Calgary Flames

Breaking down the Calgary Flames’ history of nearly acquiring star players

The Calgary Flames are infamous for many unfortunate and strange things, as they seem to be one of the most unlucky teams in the NHL. One of which is their continued ability to nearly acquire star players, but always come up just short. It seems like almost every time a star calibre player is available on the trade market, the Flames are right there in the mix. Yet each and every time they end up missing out as the runner up. It’s become a Brad Treliving specialty.

We saw yet another example of that this offseason with Jack Eichel. The Flames were reportedly one of the teams heavily interested in acquiring Eichel and pushing hard to get the bona fide number one centre.

Yet here we are as the Flames essentially dropped out of the Eichel talks and decided to use their extra $2 million in cap space on Erik Gudbranson. Now of course they could still acquire Eichel, but at this point with the season already underway, the doubt clouds the desire.

If the Flames do end up falling short on Eichel as it seems will be the case, it will just be another player in a long line of players that the Flames were in on but narrowly missed out on in the end. Let’s take a look at some of those players.

Artemi Panarin – 2015

Perhaps the biggest near miss the Calgary Flames ever had was one that many people probably don’t even know about or have long forgotten. Artemi Panarin has established himself as one of the very best wingers in the entire NHL, however before that he was a relatively unknown and undrafted player in the KHL.

Prior to the 2015 offseason, it was reported that Panarin was garnering significant interest around the NHL after posting 62 points in 54 KHL games the year prior. At just 23 years old at the time, Panarin brought a ton of potential to the table as it appeared he was just scratching the surface of his stardom.

As expected there were numerous NHL teams in on signing Panarin to his first NHL contract, one of which was the Flames. At the time, the Flames were in the middle of their miracle 2014–15 season and looked set to compete for the playoffs for years to come. With a talented top-six and a full cupboard of prospects, the Flames appeared to be exiting their rebuild, and adding Panarin would help expediate that process even further.

The Flames came painstakingly close to getting Panarin, coming as the runners up to Chicago. Unfortunately in the end, the Flames depth on the wing was the reason Panarin choose to go elsewhere. Here’s what Elliotte Friedman had to say at the time about Panarin choosing to sign in Chicago.

Calgary, Montreal, Pittsburgh and Toronto all made strong pitches. Sounds like the Flames—who heavily pursued him—were closest, but with so many small, talented forwards already in position (Sam Bennett, Johnny Gaudreau, Markus Granlund, Jiri Hudler), Panarin thought that might be too many.

Elliotte Friedman

As a Flames fan, you can’t help but cringe after reading that last sentence. At the time the team had promising young talent in Sam Bennett and Markus Granlund who seemed ready to be become impact NHLers soon, as well as a veteran in Jiri Hudler who had just broken out with a career-best 76 point season. All three players were around the same size as Panarin and played the same role. For that reason he chose to go elsewhere as he didn’t see enough opportunity in the Flames lineup.

Well we all know what happened next. Bennett would never live up to anywhere near his potential, posting just 139 points across over 401 games for the Flames playing mainly in the team’s bottom-six. Granlund would play just one more season in Calgary, getting seven points in 31 games before being traded. Hudler meanwhile would regress as expected from his near point per game season in 2014–15, putting up 35 points in 53 games in 2015–16 before being traded at the deadline.

The Flames as a whole would come crashing back down to Earth in 2015–16, finishing fifth last in the NHL. Panarin meanwhile would experience instant success in Chicago, putting up 77 points in his rookie year en route to the Calder trophy.

It’s quite ironic that the reason Panarin choose against signing for the Flames was their depth of skill players considering the team has been lacking that very thing every season since. It’s hard not to picture what a line featuring Johnny Gaudreau and Panarin could’ve looked like for the Flames.

Ben Bishop – 2016 and 2017

It’s no secret the Flames struggled to replace Miikka Kiprusoff after he retired in 2013. The team went through a carousel of goaltending options until they finally locked down a long term number one option in Jacob Markstrom in 2020. Before inking Markstrom though, the Flames nearly acquired a couple big name options to take on their number one spot in the crease.

The first of which was Ben Bishop. With Andrei Vasilevskiy waiting in the wings and Bishop needing a new contract in a year, the Tampa Bay Lightning were looking to ship out Bishop. He was one of the premier goalies in the NHL at the time, as he was coming off a career-best season in which he posted a .926 save percentage along with a 35-21-4 record and finished as the runner-up for the Vezina. In both 2015–16 and a couple seasons prior in 2013–14, he finished as a finalist for the Vezina.

Coming off a season in which they finished fifth last in the NHL and used a dreadful goaltending trio of Karri Ramo, Jonas Hiller, and Joni Ortio the Flames were desperate for help in net. With a Vezina finalist available the Flames were first in line to acquire him prior to the 2016 draft.

There were no reports on the actual ask, but it most likely would have involved the sixth overall pick in the draft going to Tampa Bay, AKA Matthew Tkachuk. In the end though the Flames were unwilling to match Bishop’s hefty contract demands and it brought trade talks to an end. At $7 million AAV Bishop would’ve been the third highest paid goalie in the NHL.

Instead the team went out and acquired veteran goaltenders Brian Elliot and Chad Johnson, both of which struggled the following season as Calgary’s new goaltending tandem. The Flames would lose in the first round in a clean sweep versus Anaheim that season with Elliot posting an .880 save percentage in the playoffs.

The Bishop rumours didn’t end there though as the Flames re-engaged in trade talks with the Lightning prior to the 2016–17 trade deadline. With the Flames sitting in a tight playoff battle and both Elliot and Johnson playing subpar hockey, the team was once again looking to get a true number one.

The Flames reportedly had agreed to a deal with the Lightning, however an absurd clause in Treliving’s contract blocked the move from happening. The Flames apparently had a deal in place similar to the eventual one the LA Kings paid (Peter Budaj, prospect Erik Cernak, a conditional pick, and a seventh-round pick) but Treliving was not allowed to make any moves without the consent of team owner Ken King.

With King on a plane at the time, the Lightning couldn’t wait around for an answer and shipped him to LA instead.

The Flames were once again in on Bishop for the third time a couple months later during the 2017 offseason. However as an upcoming free agent and possessing a no-move clause Bishop preferred going to Dallas over Calgary and that was that.

After missing out on Bishop for the third time, Treliving went out and acquired Mike Smith instead. The following year the Flames would finish 20th in the NHL. Smith would play two seasons in Calgary, posting a .907 save percentage along with a 48-38-2 record.

Bishop meanwhile has posted a 143-74-9 record along with a .923 save percentage across three seasons in Dallas since the 2017 offseason. He was also a runner-up for the Vezina in 2018–19. Since the 2016 offseason, the Flames have had 10 different goalies suit up for them, none of which stuck around for longer than a couple seasons—Markstrom pending.

Had they acquired Bishop back in 2016 or 2017, it would’ve given them the security in net they desperately needed all these years and almost certainly would’ve led to more success, as well as giving the team the chance to focus on other key areas of the lineup that needed help.

Nazem Kadri – 2019

The Flames have had a rough go of it when it comes to no-trade and no-movement clauses. After Bishop shut down any further trade talks with the Flames during the 2017 offseason, a couple years later it happened again, this time with a forward.

Following the 2018-19 season, the Flames were looking to bolster their centre depth as the team had been dominated by Nathan Mackinnon and the Colorado Avalanche in round one of the playoffs. With the Toronto Maple Leafs desperate to get Nazem Kadri’s cap hit off the books, it presented a perfect opportunity for the Flames. At an AAV of just $4.5 million for another three seasons, Kadri was a perfect fit for the Flames top-six.

Kadri was coming off a modest 44 point season; however, before being pushed down the depth chart by John Tavares, he had posted back-to-back 32 goal seasons for the Maple Leafs the two seasons prior.

The team reportedly had a deal in place and agreed to with the Leafs prior to free agency. The trade would’ve sent T.J. Brodie and Mark Jankoswki to Toronto for Kadri and Connor Brown. With Mark Giordano, Noah Hanifin and Travis Hamonic leading the defence along with two promising rookies in Rasmus Andersson and Oliver Kylington on board it made Brodie who had just one year remaining on his contract expendable.

With the deal agreed to, all that was needed was an okay from Kadri due to his M-NTC. Hoping to force the Leafs into keeping him around, Kadri nixed the trade and refused to go to Calgary. Kadri would say later that offseason that he had nothing against Calgary and was actually very close to accepting the move, but had hoped by nixing the deal it would convince the Maple Leafs to keep him around.

That wasn’t the case as the Leafs then turned around and ironically sent him to the team that had just knocked the Flames out of the playoffs, the Colorado Avalanche, with Kadri unable to block the trade as Colorado was not on his 10 team no-trade list.

With how things have turned out since, you can’t help but think this was a huge lost opportunity for the Flames. Jankowski would play just one more year in Calgary, putting up seven points in 50 games and is currently a free agent. Brodie would also only play only one more season in Calgary, putting up 19 points in 64 games. Both players would leave a year later in free agency for nothing, with Brodie actually ending up on the Maple Leafs anyways.

Since the move Kadri has put up solid numbers in Colorado centering their second line, posting 68 points over 107 regular season games, as well as putting up 19 points in 17 playoff games. Brown meanwhile has experienced big success since joining the Ottawa Senators that same offseason as he’s posted 78 points across 127 games over the last two seasons.

Had the trade gone through, the Flames would’ve possessed some of the best centre depth in the NHL, along with a massively improved top-nine. Instead they trotted out a relatively unchanged forward group in 2019–20 en route to another first round playoffs exit, and ultimately saw Jankowski and Brodie leave for nothing.

Mark Stone – 2019

There isn’t a more infamous case of the Flames missing out on a star player in recent memory than the 2019 trade deadline. The moves the Flames didn’t make that deadline are more talked about than most of the moves the Flames have made since then.

With the team in the midst of one of the best regular season’s in franchise history and on the cusp of claiming the number one seed in the West for the first time since 1990, the Flames set out to make a big splash at the 2019 deadline to solidify their status as a cup favourite. With Calgary lacking scoring depth after their big four forwards, the Flames were looking to bolster their top-six with an impact forward.

Enter Mark Stone. The Ottawa Senators superstar right winger was seemingly on his way out of Ottawa (as most star players are eventually) and was available at the 2019 deadline. With the Flames lacking depth on the right side, it seemed like a perfect fit. The team was immediately mentioned as one of the favourites to land the then 26-year-old.

As expected, the asking price for Stone was astronomical. An elite point per game two-way winger like Stone isn’t available very often, if ever.

At the time both Andersson and Juuso Valimaki looked like future potential top pairing defencemen and the Flames had no intention of moving them, even for an elite player like Stone. Another sticking point was the fact that Stone was an upcoming free agent, and the Flames were yet to receive concrete proof from Stone and his camp that they would be willing to sign a long-term deal in Calgary.

As expected these were the two main reasons the deal fell through in the end, although it came extremely close to happening according to VP of hockey operations Don Maloney.

In the end the Flames were unable to get any indication from Stone himself that he would re-sign long term in Calgary, and were thus unwilling to give up one of their top two prospects on defence for a potential rental.

At the time, it seemed like the right call by Brad Treliving. With Stone reportedly unwilling to commit long-term in Calgary, there was huge risk involved with giving up Andersson or Valimaki for a potential rental. The Flames were also in the midst of an incredible season, and Treliving had full trust in their current group to continue their success and get the job done in the playoffs.

Well we all know how that went. The Flames would get dominated by MacKinnon and the Avalanche en route to a shocking 4–1 series loss in Round One. Stone, meanwhile, would get shipped to Vegas instead on deadline day for a package of top prospect Erik Brannstrom, a second-round pick, and Oscar Lindberg. A haul that was considerably lower than the reported ask just a day earlier. Stone has since established himself as a top-five winger in the NHL and is one of the league’s best two-way players.

The Flames attempted to pivot at the last moment on deadline day and add Jason Zucker instead, however the trade didn’t get submitted in time and was rejected by the NHL. In the end the only addition the Flames made at the deadline was depth defenceman Oscar Fantenberg.

Most have assumed since then that Stone was completely unwilling to sign in Calgary which is the main reason the Flames didn’t make the deal. According to Elliotte Friedman though that may not have been the case, with Calgary actually fancying their chances of getting Stone locked up long-term had they got the deal done with Ottawa. In the end it may have been Valimaki’s inclusion that ended the discussions. Here’s what Friedman had to say after the deadline that year.

“I think if Calgary got him there, the Flames loved their chances of it (signing Stone long-term) eventually occurring. But word is Ottawa’s ask included Juuso Valimaki, and for the second year in a row Calgary rejected anyone’s attempts to pry loose the Finnish defenceman.”

Elliotte Friedman

Hindsight is 20/20 of course, but considering how the rest of the 2018–19 season went and how Andersson and Valimaki have developed to this point two and a half years later, you can’t help but wonder if trading for Stone was worth the risk in the end. Watching him completely lock down and dominate MacKinnon and the high flying Avalanche in last year’s playoffs makes one ponder what could’ve been had he been in the Flames lineup in 2018–19.

Sure they didn’t have the assurance he would re-sign long term at the time, but the team was in the middle of one of their best seasons in franchise history and looked to have their best shot at winning a Stanley Cup since the 2003–04 run 15 years earlier.

I mean this was a team at the time who had made it out of the first round just two times over the last 30 years. As all Flames fans know by now, successful seasons are few and far between here. When you finally have one and look to have a legit shot at making a deep run, you have to go all in because you don’t know when you’ll get another shot.

In the end, Treliving bet on his team bringing their success into the playoffs and repeating that success for years to come, yet they fell flat in the playoffs and the 2018–19 season remains a one-off as the team has found nowhere near the same level of success since.

Had Treliving made that bet on Stone back during the 2019 deadline, who knows where it would’ve taken the Flames that season in particular and also beyond, had Stone re-signed in Calgary.

Taylor Hall – 2020

After losing out on Stone the year prior, the Flames were once again right in the mix for the top forward available during the 2019–20 season. Still seeking help at forward (when aren’t they?), the Flames were looking to make a splash during the 2019–20 season after not making any significant additions at forward during the offseason.

With the Flames off to a rocky start to the season and struggling to score, the team was presented with a chance to boost their forward group once again. This time in the form of Taylor Hall. The former first overall pick and Hart Trophy winner was in the final year of his contract in New Jersey and was set to test free agency during the coming offseason.

As is usually the case, the Flames were immediately rumoured as one of the favourites to land Hall prior to the 2020 trade deadline. Even more so because Hall was a hometown kid from Calgary, meaning the odds he would sign a long-term deal in Calgary were high if the team traded for him.

Hall was just two years removed from a 93 point Hart Trophy season in 2017–18 and had a great start in 2018–19 with 37 points in 33 games before going down with a serious injury. To start the 2019–20 season, he had a solid 25 points in 30 games for the lowly Devils. For obvious reasons his price was very high, as the Devils were looking for a big package for their former MVP.

As is usually the case, the Flames were right there but came up just short for Hall and were proclaimed the runners up in the sweepstakes. The Devils preferred an offer from the Arizona Coyotes and would trade him there well before the trade deadline in December. The Coyotes would ship out a conditional first-round pick, a conditional third-round pick along with prospects Nate Schnarr, Nick Merkley, and Kevin Bahl.

We wouldn’t learn exactly what offer from the Flames the Devils declined until later in the year, when it was revealed the Flames had offered up Hanifin and Bennett for Hall and Sami Vatanen, preferring a hockey trade over the future asset laden offer the Coyotes made. As the Devils were in the midst of entering a rebuild, it’s not hard to see why they preferred the Coyotes offer.

In the end, the Flames stuck with the team they had, and would once again get bounced in the first round while struggling to score. Sound familiar? Since the move, Hall would go on to put up 27 points in 35 games for the Coyotes to close out the 2019–20 season, along with six points in nine playoff games.

The next year Hall would struggle mightily in Buffalo to start the 2020–21 season, putting up just 19 points and two goals in 37 games. However after escaping Buffalo, Hall bounced back with 14 points in 16 games for the Bruins bringing his 2020–21 total to 33 points in 53 games. He has since signed a reasonable four-year, $24 million deal to remain in Boston.

Had the Devils accepted the Flames offer, it would’ve had pretty major implications on their future outlook. I’m sure at the time losing Hanifin didn’t seem like a huge loss considering the team had Giordano, Brodie and Hamonic along with Andersson and Valimaki in their system. Given what we know now about Andersson and Valimaki in terms of their development, I’m not sure the Flames could’ve afforded to lose Hanifin from their top-four.

Assuming they were able to re-sign Hall to a long term deal (he ended up signing a one-year, $8 million deal with Buffalo that offseason) the team also certainly wouldn’t have had the cap space to sign Markstrom that offseason, or Blake Coleman this past offseason.

They also would’ve used the now traded Hanifin’s expansion spot to retain captain Giordano instead, while Hall would’ve taken Dillon Dube’s spot, leaving him unprotected for Seattle. In terms of opportunity cost, the team would’ve lost the second-round pick along with Emil Heineman in the deal they got for Bennett later on.

So the question is which would you rather have? Hall, Vatanen and Giordano, while losing Hanifin, Bennett, and presumably Dube. Or retaining Hanifin and Dube, gaining a second-round pick and Emil Heineman, and losing Giordano and of course no Hall or Vatanen.

Considering how bad the Flames looked to close out the 2019–20 season and for most of 2020–21, I don’t think Hall would’ve made a huge difference in terms of overall team results. Dube and Hanifin are also much younger than Hall, Giordano and Vatanen.

In the end, I think the Flames lucked out with the Devils rejecting their offer. Given what we now know about the team, Hall most likely wouldn’t have made a difference for the team the last two years. With Hall turning 30 in a month, he doesn’t fit the age group of this current Flames core who could be entering a retool sooner than later. Having big money tied up long-term in Hall could’ve been a disaster.

A history of near misses

The Flames have become notorious for two things over the years, mediocrity and being the runners up for star players available on the trade market. They’ve shown no signs of changing either of those two things either. With another offseason gone without a major trade at forward and seemingly missing out on Eichel, the Flames look set to add to their list of star players they missed out on. This time however it could spell the end of Treliving’s time in Calgary unless they can break free of their mediocrity.

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