Just a week into his new job, general manager Craig Conroy has some pretty major decisions looming on the future of this Flames team. One of his main tasks will be to get a read on his seven 2024 unrestricted free agents and where they stand. Outside of Elias Lindholm, the biggest name on that list is likely Noah Hanifin. Entering his sixth season with the team, Hanifin has been a consistent presence on the Flames blueline for years now. That said, given his current contract status and the teams already busy blueline, is it time for the Flames to consider moving on?
Calgary doesn’t want to lose Hanifin for nothing
This goes without saying, but just like Lindholm, the Flames simply can not lose Hanifin for nothing in 2024. He may not carry as much value as Lindholm, but Hanifin would still likely fetch a solid return in any potential deal. For that reason from an asset management standpoint, it makes zero sense to let it come down to a last minute decision next summer. If Conroy is true to his word, there’s a good chance Hanifin’s future is determined sooner than later.
The clearest option and in my opinion the most likely right now is to trade Hanifin this offseason. After a career year in 2021–22, Hanifin like many other Flames saw a big dip in their play in 2022–23. There’s a good chance with Sutter now gone, Hanifin is willing to bet on himself in 2023–24 and look to cash in next offseason. Now that’s not to say he’ll be unwilling to sign right now, but it’s highly unlikely. If that’s the case, a trade makes a ton of sense.
Any team looking for help on the blueline is likely to pay more now in the offseason to ensure they get Hanifin for one full season versus at the 2024 trade deadline where he could end up being a one-month rental. If Hanifin were made available right now, there’d be a ton of potential suitors lining up to acquire him. That’s likely not the case if you wait until the 2024 trade deadline in the middle of the season.
Hanifin is expendable
One of the main reasons I believe the team should strongly consider moving Hanifin regardless of if he wants to return is that he’s simply not a crucial piece to the team. The Flames have one of the deepest blueline groups in the entire NHL, and are set to welcome back Oliver Kylington—a top-four calibre defenceman the last time we saw him in 2021–22. Adding yet another top-four option to the group makes the blueline incredibly crowded.
As it stands the team has MacKenzie Weegar, Rasmus Andersson, Chris Tanev, Oliver Kylington, Nikita Zadorov and Hanifin slated to return in 2023–24. It’s always nice to have depth on the backend, but that’s a incredibly crowded group. You’re obviously not moving Weegar or Andersson, Tanev won’t fetch a big return at this point in his career, and Kylington isn’t getting moved given his team-friendly contract. That leaves Zadorov and Hanifin which are both expendable in my opinion, but Hanifin would garner the larger return.
Let’s say the team moved Hanifin and re-signed Troy Stecher. Here’s how the team’s blueline could look for next season.
That’s a very strong group and one that’s still likely one of the top D groups in the entire NHL, even without Hanifin. If you can still trot out a group that strong even after shipping out Hanifin, it’s a very strong argument for moving him.
The Flames’ cap situation is tight
It’s no secret that the Flames current cap situation is incredibly tight. As it stands right now, they currently have the third most cap committed for next season behind only the Vancouver Canucks and Tampa Bay Lightning. The Flames currently have around just $1.25 million in cap space with 18 players locked up. That also doesn’t exactly leave a ton of room to retain players like Stecher, or make any meaningful additions to your roster through free agency. They also already have six NHL defenceman under contract next year, leaving zero room to make any adjustments without making a trade.
If the Flames want to give themselves a little breathing room, moving out Hanifin and his $4.95 million cap hit makes a lot of sense. As mentioned above, Hanifin is expendable because of how deep the team’s blueline is. Add in the fact that moving him would clear out around $5 million in cap space and it makes even more sense. At the end of the day he’s likely the best candidate on the team if you’re looking to shake things up while also moving out some money, and it’s almost a guarantee the Flames will make a move to open up some cap space.
Hanifin has strong trade value
Hanifin is the type of player that teams would line up to acquire. Not only has he put up some decent results for the Flames in recent years, but he also carries a ton of intangibles that NHL GMs tend to love. He’s only 26 years old, has nearly 500 games played in the NHL and is a former top-five draft pick. NHL GMs will eat that up regardless of what Hanifin’s one-ice results say.
Here’s how he stacks up against the rest of the NHL’s defenceman since joining the Flames in 2018.
|STAT||NOAH HANIFIN||LEAGUE RANK AMONG DEFENCEMEN|
Hanifin has never been known for his point totals, and likely won’t be the reason any team acquires him. That said he still ranks inside the top 50 for almost every stat except for goals since coming to the Flames in 2018. In particular during his career year last season he posted 48 points which ranked 22nd in the NHL, showing that he does have the potential to be a point producer.
Where Hanifin starts to show his value is his underlying numbers. He’s posted some solid underlying’s during his time in Calgary and is the type of defenceman who makes his impact off the scoresheet. All numbers are courtesy of Evolving-Hockey.com.
|STAT||NOAH HANIFIN||LEAGUE RANK AMONG DEFENCEMEN|
A bit of a mixed bag here as Hanifin’s overall CF% and xGF% come out looking very strong but his per 60 rates are much weaker. In terms of his possession and expected goals for numbers, he’s nearly top 15 across the entire NHL which is very impressive. His xGF% of 53.94 ranks ahead of players like Miro Heiskanen, Adam Fox, Alex Pietrangelo, and Victor Hedman.
As mentioned, his per 60 rates aren’t nearly as strong, as he falls out of the top 50 for xGA/60. Certainly not the most impressive numbers but considering there are 128 top-four defenceman in the NHL across 32 teams, Hanifin’s numbers could still be considered average if not slightly above average.
All said, his numbers suggest he’s a very solid top-four defenceman but nothing more. Here’s his RAPM chart courtesy of Evolving-Hockey.com from the past three seasons, providing further evidence of the previous point.
Lastly regardless of their actual impact on a players value, NHL teams love a defenceman who can play a ton of minutes. You’ll regularly hear about a team coveting a player because he eats up minutes. Hanifin would be a great example of that.
|STAT||NOAH HANIFIN||LEAGUE RANK AMONG DEFENCEMEN|
His TOI numbers don’t jump off the page, but they’re still impressive when you take everything into consideration. Hanifin ranks just outside the top 30 in terms of overall time on ice over the last five seasons among all defenceman, which is a mighty impressive number considering he was only drafted eight years ago. He’s been logging big minutes pretty much since he was 20 years old which is very rare for an NHL defenceman. He’s also consistently played nearly every game of each season while logging over 20 minutes a night. That’s something that NHL GMs will value a ton when looking at his value.
He also ranks even higher in terms of even strength ice time at 28th in the NHL, while ranking inside the top 70 for both power play ice time and shorthanded ice time. Again, Hanifin is the type of multi-use defenceman that NHL GMs place a ton of value in. Ice time certainly isn’t an indicator of a players skill or value, but in today’s NHL a player who can consistently log as many minutes as Hanifin holds a lot of value.
What could a potential return look like?
Now if it did come to the point where Hanifin was on the block, I think the Flames could fetch a very solid return. As we know, NHL GMs love paying a premium for top-four defencemen. Just look at the most recent trade deadline as an example. Filip Hronek, Matthias Ekholm, Rasmus Sandin, Jake McCabe and Jakob Chychrun were all traded for first-round picks plus more. I’d wager that Hanifin is easily more proven and more valuable than both Hronek and Sandin, and probably on par with McCabe. In other words, a first-round pick should be a starting point for him in any return.
Considering his reputation around the league, I think the Flames can aim to get something around the value of the Chychrun deal. That said, I highly doubt the Flames would be interested in only receiving draft picks given their current contention window, so receiving something like a first-round pick along with a young NHL forward or top-end prospect is what the team should be targeting.
Certain teams who could make sense for Hanifin if he became available are the St. Louis Blues, Dallas Stars and Boston Bruins among many others. One scenario in particular that could make a lot of sense is a move with the Blues. It’s widely known the Blues are looking to retool on the fly, and they currently hold three first-round picks in the coming draft. They also have some major holes on the blueline. Could the Flames potentially pry local kid Jake Neighbours from the Blues in a Hanifin deal along with one of their late first-round picks?
In a fantasy scenario could the Flames work out a blockbuster with the Toronto Maple Leafs for a William Nylander for Hanifin+ swap? Probably not, but it’s certainly not an impossible scenario if Toronto hires a general manager looking to shake things up. Hanifin, Dillon Dube and a first-round pick for Nylander anyone?
All this is to say Hanifin should command at minimum a first-round pick plus a young forward or prospect in return. If the Flames can get a package like that in return for Hanifin they should take it and run.
A trade makes sense
Given all the factors that go into making a deal of this magnitude, I think it makes a ton of sense for the Flames to look at dealing Hanifin. He’s expendable given their depth on defence, would clear up a nice chunk of cap space, and a return could help the Flames fill some holes at forward. Conroy will have plenty of major decisions to make over the next couple of weeks, but trading Hanifin could be one of the first items on his checklist if he’s looking to shake things up and clear up some cap.