With all the buzz around the impending trade deadline, a few people have asked me what I would like to see happen. I’ve never been one to try and guess at potential trades this time of year. I’m more of a wait and see kind of hockey fan. I’d be an awful GM for any team. However, the questions have made me consider what the options are for the Flames. Here are some of my thoughts.
I’ve seen some of the interviews and I’ve heard some of the press conferences, so I know about the mention of acquiring a rental player but I don’t think the Flames necessarily need one. If they can get one at a decent price without selling the farm, it can only add to an already established and dependable group. However, if the Flames walk away from the trade deadline empty-handed, I won’t be overly disappointed. Calgary is a well-established team with enough playoff experience to get through another post-season. Acquiring a rental will only enhance what they’ve already got, depending on the chemistry between the new player(s) and their ability to fit into an already well-established group.
I don’t believe they need goaltending. Between Mike Smith and David Rittich, the Flames have a good enough tandem to get through the playoffs. I don’t think acquiring Jimmy Howard or Sergei Bobrovsky will change the chances of the Flames making a deep run in the playoffs. They are great netminders, but our duet of Smith and Rittich has proven themselves to be solid at the most pertinent times.
Mike Smith has a bit of playoff experience, playing 3 games in 2011 with the Tampa Bay Lightning. In 2012, he played another 16 games in the post-season, earning 9 wins and 7 losses with a GAA of 1.99 and a save percentage of 0.944. In 31 games played this season, Smith has amassed 17 wins and 11 losses with a GAA of 3.02 and a save percentage of 0.892. Although they aren’t the best numbers heading into a stellar post-season, Smith has proven his resiliency and he’s able to stand solid in net when the Flames need him the most.
Waiting in the wings is David Rittich, who has surprised a lot of people this season. Goalies tend to progress differently than the players out front, and their breakout seasons usually don’t happen until they’re a little older. Rittich, at the age of 26, has staked his claim in the NHL earlier than a lot of other goalies. Last season he played in 21 games and earned a GAA of 2.92 and a save percentage of 0.904. For a first season backup goalie, those are good numbers. This season, he impressed even more in 34 games, earning a GAA of 2.66 and a save percentage of 0.909. He has been reliable when Smith has faltered.
In the trade talks, Jimmy Howard and Sergei Bobrovsky have been mentioned. But, if the Flames acquired one of those two goalies, who would have to sit out or be sent down if the Flames acquired another netminder? And is the organization willing to risk the tandem they already have to introduce a new angle just before playoffs? I don’t think that’s a good option right now.
When looking at the defensive depth of the Flames, one would think they’re set up pretty well at the NHL level, but do they need to look around for more defensive backups? I don’t think so. They have their untouchables in the NHL, such as Giordano, Hamonic, and Andersson, but they also have a lot of stock down the pipes. Playing for the Heat in Stockton are Juuso Valimaki, Adam Ollas Mattsson, and Rinat Valiev, who could easily fill potential gaps in the defensive lineup if needed. However, the Flames are big on defence and have a lot of players who don’t go down easy.
Mark Giordano rounds out a three-way tie at the top of the +/- ratings with +29, tied with his own teammates, Mikael Backlund and Elias Lindholm. At the age of 35, Giordano is captain for good reason. He is a solid two-way defenseman who kills penalties, provides offence on the power play, and there isn’t much he won’t do for his team. With 58 points in 58 games, he’s reliable, dependable, and his leadership has been unparalleled. His work ethic alone is enough to help guide the younger players and his maturity on and off the ice have been unsurpassed by most in the league.
Travis Hamonic has been a solid asset since he came to the Flames during the off-season in 2017. He had already solidified his elite status when he played 7 seasons with the New York Islanders, but he has been a beloved and reliable asset in Calgary during the last 2 seasons. He comes to play every single game and doesn’t let up even when he’s hurt. Like Mike Smith, Hamonic has a bit of playoff experience with the Islanders and could help guide the Flames defence through the post-season.
Rasmus Andersson has been the rock that the Flames have needed on defence alongside Giordano and Hamonic. Not only has he fit in well with the established defence, but he has also stood up to any challenge that may have crossed his path. With T.J. Brodie taking a game off to tend to an injury, Andersson took over his position on the top defensive pairing with Giordano and he was solid. He knew his role and he played it extremely well. He’s level-headed, calm, adaptable, and isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty in any situation. At 6’1” and 214 lbs, Andersson is a big body in front of the Flames goaltender. His skating abilities are impressive and his puck handling skills are refined. I think he’s prepared for his next challenge – the 2019 playoffs.
Do the Flames really need an offensive rental player? This question is a little more complex than I originally thought.
The top line of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Elias Lindholm will always be good. All three of them are amazing players who feed off each other and bring out the best in each other. Lately, they haven’t been producing as much as usual, but they’re still so amazingly good that to break them up permanently could do some serious damage heading into the post-season. Along with Matthew Tkachuk and Mikael Backlund, the offensive core of the Flames probably shouldn’t be tampered with before playoffs.
Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan were made to play together, which is why it’s extremely rare to see them split up on the top line. They have a chemistry that is rivaled by very few others in the league. Gaudreau (79) is fourth in points behind Connor McDavid (85), Patrick Kane (92), and Nikita Kucherov (100). He is also seventh in assists with 49 in spite of the top line not producing like they usually do right now. Monahan has a career high of 67 points in 60 games this season and shows no sign of slowing down. As the weeks go by, Monahan seems to be getting better and better. He’s skating faster, playing harder, and his natural skill is on display every shift. It would be unacceptable to trade that kind of core talent from any team.
Elias Lindholm has had himself one heck of a season after being traded to Calgary from the Carolina Hurricanes. He leads the league in +/- with a +29 rating while earning a career high of 69 points in 60 games so far this season. He is adaptable even when taken off the first line, notching an assist and a +1 rating in the last game against the Islanders. He makes his linemates better and he has solidified his value on the team.
“Real happy with the way we played.”
Bill Peters assesses the 4-2 win over the Islanders. pic.twitter.com/9gCk6BC4eb
— Calgary Flames (@NHLFlames) February 21, 2019
Mikael Backlund made a splash in the last game against the Islanders when he was kicked out of the game after disputing an embellishment call. Even head coach Bill Peters, in his post-game interview, explained that Backlund and “our team doesn’t dive.” Backlund is Mr. Right-Place-Right-Time and always seems to read plays well. He has 35 points in 56 games this season and has progressed well throughout the past few seasons in Calgary. With a +29 rating, he sits on top of the leaderboard alongside Lindholm and Giordano with the best +/- rating.
Matthew Tkachuk has hockey in his blood. He’s got a natural talent that was passed down from his dad, Keith Tkachuk, and Matthew would fit in on almost any team. He’s the type of player you want to play with, not against. The Calgary Flames are lucky to have him. With 59 points in 60 games, at the young age of 21, he has already beat his previous season’s records in points and assists and tied last year’s goals with games to spare. He has proven that he can play on any line with any linemates. And he is constantly evolving and getting better. There’s not much more you can ask from such a young, resilient player.
So who could the Flames acquire that would enhance the lineup? Wayne Simmonds, Mats Zuccarello, Kevin Hayes, Mark Stone, and Artemi Panarin are all great players whose names have been thrown around recently. They are all gifted forwards who have earned their roles in the NHL. But could they make the Calgary team better? If so, at what cost? There is a fine balance between giving and taking on the Flames right now and those changes could be either really good or really bad depending on GM Brad Treliving’s final decisions.
OTHER NOTABLE PLAYERS
If the Flames were to start handing over players from the active roster, they could change the entire dynamic of the team. This is probably not their best option right now. Although I’m not willing to part with anyone right now and I believe the Flames could easily go into playoffs with the team they have as is, there are some options that Calgary has. Each of these players has the potential to bring in a good return, but, as I said, I’m not willing to part with them just yet.
Giving away Sam Bennett would only damage the grit on the team and the Flames would have to fill a role that not many would be able to take on. Bennett started out as a simple forward with a lot to learn, but he’s turned into a gritty, aggressive player who can be relied upon to make plays, score goals, and stand up for his teammates. He’s a rare player with the ability to reform himself into what his team asks of him. Losing Bennett would leave a big gap that not many others could fill.
Mark Jankowski has developed well on the Flames team. He’s a play-maker, a penalty-killer, and a solid depth player. He can play on any line to fill in the gaps that may be caused by injuries or other issues. And he’s young. At the age of 24, Jankowski is progressing well on a fast-paced team.
Garnet Hathaway has been a great depth player and epitomizes the fourth line grinder. He is the first player to stand up for his teammates and his efforts on offense have earned him 10 points in 54 games. He is a good two-way player, depending on what the team needs. He always shows up, the effort is always there, and he brings an energy to the team that is unrivaled. That energy alone would be hard to replace.
Derek Ryan has been a dark horse this season for the Flames. Acquired during the off-season from the Carolina Hurricanes, Ryan has played for head coach Bill Peters in the past and Peters knew something about the unassuming player that we didn’t. Ryan has a consistency about him that never ceases to amaze and he always shows up at the most important moments. He’s a good linemate and a goal scorer, earning 24 points in 59 games so far this season. He may not be the biggest player, but at the age of 32, Ryan has proven he’s a play-maker and a reliable depth forward.
James Neal has bounced around the NHL for a few years now and has had a good run. At the age of 31, he has seen his fair share of regular season wins and playoff experience. That experience goes a long way on such a small market team. Even though the Flames have Giordano, Neal brings a different level of leadership alongside the captain. Losing Neal at this point in the season could have detrimental effects during the post-season.
What I would be willing to give up doesn’t really amount to much, but, then again, the Calgary team doesn’t need much heading into playoffs. These are all great players, but may not be as reliable, dependable, or untouchable as the others I’ve listed.
POTENTIAL TRADE BAIT
Dalton Prout is a temporary player, used to fill gaps. In an already stacked defensive lineup, Prout is the player who the Flames could use if the grit has been damaged by injuries. He’s a good defenseman, but the Flames already seem to have their defensive core and enough depth to get through a good playoff run.
Curis Lazar is a hit or miss forward. With so many reliable forwards who bring their best every game, the Flames need someone more consistent. But, considering their forward depth, including players who can stand up to the pressure of being a fourth line grinder, Lazar needs to be a bit more consistent.
Michael Frolik has been an important part of the 3M line in the past couple seasons, but that line seems to be changing. Tkachuk was recently moved to the top line and Lindholm was moved to the 3M line. It all seemed to work itself out: Lindholm proving he can play with anyone, Tkachuk proving he is consistent in his role, and the others showing that they do what they do in spite of the changes. Frolik, however, seems snake-bitten. He gets chances, he takes shots on net, and he makes plays worthy of remaining on the 3M line, but he seems to have hit a plateau. The big question in the upcoming seasons will be whether or not he can break out or whether he will continue to plateau.
Austin Czarnik is young, fast, and skilled – from what I’ve seen. But I don’t feel I’ve seen enough of him to make a complete judgement on whether or not he should stay with the Flames or if he could be used in a trade. I watched him play when he was with the Boston Bruins and he had some serious potential. But, in his second year with the Bruins, he played only a few games and I didn’t see as much as I would have liked. Again, in Calgary, he seems to be left out of the lineup too much for me to really understand whether or not he is an asset yet. From what I’ve seen, his skating ability is great, he can clear the length of the ice and give chase when needed. But he doesn’t seem to shoot the puck enough. His work ethic on the ice is amazing, but does he have a future with the Flames? I’m not sure because I don’t really know what he would bring back to the team if he was traded.
— Derek Wills (@Fan960Wills) February 22, 2019
With the recent Oliver Kylington scare, when he was absent at practice and then left out of the lineup against the Anaheim Ducks, I realized how much he contributes to the Flames defense. He’s only played 34 games this season with Calgary, but he has proven that he has what it takes to stay in the show. It didn’t take him very long to fit into the lineup and, at the age of 21, Kylington has a lot of potential in spite of his progression already. At 6’ and 183 lbs, he’s already given the Flames depth and stable defense. And he is only going to get better as his career moves forward.
This is the one I’ve been dreading: T.J. Brodie. There is so much to say, yet I can’t seem to find the appropriate words. For many seasons he has been a staple in the top defensive pairing for the Flames alongside Giordano. He was dependable, adaptable, and consistent. Last season was the exception, Glen Gulutzan placing him on the opposite side of his defensive pairing, which both impressed me and confused me. His numbers under Bill Peters have been good compared to those under Gulutzan. But something still seems amiss. He struggled at the beginning of the season to get back to his typical defense, but then he found his groove and flourished through the middle part of the season. Lately, he seems to be struggling again with turnovers, losing battles along the boards, and not being able to read plays as effectively as he used to. It pains me to think it might be time to trade Brodie while he is still worth a lot.
All of these players have the potential to bring in a big return for the Flames, but I don’t think the Calgary team needs anything substantial. I believe the key is to keep it relatively small, adding to an already powerful team. I haven’t even touched on the cap hit yet. Or the potential that plays for the AHL Stockton Heat. That’s another write-up altogether. But, for now, in my humble opinion, if the Flames walked away from the trade deadline without making any moves, I wouldn’t be upset. If they decide the price is right and move some players, I hope they keep it simple, but make an impact. I would only be disappointed to see the Calgary team involved in some blockbuster deal that would have detrimental effects on the rest of the season.
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