It feels like we all blinked and now it’s August! This summer has flown by, and despite adding a new head coach in Ryan Huska, a new general manager in Craig Conroy, trading for Yegor Sharangovich, and some smaller moves, the Flames have been eerily quiet of late. It’s not like years past when the Flames had little to do at this time of year—the Flames have lots to do still. There are six major pending unrestricted free agents next season, with Noah Hanifin, Elias Lindholm, and Mikael Backlund highlighting the group. The team also has decisions to make in net, with Dustin Wolf looking like an NHLer. They also have yet to name a captain this season. So much to do and they are running out of time.
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What’s the priority?
With the summer quickly coming to a close, we presented the following poll:
And for the first time in a long time (possibly ever) we have an exact tie between the two winning answers:
Trade Noah Hanifin
It has long been rumoured that Noah Hanifin’s time in Calgary was reaching an end. The blueliner has reportedly requested a trade back to the United States after spending the last five seasons with the Flames, mostly in a top-four role. This is a big loss for the Flames, particularly given how hard it is to find elite defencemen.
On top of that, if the Flames do not move him this season, they are virtually guaranteed to lose him for nothing at the end of next season, like they did Johnny Gaudreau just two seasons back. Craig Conroy has vowed not to lose quality players for free, that seeing him wait this long to move Hanifin is a big surprise.
The one saving grace for the Flames is that they have Oliver Kylington coming back into the lineup after missing the entire last season. Add in Jordan Oesterle and potentially even Jeremie Poirier and the Flames have the making of a very good blueline.
Furthermore, now that Erik Karlsson has been moved, the market for defencemen is drying up and Hanifin looks like one of the best still available. This may help increase the number of teams calling about him, and should drive up the price for him.
Trade or sign Elias Lindholm
Ironically, the two players that the Flames have to make a decision on are the ones that they acquired from the Carolina Hurricanes for Dougie Hamilton. The Flames just need to make a decision on Lindholm one way or another. Either they need to convince him to stay in Calgary and sign him long-term or they need to trade him away. Broadly this is a good problem to have because they either have a top line centre signed long-term or they have the ability to get a haul back for an elite two-way centre, one of the most coveted player types in the league.
However they need to decide one way or another. Like with Hanifin, the worst thing they can do is go into the season without a decision made. They then shorten the window in which to trade him, relying on getting a return at the 2024 NHL Trade Deadline or worse, keep him to the end of the season and risk losing him for free.
This one feels like a more pressing task for the Flames than Hanifin, simply because of the uncertainty. The Flames know they are losing Hanifin at this point, unless of course he changes his mind. However with Lindholm, it seems as though the Flames are still in the convincing phase with him, trying to feel out whether he even wants to stay. Given where we are in the summer, the fact that there hasn’t even been word one way or another is concerning.
Name a captain
This is an underrated factor for the Flames. The team needs a leader on the ice this season and they need that before the puck drops. In my mind, whoever that ends up being is largely irrelevant so long as the players are happy with it, but it is something the team needs to decide on and decide on quickly. However, they do need more stability in their roster first before they can even look to decide who should be the team’s first captain since Mark Giordano.
Move Daniel Vladar
The history books are littered with examples of teams that went into a season with three goalies, and history has not judged those teams kindly. The Flames are walking into the 2023–24 season with three goalies that are too good for the AHL. They need to give Dustin Wolf games at the NHL level to know what they have in him, while also balancing the minutes of Jacob Markstrom and Daniel Vladar—if they keep the latter.
Despite what many may want, barring Markstrom asking for a trade, the Flames are stuck with him. You cannot send him to the AHL nor can you trade him away without his consent. With how good Wolf has been and his high potential, the odds of them trading Wolf are extremely slim to outright none. That leaves Vladar as the most likely candidate to be traded away. While this does suck—because he’s been very serviceable for a team that simply has not had above average goaltending since Miikka Kiprusoff—but it seems as though he is going to lose the crease to the youngster this season.
The Flames do have time to move Vladar, and can even go into the season and see if he becomes surplus to requirements. This also gives other teams a chance to see how their goaltending tandems are, and may open a market of teams that are not convinced by what they have early or teams that have goalies that suffer injuries early in the year. This feels like the least pressing issue for the time being.
Flames have to make a move
It’s high time that the Flames make a move. Not only because the news cycle has gotten a little dry, but because they are running out of time to make a move before the start of the season. Walking into the season with six major pending free agents is a recipe for disaster next summer. There is a lot for Conroy to do this summer still and before you know it, it won’t be summer anymore. Let’s go!
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire