hall?

Johnny Gaudreau has been linked to Hall trades for quite a while now, but as John pointed out a few weeks ago, it’s a very bad idea to trade Gaudreau in the first place. We’re not even going to entertain any more reasons why the Flames shouldn’t do that.

The most popular answer, which I think is the correct one, was Noah Hanifin. We’ve talked about Hanifin at length a number of times, and signs pointed to him having a breakout season. That really hasn’t happened yet. In fact, Hanifin is on pace to finish below the 30 point mark for the first time in three years. At this point, he might even be on the outside looking in on the Flames’ protection list for the Seattle expansion draft, and might not be a Flame in a couple years time anyway.

It’s tough though, because Hanifin is still a second paring defenseman who is just 22 and has over 350 games of NHL experience under his belt. It’s a shame his progression has been glacial the past couple years, but you really want to think he’ll take a few more steps forward over the course of his contract. He’s very Bennett-esque that way: you want to see more out of him and he shows flashes of it every once in a while, it’s just not frequent enough to trust that’s what he really is.

Maybe Hanifin this season is exactly what Hanifin will be his entire career. If that’s the case, he probably doesn’t fit the bill for a swap with Hall, especially if the team receiving Hall wants a guarantee he’ll sign an extension. Still though, I’d guess if presented with the offer, the Flames would definitely consider it, but would decline.

There are a bunch of reasons why adding Hall to the Flames doesn’t make a ton of sense. The Flames are loaded on the left side and adding Hall won’t really fill a gap they have right now, he’s not a durable player, there’s no guarantee he’ll sign an extension, and if he does sign it could completely cripple the team cap wise for years to come.

Hanifn for Hall is definitely better than Gaudreau or Sean Monahan or – God forbid – Rasmus Andersson, but I just can’t see it happening. Who knows though, Hall has been traded for a middling defender before. Why can’t it happen again, right?


Want to be a part of the conversation next time around? Follow us on Twitter @wincolumnblog and be sure to keep a look out for our polls throughout the week.

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