With less than 20 games remaining in the season and the trade deadline quickly approaching, it’s time to take a look at the Flames assets heading down the stretch. The team is four points back of Montreal for the last playoff spot in the North, and has already played five more games than them at this point. With a number of valuable expiring UFAs and faint hope of the playoffs, the Flames are poised to be sellers down the stretch. As GM Brad Treliving frequently says, you take cues from your team. This year, there aren’t many positive cues to grasp at.
Instead of dwelling on the nightmarish season that’s led us to this point, let’s look ahead to the deadline to see what can be done to best prepare the team for the offseason, next season, and the ones down the road. Unfortunately, that means looking at which Flames might be wearing different colours come the April 12th deadline.
Among current Flames roster players and taxi squad members, there are eleven upcoming unrestricted free agents, per CapFriendly. Among them, at least a few should spark some interest from other teams looking to add rentals to make a push. Restricted free agent Sam Bennett will surely garner interest as well, along with some players under contract even beyond this year.
The unrestricted free agents
Since being signed on July 1st 2018, Derek Ryan has been an excellent bottom six player for the Flames. His defensive prowess and steady offense make him an ideal bottom six player for any team looking to make a playoff push or bolster their roster for a deep run. Since neither of those things are likely for Calgary, the team might be best suited trading him, and will almost certainly have suitors.
Using visuals created by Micah Blake McCurdy’s HockeyViz.com, it is clear that Ryan is a very good two-way player. He puts up modestly better than average offensive numbers, while being excellent at minimizing chances against. His 73 points in 173 games with the Flames so far is good for 0.42 points per game, a respectable mark for a bottom-six defensive specialist like Ryan.
In exchange for a draft pick or prospects, the Flames could get some value back for Ryan before he hits the open market after this season, and could possibly use the recent Eric Staal trade as a ballpark measure for what the return might be.
It’s worth noting that his contract carries a relatively substantial cap hit for a depth player, $3.125 million dollars per year (all salary cap data courtesy of CapFriendly), but this is the last year of the deal. Like the Buffalo Sabres did with Staal, the Flames may need to retain some of the remaining salary left on Ryan’s deal, but if the return is good and the Flames do not need to use that remaining room, it would be a good deal for both teams involved.
As a fan, it would break my heart to trade David Rittich, but the truth is the team might be best served moving the legend of Big Save Dave before the deadline, rather than losing him in free agency. We have already broken down the pros and cons of trading Rittich previously, so I won’t get into it in much detail.
In the time since that breakdown was written, the Flames have won once and lost three times, worsening their playoff chances and therefore lowering Rittich’s value to the team for either a playoff push or the playoffs themselves.
The more the team loses, the more important it is their assets don’t leave for nothing in free agency. If you win a Stanley Cup and you lose Rittich in free agency, no one complains. But with the playoffs unlikely, recovering some value from expiring deals is key.
With Markstrom the surefire starter for the foreseeable future, and Louis Domingue, Artyom Zagidulin, and Garret Sparks in the organization, the Flames would be wise to shop Rittich around to teams looking to improve their depth in goal. His score and venue adjusted GSAA (goals saved above average, data from Evolving-Hockey) of -0.11 won’t knock anyone’s socks off, but is actually better than many of the leagues current starting goalies including Tuukka Rask (who is currently hurt), Carey Price, Vitek Vanacek, and Jordan Binnington, to name a few.
It would not be much fun for anyone to say goodbye to the man who brought us this highlight, but Treliving has to make difficult decisions.
After signing a one year deal in the offseason in Calgary, Josh Leivo probably saw this year going quite a bit differently. Frequently scratched and often playing in the bottom six when he does draw into the lineup, the Leivo/Flames relationship has not gone the way either party wanted. Often viewed as a player on the verge of breaking out, Leivo’s underlying numbers continue to be as strong in Calgary as they were previously in his career, but the break just hasn’t quite materialized.
Both his offensive and defensive expected goals rates are strong this season, but the actual offensive output simply isn’t there. With his contract being both cheap and expiring, the Flames could look to ship Leivo out for a draft pick to get some value from the contract. With less of a proven track record in the regular season than Ryan, and no NHL playoff experience to his name, most of the reason Leivo might be on the move is his league minimum contract, which could make him more attainable for teams looking for depth but struggling to find cap space.
Brett Ritchie is another player making the league minimum salary like Leivo. Ritchie has had surprisingly good underlying numbers over the years, in particular on defense. Unfortunately, that has not been the case this year.
Despite his poor numbers this season, he also plays a strong physical game, which is highly valued by teams looking to up their truculence going into the playoffs. However, he too struggles offensively. Through 27 games this season he has just six points.
If there is interest, the Flames should not hesitate to move Ritchie for a future asset. Regardless of what grit or edge that Coach Darryl Sutter values, gritty depth pieces are extremely replaceable in the offseason as free agents, as evidenced by Ritchie himself. At this point in this season, the team should be focused on acquiring as many assets as possible rather than worrying about which disappointing depth addition might turn it around with Sutter at the helm for next season.
Restricted free agents
It looks like nearly the end of the road for the highest pick in franchise history. After a public trade request at the beginning of the season and continued disappointment, it seems inevitable Sam Bennett is moved. Every avenue has been explored to bring him success in Calgary, from moving him up and down the roster to playing him in every forward position possible, he has never managed to find a lasting home on the roster other than as a utility depth piece.
Beyond that, there have been reports of interest from other teams since the moment the request became public, although clearly until now Treliving has been unimpressed by the offers. With only seven points in 34 games this season, it doesn’t look like his value is going up anytime soon. Because Bennett is a restricted free agent in the offseason, the situation is somewhat different than it is with Leivo, Rittich, and Ritchie. While those players can simply walk away in the offseason, Bennett’s restricted status means he has limited rights and cannot simply choose to leave the team.
So, if the offers leading up to the deadline aren’t satisfactory, Treliving could choose to hold onto Bennett and try again in the offseason without assuring the player’s value is lost for nothing. Despite the added flexibility, the team should act as soon as possible to move Bennett. While his play is underwhelming and his cap hit is arguably too high for what he provides at $2.55 million dollars this year, other teams seem interested in him, making it the best time to trade him.
Other teams will be looking to bring in a proven playoff performer, and someone who, like Ritchie, can bring a physical presence to their lineup. His numbers do not jump off the page by any means, but he has shown that he can bring it in the playoffs. For a team like Toronto, Edmonton or Winnipeg, that have been close but never quite there, a player like Bennett could take them over the hump.
The remaining restricted free agents are Dillon Dube, Juuso Valimaki, Oliver Kylington, and Dominik Simon. Considering how young and high-potential Dube and Valimaki are, I can’t see either being moved unless the return is too good to pass up. If the team intends to sell now to improve in the future, it really doesn’t make sense to sell the players who project to be among our best down the road.
As for Simon and Kylington, its possible but unlikely. Both are fringe players who split their time between the taxi squad and the NHL. Interest will likely be limited in either, and the Flames may prefer to keep them around for depth down the stretch rather than trade for whatever relatively low-value assets they may attract in return on the open market.
It seems like every season we hear some variation of trade rumors involving Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, and this season is no different. With the team struggling and both of those two coming up on the end of their deals in the next few seasons, the rumors have been circulating again.
Previously, we took a look at the reasons the Flames are unlikely to blow up the team before next season. These reasons, along with the weak market for top line players contribute to why it remains unlikely that the Flames make a blockbuster move at this point. This is probably disappointing for fans who have given up on the core, but if the Flames do move either of their two big pieces, they will be looking for a heavy return which is very unlikely at this point of the season. This is not to say that the deal will never happen, but that if it does, it will likely be in free agency.
With the deadline just under two weeks away, it will be interesting to see how the dominoes that are the Flames trade assets end up falling. With several depth pieces seeing their contracts expire this year, the team is in a position to deal, and should be expected to do just that.
Who do you think stays and goes? Who should stay and go? Let us know in the comments below or on social media!
Cover Photo: Gerry Thomas/NHLI