It’s almost February and the Flames are still hanging around the post-season picture. That means, absent a disastrous February, they may not be ardent sellers come the trade deadline in early March. In fact, they may be buyers! Which, of course, goes a bit against the grain of the current overarching focus of the organization. While making the play-offs is always preferable to not, it would nevertheless be foolish to start selling off quality future assets for deadline rentals given where this club is in their rebuild cycle.
That said, maybe there are a few incremental improvements that management could pursue that would aid the future without harming the present?
– Let’s start with the blueline. It’s one of the most obvious areas of concern for the team, both now and moving forward. The Flames have perhaps the most top heavy blueline corps in the entire league, with the elite pairing of Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie soaking up all all of the tough minutes with aplomb, and everyone else kind of struggling to keep their heads above water at even strength:
The Flames need guys who can either bump Wideman and/or Russell down into the third pairing, or at least a couple of guys who don’t get killed for 10 minutes a night like their current collection of 5-6-7 guys. The Flames will likely give Tyler Wotherspoon a look this season to see if he can usurp one of Diaz, Smid or Engelland from the active roster, but that’s by no means certain and doesn’t really solve the problem anyways.
Behind Wotherspoon the Flames have Ryan Culkin and a lot of question marks for years. If they are to compete in the next couple of years they’ll need decent NHL blueline depth sooner than their farm system can deliver it.
If Brad Treliving can swap a prospect or a future asset or two for a decent top-4 option in the 23-27 age range, it’s something he should consider.
– It took him some time, but David Wolf seems to have finally become comfortable on North American ice in the AHL. He’s the hottest forward on the farm team right now and has run his season total to 21 points in 35 games. As I noted on Twitter today, that’s more points than Brandon Bollig managed in over 100 AHL games during his time in the minors (15).
I compare the two because if Wolf is going to press for a roster spot, it will likely be in the designated tough guy role currently inhabited by Bollig. While the Flames seem to be a little less enamoured with size and toughness these days given the demotion of Brian McGrattan, I don’t think they’ll be all together comfortable going without at least one “heavy” on the roster. Wolf, who was a triple digit PIM guy in Germany and has four fights for Adirondack so far this season, is a willing combatant and his numbers also suggest he might actually be able to play.
Bollig, by the way, has been killed all year on the Flames 4th line. The dreams of him being a functional 3rd liner (never mind a 4th liner) have been crushed by his team-worst results.
– Joni Ortio played and won in a game on the farm this past weekend. After a rough first month, where he posted a SV% below .900, Ortio has posted an average save rate north of .940 since the start of December, a 13 game run. His turn in the nets here, despite being pulled in the final contest, has likely convinced the team to move on from one of their veteran puck stoppers.
My money is on Karri Ramo, who has the worst save rate of all three and doesn’t have a contract with the team next season. Ramo has had ups and downs this season, but has proven to be at least an quality NHL puck stopper during his tenure in town. My guess is the club is already actively shopping him with a goal of having Ortio in the NHL full time by the time the deadline rolls around.
– Who the heck will want a back-up goalie at the deadline? Actually it seems like a pretty decent year to be shopping a goaltender, which isn’t always the case. Here’s a few potential trade partners off the top of my head:
– The Florida Panthers come to mind immediately as a team needing an upgrade behind their starter. Al Montoya has been absolutely terrible this season and the upstart Panthers are long on futures and kids but short on recent success. A mid-level prospect or pick is a no brainer for a bit of insurance behind Luongo.
– The Tampa Bay Lightning have the shadow of Evgeni Nabokov backing up Ben Bishop this year. In 12 games so far, the 39 year old has an 0.879 SV%, or what most NHLers manage short-handed. The club has impressive youngster Andrei Vasilevskiy waiting in the wings, but at 20 years old he is a bit of gamble should Bishop go down.
– The Washington Capitals have leaned heavily on Braden Holtby this year because Justin Peters has been lit up in his 8 appearances. The 28 year old journeyman has a .900 save rate in 76 career NHL games, the very definition of “replacement level”. Ramo would no doubt be an upgrade.
– The Dallas Stars have suffered through terrible goaltending this year, in part because back-up Anders Lindback has been Nabokov bad in his 9 appearances. They are a rival for the final playoff spot in the West which may negate any chance of trade between the two clubs, but if that changes Dallas would also be a good landing spot for Ramo.