Having just added Tyler Toffoli to their roster, the Calgary Flames are making it a clear-cut case that they are in “win now” mode more than ever before. Extending their win streak to nine games, they’re one away from a franchise record. Over a quarter of the wins Toffoli experienced this season came in the last week on a new team. There’s much to be happy about, but the Flames shouldn’t be done yet. What will they be doing next to improve their roster? We asked, you answered.
More ways for the Flames to improve
The Flames added a major forward in Toffoli without really changing their roster whatsoever. Sending Tyler Pitlick to the Montreal Canadiens and effectively scratching Brett Ritchie from now on was the overall outcome.
Simply put, they made a two-way improvement with the trade: adding Toffoli to the mix, and subtracting both Pitlick and Ritchie. Now, there’s other areas that can also improve, so what’s the general expectation?
Making the call for help
While Brad Treliving will undoubtedly keep working the phones and look for either a defenceman to bolster the blueline or a depth forward to round out the bottom-six, the Flames arguably have some players in Stockton that would be viable options to look at.
Realistically, a Stockton Heat call up for a forward and a trade for a defenceman could make a lot of sense for the team from both a team improvement and salary cap perspective.
Right now they have Brett Ritchie and Brad Richardson in the press box costing $900K and 850K, respectively. Plausible call-ups in either Matthew Phillips or Glenn Gawdin would actually be cheaper as both have $750K cap hits. It’s not a lot, but it’s not trivial either, as that can help make space elsewhere.
Burying the hits of Ritchie and Richardson could be a way to make more room for an NHL defender. They can’t just add a defenceman for free, but they could find a depth defenceman if either Erik Gudbranson ($1.95M) or Nikita Zadorov ($3.75M) are pieces going the other way. This would cost them picks though, but those would be clear areas of improvement on the trade front.
They aren’t likely to move Michael Stone, who’s been the seventh defender on a $750K contract, so this makes the maximum roster optimisation play quite clear: Replace either one or both of Ritchie and Richardson with a call-up, and replace either one of Zadorov or Gudbranson via a trade.
Just make a trade
If the Flames are looking to just trade without call-ups, then things are a little bit simpler. They can target either a bottom-six forward or a third-pairing defender. A deal for a depth forward that moves the needle would have to see some form for salary retention from the Flames’ trade partner. Again, with the Flames in “win now” mode, the cost of business will be parting away with draft picks to make deals possible.
Right now, their worst regular forward is Trevor Lewis. Having not being scratched once this season, Darryl Sutter has relied on Lewis for play a defensive role, as well as a big presence on the penalty kill. A player coming in would have to be able to take up similar responsibilities, otherwise the Flames may see it as an unnecessary move to make. They clearly value his on-ice presence enough to keep playing him.
On the other hand, a deal for a defenceman would involve sending a sizeable contract in either of Zadorov or Gudbranson’s deals the other way, as aforementioned. Both players on the third pairing should be seen as expendable. If the right trade partner comes along, moving either of them should in theory lead to an upgrade.
Gudbranson is arguably their worst regular defender, although Zadorov is not far ahead. With cap implications involved, they both make sense as the bigger trade chips in terms of moving cap hits to acquire a different player.
Heading to the Heat
If they only call up a player from Stockton, it does make sense that it’d be a forward to improve the bottom-six. It’d be hard to convince Sutter that a new defender should be taking up as many minutes as either Zadorov or Gudbranson right away, and having a third-pairing defenceman falter in their transition to the NHL would be more detrimental than having the same happen to a fourth line forward.
While they have options in Gawdin or Phillips as top scorers, they may also look into players like Byron Froese or Walker Duehr for more defensive responsibilities too—especially since the only spot really available for a forward call-up would have to be Lewis’ fourth line role right now. Nothing else makes sense.
Trusting the current roster
If the Flames don’t end up doing anything at all, it’s not necessarily an outcome that would be completely undesirable. The way the team is playing right now, they should be confident enough to take this roster right into the playoffs. From the backend, they are getting career-best production from all six players, and most are defensively responsible too. For their forwards, their roles are pretty clearly defined.
It’d be up to Treliving to either be confident enough that this roster can get it done, or possibly deal with the regret of not going the extra mile for assurance. He can still reward his players by adding one more player that can actually move the needle, so remaining idle should be seen as the worst case scenario.
A turning point for Calgary
The general consensus is that this Calgary roster should be good enough to get out of the first round, and ideally would make it at least past the second round as well. Is that enough to gamble on and hope that they can progress beyond that?
This team is as built for the playoffs as they have ever been before—most games are backed by dominant on-ice play. Do they make yet another splash before the trade deadline passes? Only time will tell. What do you think the Flames should do between now and the deadline?
Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter @wincolumnCGY.
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