It’s February and, yup, the Flames are still in the hunt for a playoff spot. Absent a disastrous month (which is possible, given their schedule), Calgary may be in the market for a player or two at the deadline in order to bolster their depth for a final push.
Although Brad Treliving has, sensibly, said he is focused with the long-term picture rather than simply shopping for a rental, there may be opportunities to add players who are useful both now and later. As we’ve noted frequently in this space, Calgary’s blueline depth is fairly abysmal and is likely the greatest area of need for the club both currently and moving forward. Nabbing a quality top-4 guy who can be retained would help the make the post-season push now and in their quest to develop into true contenders down the road.
Many of the league’s bottom basement teams are already putting some pieces on the auction block. The possibility of nabbing either Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel has precipitated an urgent race to the bottom for any club already out of it. Let’s take a look at what the lesser lights have to offer.
Buffalo Sabres – Tyler Myers
The towering 6’7″ former calder winner has really fallen on hard times the last few seasons. He put up decent offensive and moderately good underlying stats in his first season or two, but it’s been all down hill from there. Myers bears a heavy burden in Buffalo, facing top line competition and tough zone starts, and he gets killed doing it. As a result, he has some of the worst possession numbers in the league and his offense has completely dried up.
Myers is signed for the next four years at $5.5M year (although his actual salary falls below that cap hit). He’s also reputed to be very expensive to acquire with the Sabres looking to homerun any deal they make with him.
The gamble with the player is separating his results from those of the awful team around him. If Myers is simply weighed down by rotten circumstances, he’s a player who has the kind of raw ability and is at the right age to develop into something really useful. On the other hand, if he has plateaued and is part of the problem in Buffalo, paying big in terms of assets and cap hit would be a disaster.
Arizona Coyotes – Zybnek Michalek, Keith Yandle
Keith Yandle is the shiny bauble in Arizona thanks to his nice offensive totals, but Zbynek MIchalek may be the better bet. The Coyotes top-4 deployment is much like the Flames – with one pairing soaking up the toughest minutes and excelling, leaving the second unit a much easier assignment:
Meaning Yandle is essentially the Coyotes version of Dennis Wideman, while Michalek is their TJ Brodie (with less offense, of course). The irony is, Yandle will cost an arm and a leg to acquire because of his scoring and the fact that he’s signed for one more season after this. Michalek has more modest counting stats and is a pending UFA.
The one concern with Michalek is his age. He will turn 33 years old next December, which is typically right around the time players start hitting the back nine of their careers. The only reason to trade for Michalek would be to re-sign him, but inking him for anything more than a year or two carries some very real risk of diminishing returns.
Carolina Hurricanes – Andrej Sekera
Not a lot of people know about the 28 year old Slovakian, which probably makes him one of the most underrated defenders in the league. Sekera has put up really good underlying numbers for years. This season he has been paired with Justin Faulk on the Hurricanes surprisingly capable first pairing. Sekera also tended to face top competition on the Sabres during his last couple of seasons there, so he is an established top minutes option.
Also a pending UFA, Sekera’s camp has made noises about wanting to stay in Carolina recently. If the Hurricanes can’t re-sign him before the deadline, however, expect them to put up him up for sale.
Toronto Maple Leafs – Cody Franson
Only Cody Franson plays minutes comparable to Dion Phanuef in Toronto. The difference is, he has much better underlying numbers and scoring rates at even strength than the former Flame. The 27-year old pending UFA is big (6’5″) and not that fleet of foot, but has a decent amount of offense and is a clever enough player that his foot speed isn’t a huge hinderance.
Franson is an important player for Toronto, but their cap situation suggests they won’t be able to re-sign him this summer. Unless they can move someone like David Clarkson or Dion Phaneuf instead, the Leafs are going to be forced to auction Franson off.
Franson is good enough that the Flames could justify putting together a decent package to acquire him, assuming they have assurances he would re-sign in Calgary of course.
Edmonton Oilers – Jeff Petry
One of the Oilers few bright spots over the last couple of years has been Jeff Petry. He plays in tough circumstances with next to no help and still puts up a positive relative possession rate. A tall, rangy defender who can skate, Petry doesn’t have much offense to speak of, but could definitely become a solidifying presence on most second pairings in the NHL.
The Oilers have traded two defenders to the Flames in the recent past – Steve Staios and Ladislav Smid – so it’s not impossible that the two rivals could get in bed again. That said, the Oilers organization will likely be very hesitant about moving a guy to the Flames who isn’t an obvious salary dump like Staios and Smid.
Ottawa Senators – Patrick Wiercioch
Though the Sens aren’t technically a dive for five team at this point, they are more likely to be sellers at the deadline. And even if they weren’t, they’d likely be interested in moving Patrick Wiercioch. One of the more intriguing players on this list, Wiercioch has put up team best possession rates in a supporting third pairing role for years in Ottawa, but the team seems ambivalent at best about the player. He’s been a healthy scratch throughout this season and is known in the market as a guy who commits alarming brain cramps now and then, even though all his broad brush stats are excellent.
Wiercioch is a former second round pick, big (6’5″ and 206lbs), only 24 years old and a pending RFA. He’s young enough that he could improve, has intriguingly good underlying results over his entire career to date (in admittedly soft circumstances) and would probably be really cheap to acquire. He would likely be an instant upgrade over any of the guys Calgary has playing in the bottom pairing currently with the potential of moving up the rotation with a bit more responsibility and development.
Philadelphia Flyers – Michael Del Zotto, Braydon Coburn
The Flyers have a couple of players who may be worth looking at if they decide to sell off pieces in March. Michael Del Zotto has been decent in a second pairing type role for the Flyers, even though he was signed off the scrap heap for next to nothing in the summer. The former Rangers first rounder has bounced around the league since New York soured on him, but is still just 24 years old and is on pace for 36 point season this year. While he may never fulfill the promise that saw him make the NHL as a teenager, Del Zotto’s results in Philly suggest he’s still a capable NHLer.
Braydon Coburn is playing the toughs this year for Philly and keeping his head above water, if not quite excelling. A huge defender at 6’5″, 220lbs Coborn scored 36 points once upon a time, but has mostly settled into a defense-first, showdown blueliner over the years (though there is some offensive talent there).
Coburn is not going to carry a first pairing himself but he could be a useful second pairing guy in the right circumstances, and is good enough that he could move up the rotation in case of injury. The 29-year old is signed for one year at $4.5M, which will likely make him a bit more expensive to acquire if he’s made available.
Clearly there are a few options to choose from if the Flames are looking to bolster the blueline come the trade deadline. Many of the guys listed would be long-term solutions for a Calgary blueline that desperately needs depth behind Brodie and Giordano, although there’s no outright guarantee that any of the upcoming UFA’s would necessarily stick around.
There’s also the issue of price. Calgary won’t be terribly interested in moving a first round pick at the deadline, which is often the coin of the realm for decent defenders. If prices climb into the 1st rounder territory, the Flames may be better just bidding for some of these guys’ services in the summer instead.