The Calgary Flames have had a very successful start to the 2021–22 NHL season. Currently sitting at 13–4–5 and sitting in first place in the Pacific Division, it’s safe to say that the team has out performed even the most optimistic of expectations.
The only real “downside” of the season so far was the team’s supposed hunt for a Jack Eichel trade and the never ending speculation surrounding it. Well, Eichel is now a member of the Vegas Golden Knights and that chapter has closed for the Flames.
Just because that book is over, doesn’t mean the team wouldn’t try flipping a few pages for another trade acquisition story.
News broke on Monday night from Elliotte Friedman that current Boston Bruins’ forward Jake DeBrusk was for a fresh start:
Further reports showed that DeBrusk and his camp had formally requested a trade this past weekend in hopes of starting fresh somewhere else.
Now logically, everyone’s first thoughts always seem to go towards the Edmonton Oilers. With his hometown and familial connections, it’s no surprise that comes to mind first. That being said, are the Flames a team that would potentially want to make a move to acquire the young winger? Let’s assess.
What does Jake DeBrusk bring to the ice
DeBrusk is currently in his fifth full season with the Bruins and has had a hard time staying in the lineup, most recently being healthy scratched in a number of games. That may seem surprising from an outside point of view, but DeBrusk’s on ice production has dropped off significantly since his rookie season:
DeBrusk broke onto the team in his first season, scoring his highest point totals in a season with 43 in 70 games. He followed that up with an equally impressive 27 goals in 68 games along with a similar point production. In the pandemic-shortened season, his production fell of a bit, but after that it completely cratered. Last season he only managed five goals and fourteen points across 41 games played, and this season he is operating at a similar production level.
Injuries have been an issue for DeBrusk during his NHL career which could have impacted his drop off, but not enough to justify just how much. His utilization could be more of a root cause, as his offensive zone starts at 5v5 has decreased ever since his rookie season from 70.0% to a paltry 42.9% so far this year. It’s not the sole reason, but DeBrusk hasn’t nearly been given as much offensive zone starts as he used to early in his career. Now of course it doesn’t mean he should automatically deserve them, in fact the two may be intertwined.
Taking a look at more of DeBrusk’s stats this year doesn’t paint the prettiest picture:
The real question for DeBrusk is what player would you be acquiring? The player from his first few seasons, or the player from the last two? This would be the key as he could be either dead weight, or a fresh start really could be exactly what he needs to regain his former level of play.
Cost to acquire
All that being said, for the Calgary Flames to consider acquiring DeBrusk, there exists a number of question marks.
The main concern would be the cost, both to acquire and long-term. Being a first-round pick in 2015, DeBrusk is truly the only “success” of the Bruins much maligned and infamous three picks in a row. When the team had back-to-back-to-back picks, the team took Jakub Zboril, DeBrusk, and Zachary Senyshyn. Players available right after? Mathew Barzal, Kyle Connor, Thomas Chabot, Brock Boeser, Travis Konecny, and Sebastian Aho just to name a few. The point isn’t to bash the Bruins drafting, but simply that teams tend to ask a lot for former first-round picks that have potential and are regarded as “significant” in the organization.
If you took Sam Bennett as a comparable for the Flames, they were able to fetch a second-round pick and prospect in that deal, which would be the bottom of the barrel the Bruins would accept. The Flames could make that type of deal work, but would that even be a palatable offer?
The other cost concern is DeBrusk’s contract status. Currently he has one year remaining on his deal at $3.675M and will be a restricted free agent in the summer with arbitration rights. With the pending contracts of Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, Andrew Mangiapane, and Oliver Kylington, DeBrusk’s qualifying offer would be at an uncomfortable level for the team.
If the Flames get caught in a bidding war, and then get caught in a contract dispute, it could be a two-headed monster for management.
Potential positioning and usage
Even if the team were to find a way to acquire DeBrusk, where do you put him? If DeBrusk wants an opportunity to play top-six minutes, it definitely wouldn’t be in Calgary. Does the fresh start he’s looking for involve turning into a depth player?
Gaudreau and Mangiapane current slot in the top-six on the left-hand side in the lineup, and Dillon Dube fills that spot on the third line. Would you acquire DeBrusk to put him in the bottom-six, or even demote Dube to the fourth line to make room? It’s possible, but doesn’t make a ton of sense.
Now if the Flames were to offer up Monahan in a deal, somehow make the money work, and not bring in anyone else, the team could shift Dube back to center and put DeBrusk on his left flank. Would that work? Who knows, but that’s a loaded string of ifs and a lot of things would have to align for this scenario to even come up.
Lastly, the change to the lineup that DeBrusk brings doesn’t make a ton of sense, as it’s a lateral move. If the Flames want to go all-in this season, they’d want to look for a higher calibre player to justify making this type of change in the midst of one of the team’s best starts.
Never say never
Based on all of the factors, it doesn’t make a ton of sense to be in on this sweepstakes. Although Brad Treliving is bound to be in the conversation, I just don’t know if this is the trade to go all-in on.
The Flames have a recent trade history with the Bruins with the Daniel Vladar acquisition, so Calgary’s brass has probably done some scouting of the Bruins skater as well. If they think they can get DeBrusk and use his current on-ice performance as leverage to keep the cost down, it could be a solid bet, with emphasis on the word bet. A lot would have to go right to make it worth it for Calgary.
DeBrusk doesn’t fit the role of being a deadline rental—a player like Kevin Fiala would be far more of an attractive option for the team if they do look to make a move. While teams across the league will definitely try to pry the 2015 first-round pick for cheap, the Flames should stay away.
Treliving should take a play out of his father’s Dragon’s Den book. The idea of another first-round pick sounds nice, but the cost to acquire and the risks involved just don’t seem like the right fit, and for that reason, the Flames should be out.
Photo Credit: Kirby Lee (USA Today Sports)