As much as we love to think we know everything that is happening with the team we cheer for, the fact of the matter is we know nothing. The internal workings of the team at all levels are almost completely unknown to us, and we’re largely in the dark in terms of what the team is thinking, what their plans are, and what they want to do on a daily basis. Locker room concerns, management plans, player disagreements or otherwise; there are countless facets of the game that fans simply do not know about.
However, even though we do not posit to know everything, it’s still fun to ponder what goes on behind closed doors at the ‘Dome. And, heading into the trade deadline, the Flames are likely juggling dozens of options they may or may not take to improve the team now, and in the future. Here are four big ones that are probably weighing on the minds of Brad Treliving and his management team.
What are the timelines on injured flames?
The Flames have been bitten by the injury bug of late, with Mark Giordano, Travis Hamonic, and Derek Ryan joining Juuso Valimaki on the injured reserve. We do have some information on the status of Ryan and Giordano. Ryan is back practicing, albeit on the fifth line in rushes, and Giordano is back travelling with the team. However, the team has been mum on Hamonic, who is currently listed as week to week.
Michael Stone has been serviceable as a middle pairing defenceman, but with Alexander Yelesin and Brandon Davidson playing on the third pairing, relying on these three is a far cry from the stability that Hamonic provides on a nightly basis.
If Hamonic’s week-to-week prognosis stretches through to the end of the season, will the team be able to keep pace in the Pacific Division? If they think they can hold out for the rest of the season with this defense corps, then maybe the team holds out on picking up a defender at the deadline. If not, it seems plausible to expect the team to look for a depth defenceman to add to their roster.
On top of that, is there a chance that Valimaki could rejoin the team before the end of the season? He started skating at the end of January and though he still has a ways to go, he appears to be on track with his recovery from a knee injury.
But even if he ends up feeling well enough to resume playing this season, the Flames will likely send him to Stockton on a conditioning stint before he plays any games with the big club. It could take a few weeks of game action before he is NHL ready. Whether that is before or after the end of the season is what the Flames are probably more aware of than us.
Complicating things further is the expansion implications. If he plays this season, he will have to be protected by the team in the expansion draft. This greatly complicates things for the team. Perhaps shutting down Valimaki, regardless of his progress, is the smarter long term move.
The health of Giordano, Hamonic, and Valimaki are huge factors in what Treliving will do at the deadline.
are the flames comfortable with the top 6?
Herein lies the big question at forward. When the Flames rotated their lines and put Elias Lindholm at centre, the big question was who would be the third player on the wing with Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau. It’s probably accurate to say the team really didn’t have an answer to that question, and now that line has been reunited, despite Lindholm excelling at center.
In the nine games they have played together since February 1st, they are just below 50% CF, but are creating more scoring chances and high danger chances than their opposition. This is a welcome change from the first half of the season.
The second line of Matthew Tkachuk, Mikael Backlund and Andrew Mangiapane has dazzled of late. With Mangiapane picking up his first career hat-trick, and Backlund ending his scoring drought, this line has been dynamic recently, and has been one of the reasons that the Flames have been better this month.
The question that the Flames management will have to determine is if are they happy with this top six. It is no secret that the team has been looking for a top-six right-handed shot to play alongside Gaudreau and Monahan, thus allowing Lindholm to play down the middle, but what would the price be for this?
Lindholm is a versatile player who has been one of the brightest stars for the team this season, but is it better for the team to have him play alongside Tkachuk and Mangiapane rather than Gaudreau and Monahan?
If the Flames do add a right winger that clicks with Gaudreau and Monahan, perhaps Backlund can move down to play with Dube and Lucic. The combinations are interesting, but it would mean re-tooling the whole roster top to bottom. In a crucial stretch drive to the playoffs, do the Flames have the ability to experiment with their line combinations this much?
More importantly, what would the cost be to acquire a player to play top-line minutes? The Flames have been linked to Kyle Palmieri of late, as he is a right-handed winger and has one more year left at $4.65 million per season.
That being said, the price for a player with term is always higher than one without; Blake Coleman just fetched a first rounder last week. On top of that, Palmieri has a modified no-trade clause in his contract, which means he may not accept a trade to Calgary in the first place.
The decisions on forward are almost more murky than those on the blueline.
What is the plan for the off-season?
Leaving aside Mangiapane and Oliver Kylington who will be RFAs at the end of this season, the Flames will have two major pieces that will become UFAs: Hamonic and T.J. Brodie. It seems unlikely the Flames will re-sign both players as the cost would be more than they could afford.
Ideally, they will re-sign one of the two but even that is a up in the air. Hamonic has stated that he will not look at a contract renewal at least until the off-season, and there has been little word on Brodie, who many fans feel is surplus to requirements.
Currently leading up to the deadline, the market for defencemen is red hot. The Vegas Golden Knights acquired Alec Martinez from the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for two second round picks, Marco Scandella was traded to St. Louis from Montreal for a second and a conditional fourth round pick, and Brenden Dillon moved from San Jose to Washington for a second and a conditional third round pick.
A second round pick plus another pick or prospect is likely the market currently, and if the Flames do not believe they will be able to keep one or both of these players, is it worth moving them for assets as opposed to losing them for nothing?
The risk in this move is clear – the Flames become a clearly worse team without Hamonic or Brodie. No matter what way you look at it, none of Stone, Davidson, or Yelesin are able to do what Hamonic or Brodie do for this team. And while both players have their flaws, they are dependable, veteran pieces of this team’s defense corps.
If the Flames feel that they can roll with the defense they have now (ideally with a healthy Giordano), it might be worth exploring the trade market for one or both of these guys.
Do the flames see themselves as a playoff team?
Fundamentally, this is the most important question. Does the Flames management look at their team and see one that can compete for the Cup this season? If the answer is yes, the question shifts to if they they in a position to move assets to set themselves up better for success. Whether that is a pick, a prospect, or roster player, what moves are the Flames willing to make to maximize their chances of a long playoff run?
However, if the team looks inwards and says this is not their year, then maybe it makes more sense for the team to sell off assets for draft picks, and re-tool their depth and defence in order to be more successful in the years to come.
There appears to be an ownership mandate to make the postseason. It makes sense with how the team is constructed, and regardless of where they are in the standings right now, if that’s the goal of ownership then Treliving will do everything in his power to achieve it. It makes sense, too.
With Monahan Guadreau, Lindholm, Tkachuk, and Rittich very much in the primes of their careers, it feels like the window for the Flames to compete for the Cup with this roster is right now.
Treliving has a storied history at the deadline. He’s not afraid to swing for the fences, whether he hits a home run or not, and he’s been a big player almost every year. With so many roads to choose, the Flames are probably one of the most interesting teams to watch going into Monday’s deadline.
Buckle up Flames fans, we’re in for a ride!
Photo credits: Getty Images