Since coming to Calgary in a blockbuster trade in 2018, Noah Hanifin has been a mixed bag. Some stretches he looks like a legitimate top 4 defenceman, others he looks like a replacement level defenceman. Coming over to a new team as a 21-year-old former fifth overall pick, there were some heavy expectations which Hanifin has struggled to meet.
This has resulted in him being included in various trade rumors during his time in Calgary. The Flames were reportedly very close to moving him this year in a rumoured trade for Taylor Hall that the Devils eventually declined. Even though the trade never happened, it’s clear Brad Treliving is not afraid to move on from Hanifin.
Bruins insider Jimmy Murphy reported just last week that the Flames were listening to offers for Hanifin and were in discussions with the Bruins. Although unconfirmed, according to Murphy the deal would look something like Hanifin and Bennett for Debrusk and Carlo. Whether or not these rumours are true is up for debate, but it certainly isn’t a coincidence that Hanifin’s name continues to pop up in trade rumours.
Would moving Hanifin be a good move for the Flames, or would they be better off keeping him around given their lack of depth on defence right now? Let’s take a look.
Why They Shouldn’t
It’s no secret that the Flames are short on depth at defence right now. T.J Brodie, Travis Hamonic, Erik Gustafsson, Derek Forbort, and Michael Stone all walked away from the team this offseason, while Chris Tanev was the only proven NHL defenceman brought in. Alex Petrovic and Nikita Nesterov were signed but neither are established NHLers. Petrovic played last season in the AHL, while Nesterov plied his trade in the KHL.
Trading Hanifin would leave another big hole on defence, with the Flames likely not trusting either in a top four role at this point.
Here is what the Flames’ depth chart on defence looks like right now (Note: Both Kylington and Nesterov are left shots but can play both sides):
|Mark Giordano||Rasmus Andersson|
|Noah Hanifin||Chris Tanev|
|Juuso Valimaki||Oliver Kylington|
|Nikita Nesterov||Alex Petrovic|
|Connor Mackey||Alexander Yelesin|
It’s clear the Flames are pretty thin on defense right now, especially on the right side. Moving Hanifin means Juuso Valimaki would be forced into a top four role right away, with Nesterov, Oliver Kyhlington, or Conner Mackey as the bottom pair. Neither scenario is promising.
Yes, Juuso Valimaki has been tearing up in Liiga, but he also hasn’t played an NHL game in over one and a half years. Given he is coming off a major injury, asking Valimaki to jump immediately into the top four is a big ask.
Not only do they lack depth on defence, the Flames top four also has some pretty big question marks. Newly signed Chris Tanev has been declining for years and may be a fringe top four defenceman at this point. He’s also injury prone, having not played over 70 games since the 2014-15 season. Trading away Hanifin and having Tanev go down with an injury at a critical point in the year would be a disaster for the Flames.
Meanwhile Mark Giordano showed major signs of decline last season. Coming off his Norris trophy season, Giordano struggled throughout the year and especially in the playoffs. He has been the Flames number one defenceman for years now, and if he were to continue to decline next year, the Flames will need everyone else to pick up the slack. Moving Hanifin places even more pressure on the rest of the top four if Giordano continues to regress.
If the Flames were to move Hanifin, they would need to get a bona-fide top four defender back as part of the trade for it to make sense. They just have too many questions on the back end to be trading away an NHL defenceman and not get one back. There simply are not strong enough internal options available to consider making this move right now.
Another reason the Flames may want to give Hanifin a longer look is the fact Travis Hamonic is no longer around. There’s no hiding the fact the Hanifin and Hamonic pairing struggled last year, logging the worst CF% of any Flames pairing with over 100min together.
As the year went on, however, it became increasingly clear that Hamonic was the bigger issue on the pairing. While on the ice with Hamonic, Hanifin had a CF% of 49.53. However, apart from him his CF% jumped up to 51.31.
Hanifin’s next most common partner was Rasmus Andersson. While paired with Andersson, Hanifin played his best hockey of the season. The duo put up an impressive 51.85 CF% together. There’s no question Hanifin looked better alongside Andersson. He finished with the second-best CF% and GF% on the team among defenceman in the playoffs while paired with him.
That pairing was also the Flames best one in the playoffs. Giordano and Brodie struggled mightily putting up a dreadful 44.70 CF%, while Andersson and Hanifin had a still poor but better CF% of 47.48. The teams numbers as a whole were very poor in the playoffs, but having Andersson and Hanifin outplay Giordano and Brodie is certainly promising.
Given Hanifin’s success playing with Andersson last year it could be worth it for the team to try out this pairing again in a longer sample before deciding on Hanifin’s future with the team. If they can continue their play from last season it would be a big boost to the Flames defence core and make Hanifin an important part of the team.
Why They Should
Simply put Hanifin has been a disappointment since coming over to the Flames. Given his draft pedigree, age, and experience in the league when coming to Calgary there was optimism that he could continue to improve and reach his potential with the team.
He was expected to come to Calgary and be a high-end top four defenceman. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened and at this point it probably never will. Hanifin has shown flashes of being the player people expected him to be, however he often leaves you wanting much more. He was involved in some ugly plays this year that involved him getting walked around way too easily.
Overall Hanifin has been decidedly average thus far in his career. His career high in points is just 33 which he had during his first year in Calgary. While he is likely never going to be a high end offensive player, the problem is he is not that great on the defensive side either. Since coming to Calgary in 2018-19 his -0.79 relative CF% ranks him 124th among defenceman with at least 1000 minutes TOI. His relative xGF% of -0.39 over that time frame ranks him fifth out of six defenders with at least 1000 minutes TOI on the Flames, ahead of only Oliver Kylington.
He also isn’t showing any signs of improvement either. His 5v5 p/60 was just .70 last season which was the lowest of his career. He had a down year on both the defensive and offensive sides last season, and was out-chanced, out-shot, and out-scored while on the ice. In other words, the Flames were a worse team with him on the ice most of the time last season.
It’s clear Hanifin isn’t the player the Flames expected and with each passing year the chances of him reaching his potential go down. It may be in the Flames’ best interest for them to cut bait and trade Hanifin while he still has significant value before teams realize he isn’t the player they think he is.
Despite his subpar results so far in his career he still does hold some real value. Only 23 years old, Hanifin has played almost 400 NHL games already in his career. Experience like that at such a young age is something teams always covet.
Add in the fact he is signed to a reasonable $4.95 million AAV for the next 4 years and was a fifth overall pick just five years ago and you can see why teams still value him highly.
If Hanifin continues to play below average hockey, his value will only continue to decrease. Moving him now before his value continues to slide could be in the Flames best interest if they want to get significant value in return.
It would need to be the right trade, and they would need to get an NHL defenceman back as part of the deal. If the offer is right though, it could be hard for Treliving to turn it down.
So What Should The Flames Do?
Personally, I think moving Hanifin would be a good move for the Flames, but only if they get a very strong offer that includes an NHL defenceman coming back. I don’t think he will ever live up to his potential, and at this point is an average second pairing defenceman. He still holds real value in the eyes of other teams for the time being. The problem is, given the Flames’ situation at defence it will be difficult to find the right offer. They simply aren’t in a position to be moving an NHL defenceman and not get one back.
The Flames likely are not willing to go into the year with both Valimaki and Tanev in the top four. Sure, Hanifin has played some pretty subpar hockey over his career but he is still a top four NHL defenceman, which can’t be said about Kylington, Petrovic or Nesterov.
Perhaps as the year goes on if Valimaki looks great and pushes for a top four spot then Hanifin becomes more expendable. For now, it is probably in the teams’ best interest to keep him around unless someone presents Treliving an offer he can’t refuse.
Do you think it is worth looking to trade Noah Hanifin? Let us know below in the comments or on social media
Photo Credits: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
All numbers courtesy of NaturalStatTrick.com