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The Calgary Flames have been in the centre of trade rumours for about 10 days and as their on-ice struggles continue, those rumours is beginning to pick up an elevated sense of urgency.
Unlike most NHL teams the Flames have a surplus of defensemen, who are usually a hot commodity on the trade market. The sense that one gets reading and listening to some of the most reliable insiders in hockey is that the Flames would very much like to make a complicated three-dimensional hockey trade involving veteran Dennis Wideman. Wideman’s most frequent defense partner Kris Russell is hearing his names pop up in trade reports as well, though it still seems like the Flames would much prefer to keep the shot-blocking ace.
“I don’t think there’s any question that (Flames general manager) Brad Treliving would like to shock the Calgary Flames system, at least get them playing better,” reported TSN’s Bob McKenzie during an Insider Trading segment on Tuesday night, “but he also doesn’t want to make a panic move for the sake of a move this early in the season.”
McKenzie elaborated on the situation, describing the club’s posture – and some of the assorted challenges – involved in moving one of their second-pairing defensemen:
Now they do have depth on defense. Dennis Wideman is a guy that’s been playing very well, and there is some interest in him, and the Calgary Flames have some interest in possibly moving him. But with two years left on his deal at $5.5 million and a no-trade clause, he’s got control of that situation in more ways than one.
Kris Russell is a defenseman on the Calgary Flames that a lot of teams have interest in, but at this point in time – as poor as Russell has played as poorly as the Flames have played – he’s an expiring contract, the Flames don’t want to move him right now and in fact would like to sign him to an extension.
In the same segment TSN and ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun added that the Buffalo Sabres are in the hunt for a top-four defenseman and have discussed the matter with the Flames. With Rasmus Ristolainen, Zach Bogosian and Cody Franson already on the Sabres roster though, you’d have to think their interest would be geared more towards adding a left-handed shooter like Russell.
In addition to Wideman’s steep cap-hit and his no-move clause limiting the Flames’ options, as Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman pointed out in his latest 30 Thoughts column, Wideman also carries a massive salary – especially in the final year of his contract:
(Wideman’s) got a no-move clause, but even if he was willing, the problem is his $5.25 million cap hit next season — with an actual salary of $6 million. With so many teams so tight to the ceiling, it’s going to be hard for someone to take it.
If you’re looking for teams with both the need, the cap-space, and the financial solvency to add the full freight of Wideman’s deal, well, you’re pretty much limited to the Sabres. Maybe the Anaheim Ducks? It’s an extremely short list.
Which is why, if the Flames are insistent on moving Wideman, they’ll probably have to add an additional layer of complexity to the transaction by agreeing to retain some salary. As Ryan Pike pointed out in his guide to Flames trade rumours earlier on Tuesday evening:
Even if Wideman didn’t have a no-move, the Flames would probably need to eat a bad contract, or retain salary, or throw in a good pick or prospect to move Wideman. I doubt it happens.
Hard to argue with that, frankly.
It seems that as much as the Flames would prefer to keep Russell in the organization, if the club ultimately decides that they need to shake things up with a trade that may net them legitimate value, he has to be defensemen to move. Russell’s deal is affordable at $2.6 million, and it’s expiring, and if the Flames decide to put him on the market, you’d have to believe that he’d generate significant interest.
Whether the Flames opt to dangle Russell between now and the NHL trade deadline could hinge on the transitional defensive defenseman’s contract demands. Friedman lists Chris Tanev, T.J. Brodie, Andrej Sekera and Matthias Ekholm as comparables, but most of those players’ cap-hits are pulled down by the fact that their respective teams bought out a variety of their restricted free agent seasons.
One might note that unlike Russell; Sekera, Tanev and Brodie are top-pair defensemen. Their unrestricted seasons are all valued in the neighbourhood of $5 million (or a bit more). Ekholm is a second pairing guy with mostly defensive value, so that comparable might work a bit better, but if you eliminate the restricted season that the Predators purchased from him, the Swedish defender is being paid an average salary of $3.9 million per for his unrestricted years.
Can the Flames really afford to add a long-term salary commitment of that size when they still have big extensions to work out with both Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau in the next 10 months? Feel free to colour me skeptical.