1. What the Flames need
So we’ve got the trade deadline in two weeks or so and the dominoes are already starting to fall. A guy I thought the Flames might target, and in fact did — Cody Franson — has instead gone to league-leading Nashville in one of those “rich-get-richer” deals that you’re not sure how they went down in the first place (it’s not dissimilar to how the Leafs pried Franson out of Nashville in the first place: For Brett Lebda, somehow). I think we can all agree that given the price — a B prospect, a first-round pick, and Olli Jokinen — that’s something that’s at least relatively in the Flames’ wheelhouse, although maybe you say the first-rounder might have been a bridge too far for a rebuilding club, though I’ll get to that in a minute.
What the Flames actually need in the trade market to make them actually competitive is, of course, a No. 1 center, which they’re not going to get anywhere at any time and will therefore probably have to develop. Sean Monahan is inching in that direction (very much to his credit) and Sam Bennett might one day be that, but we still have no idea what he looks like at the NHL level. But everyone needs No. 1 centers and they certainly don’t grow on trees. One miiiiiiight be available at some point in the indeterminate future — we’ll get to him later on too — but the raft of picks and prospects that it will almost certainly take to acquire him is something the Flames cannot and should not give up at this point.
They also need better defense, and that’s something I think cannot be reasonably obtained at this point. Again, unless you’re willing to buy high on Andrej Sekera or Keith Yandle, I don’t see the point of acquiring even a young-ish veteran defenseman because most of those guys are going to be rentals, unless you really feel like overpaying them in the summer.
(That presents its own problems, obviously. The Flames are cap-rich now. Very much so, in fact. But here’s the issue: Give two or three “bad” contracts that last anywhere between five and eight years. Now think about what you’re going to have to pay Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau and TJ Brodie and whichever other prospects might turn into good or even great NHLers who will be due more money in the future. I think the recent issues with the devaluing of the Canadian dollar paint a stark picture of what the league could look like in a few years, especially for Canadian teams: Sagging revenues and a stagnant cap means that teams which spend a lot today could be in for some tough decisions even two or three years from now.)
2. What they can actually get
Of course, Brad Treliving was probably never going to play those games. While I was previously concerned that the front office might think just a little too highly of its chances, even with all the assurances of “we’re not Going For It,” I was a little worried that they’d get themselves just a wee bit too excited about the prospect of adding (Player X) because they liked what (Player X) brought to the table and sure he might cost a lot but (Player X) was worth it; except that in reality (Player X) sucks if you really watch the game, and now Calgary gave up a fair bit and got a guy back who sucks.
We’ve been given little reason to believe in this administration’s evaluation abilities, because everyone who’s currently performing for the club was brought in by Jay Feaster, much as that may be weird to think about, and Brad Treliving’s big additions were a mixed bag to say the least. Sign Mason Raymond and Jonas Hiller? Sure, they make the team better. Sign Deryk Engelland to that deal? Give up an asset for Brandon Bollig? No thanks.
I like the Raymond signing well enough, but any GM in the league would have taken the Hiller-over-Ramo upgrade and not been called a genius for doing it. The other guys, well, the less said the better.
So really, we don’t know what kind of deal-maker Treliving is. In free agency, he has actively screwed up twice while making one obvious deal and one nice one. In trades, he acquired Bollig and made a like-for-like swap with Florida. So we really don’t know what he’s capable of in terms of finagling deals.
With that having been said, the ability to add possession-driving, bottom-of-the-lineup guys is a skill I’d think most people with a pulse have. They’re cheap to acquire and cheap to retain. That’s usually because they’re undervalued, or teams really don’t have a use for them beyond, say, a year or two. There are very few bottom-six possession drivers seen as “core” guys, and when they are seen that way, they’re typically overpaid and not made available. Which is a mistake for the teams signing those deals but not a concern to anyone else. Come up with any number of proven bottom-six guys on middling-to-bad teams — there have to be a few dozen of them — and you can probably get them for the cost of a Brandon Bollig-type move (third-round pick) at the absolute most.
3. Who else they should go for
But if there’s one player who’s a cut above those depth guys who are perceived as dime-a-dozen, one name that has apparently come up in trade conversation in the last week or so, and who intrigues me greatly, is Columbus’s Cam Atkinson.
He’s got a decent enough relative corsi, he gets somewhat-tough minutes, and he’s been bounced around the lineup a lot. He’s also second on the Blue Jackets in points per 60 minutes among forwards with at least 500 minutes at 5-on-5 this season, and fourth in points per 60. I’m not sure why he’s being shopped, based on these numbers; but he’ll be an RFA this summer and maybe they’re not too keen on extending him. That’s just me speculating, but I think he’s worth at least kicking the tires on.
In fact, over the last three seasons, only 10 Blue Jackets forwards have gotten 1,000 or more minutes at evens, and by just about any measure he’s among their best in terms of moving the puck in the right direction (second in corsi behind only Brandon Dubinsky), sixth in goals per 60, and and fifth in points per 60. And unlike some of the guys in front of him on both counts — Artem Anisimov, Nick Foligno, Ryan Johansen — he doesn’t have an insanely high shooting percentage.
The cost is obviously the sticky wicket here, and if other teams are interested it’s probably not going to be cheap, but the guy’s 25 and proven effective in the NHL over three years. That’s a guy who can be useful for some time to come, and might therefore be worth giving up assets to acquire. Not a lot or anything, and if the price is too high you’d like to see the Flames say “Thanks but no thanks,” but it’s something to monitor.
The downside is he’s small, listed at 5-foot-7 and only 175 pounds. That’s in Johnny Gaudreau territory (and hey, they went to the same college and put up huge points there!) and it might push the limits of just how much skill/non-size a Brian Burke club is willing to stomach.
4. Who they’ll probably settle for
A guy who might be more available and thus less costly, though, is from a team for which the sell-off has already begun: Toronto is probably going to make Dan Winnik available. He’s in the last year of a cheap one-off contract that pays him just $1.3 million against the cap, and I’d imagine he comes at the price of a mid- to late-round pick.
But among Leafs forwards with 400 minutes (there are 11, meaning he’s probably a third-line guy who occasionally gets a little time on the second) he’s No. 2 in CF% behind only Nazem Kadri. Speaking of Kadri and Winnik, they’re also tied for fourth on the team in points per 60 (though Winnik’s goals per 60 is a poor 0.5). He plays middling competition and takes a lot of the tougher zone starts so Phil Kessel and Tyler Bozak don’t have to. And he’s got some tread left on the tires (29 years old), he’s size-y (6-foot-2, 210 pounds), and he’s a guy who was targeted by a team that just figured out over the summer that having a good corsi is good.
If you can get a guy like that, then have the inside track to extend him during the rebuild for another year or maaaaaybe two if you want to push it, that’s a pretty good move.
5. Pie in the sky
Of course, the aforementioned center I’d be fascinated to see them pursue, not surprisingly, is Ryan O’Reilly. He’s likely on his way out of Colorado as soon as this current deal is done, has expressed an interest in Calgary before (the offer sheet debacle), and is awesome.
He will cost a lot to acquire, and probably won’t be available at the deadline anyway. But I think that Calgary would be wise to take a run at him in the summer. Save the bullets this time around and plan for that. Not that there won’t be 29 other teams interested, but an acquisition like that certainly helps drive a rebuild along nicely.