The Calgary Flames are in a tough spot right now. They are on the outside looking into the playoffs, and they need to go on a hot streak, one that hasn’t been seen by the Flames yet this season, if they want to even challenge for the fourth and final spot. The odds are against them, so the time to make a decision on what to do heading towards the NHL trade deadline is now.
Buy, hold, or sell?
As the deadline fast approaches, Brad Treliving has to make a decision. On one hand, the Flames not technically out of the playoffs yet, and with Darryl Sutter behind the bench, if he says the Flames have a chance and should add players, then Treliving might just work with that. On the other, logic and reason must come into play, and this season is as good as any for the Flames to retool their roster. Of course, there’s the real possibility that they do nothing and let the trade deadline come and go as well.
Between the three options, the majority of the votes from our Twitter poll suggested the Flames should sell; almost exactly five out of six voters thought as such.
Among the replies, one trade proposal suggested targeting Kevin Labanc, who’s signed through 2023-24 with a $4.725M cap hit. (All salary and contract info from CapFriendly.com). His salary also increases over each year. However, he’s a right-handed winger that could bring a lot of value to the Flames.
He’s probably not a target for the trade deadline, but most Flames fans know that Treliving does his due diligence on every player, and it wouldn’t be surprising if Treliving has a list of all right-handed wingers in the league with his phone set to notify them every time such a player dresses for a game.
In general, if the Flames buy, it likely won’t be happening in at the trade deadline anyway. The calibre of players available on top of the required quarantine just hamstrings the Flames’ playoff chances even more. As seen earlier this week, the Montreal Canadiens picked up Eric Staal from the Buffalo Sabres for a third and fifth round pick. That’s a reasonable play for Montreal as it doesn’t remove a roster player as the team is set to return to action.
For context, the Flames currently seven draft picks per year for the next three drafts, with one pick per round other than 2021 where they have Edmonton’s third round pick (thanks James Neal) and don’t have their own 4th round pick (traded last season to the Los Angeles Kings for Derek Forbort).
If the Flames decide to stay put without making major changes, then it’d be one of the least ideal outcomes. They don’t gain advantages immediately nor in the future, which is obviously not a good thing.
The team has stacked odds against them in making the playoffs. However, as it is for most teams, unless being eliminated from the postseason is a forgone conclusion, there’s always that glimmer of hope. Being on the bubble, the Flames face the dangerous position of making the wrong bet in either direction.
There’s a real possibility that they do nothing, work with what they have now and figure things out in the offseason. The problem though, is that they clearly have areas they can upgrade, and staying idle now when they have a handful of players coming off the books that might get reasonable returns would be disappointing to say the least.
The Flames have to be honest with themselves and see which players are going to remain a part of their future plans. Looking at the replies from the poll, here are the players that were suggested as players to move:
|Derek Ryan||$3.125 M||UFA|
|Sam Bennett||$2.55 M||RFA|
|David Rittich||$2.75 M||UFA|
|Joakim Nordstrom||$700 K||UFA|
|Brett Ritchie||$700 K||UFA|
|Mark Giordano||$6.75 M||Signed through 2021-22|
|Johnny Gaudreau||$6.75 M||Signed through 2021-22|
|Sean Monahan||$6.375 M||Signed through 2022-23|
|Mikael Backlund||$5.35 M||Signed through 2023-24|
Clearly, the Flames fan base is ready for a big change, and big changes don’t come without parting ways to some household names. Of course, there’s the starting UFA batch of players that the Flames can consider dealing. Most notably, Derek Ryan and David Rittich can probably provide good value for a team trying to make a run.
While Ryan was waived earlier in the season and went unclaimed (likely due to his sizable cap hit), he still plays solid hockey to a team looking to round out their depth. If the right deal can be made, the Flames can retain some of his salary while recouping some picks they might not have otherwise gotten.
Same goes for Rittich, who’s had an extremely light workload this season. His NHL track record is decent enough and his numbers so far this year aren’t too bad either. Depending on how he feels, he may want more playing time, which isn’t going to happen in Calgary anymore either.
As for Brett Ritchie and Joakim Nordstrom, it is highly unlikely that any team would make a trade for either of those players.
Getting to the RFA that the Flames should be shopping, it’s no other than Sam Bennett. His history with the Flames has been tragic, and it’s gotten particularly weird this season with the drama of scratching him in one game then playing him the next, all while speculations of a trade were running rampant.
Bennett’s likely not a player the Flames see as a core player anymore, and as disappointing as he has been with Calgary, the Flames have a bit of a bargaining chip in shopping him around. Bennett’s playoff performances are as good as they’ve ever been, and teams will likely inquire about him. It’d be in the Flames best interest to see what returns they can get on him while he’s still garnering interest, as the longer they hold, the worse it might get.
Finally, there’s the group of players still signed with the team for at least another season. This includes the two biggest names that have been linked to trades for the Flames in Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, but also their aging captain Mark Giordano and their long-time Selke-worthy skater in Mikael Backlund.
The Flames are obviously not going to be trading away all of these players, but they’re likely listening to offers, and if the right one comes along, it’d be reasonable to expect that none of these players are safe from the trade block.
While they are hard pills to swallow, if the Flames commit to the retool, then parting ways with at least one of these names might be the best course of action in setting them up for success for the next two years at least (while Sutter’s still head coach).
Off to the phones
Heading into the trade deadline, the Flames might end up being big sellers. With the current market, making trades would require some expect negotiations around the league. While Treliving is capable, finding the right suitors and maximising the returns here is the main focus. The Flames are underachieving, so selling low of their players would hurt. But this isn’t uncharted territory by any means, the Flames just have to play with the cards they were dealt.
Now’s the time to hang tight and watch Calgary pull out the burner phones, the Bluetooth headsets, the webcams, and the Zoom backgrounds. The Flames’ offices are are about to get busy.
Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images