No matter what, Flames must sell at the trade deadline

The trade deadline is typically a pretty exciting time in the sports landscape. Playoff-bound teams are picking up reinforcements, while lottery-bound teams have new picks and prospects to look forward to.

And then there are the bubble teams, who are left with the worst question: do they buy to try to make a playoff run, or do they sell to bolster their future prospects (and, at the same time, imply throwing in the towel on the season)? Or do they simply stand pat and hope for the best?

The Flames look like a bubble team (albeit merely by benefit of how terrible the Pacific Division is), so that’s a question they will, in all likelihood, be facing come the Feb. 29, 2016 trade deadline.

But the answer is clear: they have to sell.

This is still a rebuilding team

The Flames are in year three of their rebuild. They remain a negative possession team, although their current 47.6% CF – seventh worst in the NHL – isn’t as bad as last season’s 44.5%, or even 2013-14’s 46.3%. They’re slowly but surely improving, but they are not even close to being competitive.

This is a team with a 16-16-2 record. A -22 goal differential. Of their 16 wins, seven of them have come in regulation. They have won four games by more than one goal.

This is not a good team. You can point to any number of excuses, from injuries to catastrophic goaltending to low shooting percentages, but fact is, this is not a team that can be competitive outside of its division.

If the Flames played in the Atlantic, Metropolitan, or Central, they would be seventh place in the divisions. The only reason they look like a bubble team now is because three teams from the Pacific are guaranteed a playoff spot, and they’re keeping pace with the other bottom dwellers they’re in direct competition with. They’re 23rd in overall league standings; five of the bottom 10 teams in the NHL are from the Pacific. It’s a really, really bad division.

Even though the Flames have been playing much better as the season has gone on, any dream of being competitive remains just that: a dream. Because they’re certainly not there yet.

Look at what happened last season

The Flames were in a playoff spot for most of the 2014-15 season. Even an eight-game losing streak couldn’t really knock them out of the post-season talk. Sure, they didn’t clinch until their penultimate game of the season, but they were always – always – in the conversation.

And they still sold.

Granted, the Flames didn’t have as much to sell. Curtis Glencross was an impending unrestricted free agent scoring at .53 points per game, though, and he could have (theoretically) helped the Flames en route to a playoff spot – or he could have helped them acquire assets for the future while the Flames continued to fight on without him.

He netted them a second and third round pick, both of which were crucial in the acquisitions of Dougie Hamilton and Oliver Kylington. Because the Flames traded Glencross, they had the picks they needed to make both of those trades, and they’re a much better team for it today.

The Flames made the playoffs and won a round without Glencross anyway. Their second round performance helped serve to highlight just how completely not ready they were to compete, though. While the Vancouver Canucks – a not-great team – put up an entertaining six-game battle with the Flames, the Anaheim Ducks – then an actually-good team – completely dismantled Calgary. It was fun, but they weren’t going to achieve the ultimate goal.

So which would you rather do: cling to expiring assets in the hope they help you for another short post-season run, or use them to build for the future? Would you rather a potentially marginally extended playoff run or two young defencemen with incredible upside?

Immediate gratification is great, but not productive in the team’s current state.

Better to get something than nothing

The Flames have five impending UFAs this season: Jiri Hudler, David Jones, Kris Russell, Jonas Hiller, and Karri Ramo. Six if you count Jakub Nakladal.

Now, it’s unlikely all of these guys go. That would essentially leave the Flames goalie-less. It would leave more spots open for prospects, but the Flames will still likely be in a playoff battle by the time the trade deadline hits, and simply throwing a bunch of young 20-somethings out there and telling them to go at it probably isn’t the best move for success, either in the short term in trying to make the post-season or the long term for their development.

But there’s something to be said for still trying to acquire assets for something you’re almost certainly going to lose no matter what. There may not be a market for Hiller, but Hudler is one season removed from a 76 point season, and some playoff-bound team is guaranteed to want that. There’s probably no market for Nakladal, but Russell is a defenceman playing top-four minutes on a relatively cheap contract, and any team that wants to increase its defensive depth will probably be looking at him. At this point in time, they’re better pieces than Glencross was for the Flames, and losing them would hurt the lineup more, but that’s no reason to be gun shy when it comes to a potential deal for them.

With the impending cap crunch the 2016-17 season looks to bring for the Flames – a perfect storm of bad contracts yet to expire, and Sean Monahan and especially Johnny Gaudreau about to get paid – guys like Hudler and Russell will, in all likelihood, price themselves out of the Flames’ range. 

Hudler will be a 32-year-old looking for a big pay day; not only can the Flames not afford him, it wouldn’t make sense to retain him, considering the current state of the team. Russell will be 29 and looking for a greater amount than his current $2.6 million; he could still fit in the Flames’ plans, but with Dennis Wideman, Ladislav Smid, and Deryk Engelland taking up a combined roughly $11.65 million of the cap on what are pretty much untradable contracts next season, finding room for his new salary is going to be difficult (and considering Russell’s overuse – that he’s more suited for a third-pairing role – overpaying for him makes little sense; that $11.65 million is already spent on what are three third-pairing guys, and why would you add to that).

Retaining guys like Jones and Ramo may make sense, if only because there’s a decent chance they’ll come back to the Flames for a much lesser cap hit; Ramo in particular because the Flames will still need a stopgap in net, and he’s at least already familiar with the team.

But the future is the key here. If a team is willing to part with assets to acquire any of the Flames’ impending UFAs, then you pull the trigger. Sell them. Because this season isn’t going to result in the ultimate prize, but assets they acquire this season one day might.

  • Cfan in Vic

    Agree with your points. Other than Ramo all other UFA’s must be moved. Flames has enough depth where such moves should not make any impact towards a playoff run….

  • Cfan in Vic

    There are maybe some trades that could ease the sting of losing such important pieces. Maybe a Hudler for Beau Bennett type deal could provide a short term stop gap and a long term potential upgrade. Bennett has 10 points in 24 games to Hudler’s 19 in 31 but Bennett’s upside is his 57 hits over the year.

    The biggest concern is Bennetts health but if he could get some consistency and become a rough and rugged RHS on that top line that could be a really good investment.

    • ChinookArchYYC

      I’d be in favour of the Flames for swapping bad contracts to move at least one of the aforementioned out. The glut of veteran defensemen is holding back the team’s abilty to ease in a young AHLer like Kulak or even Nakladal into the lineup. Russell may shake things up a bit, but one other defensemen should be moved as well.

      Trading out a depth defensemen for a decent right winger that’s a bit over priced and termed, could become a win-win trade.

      • Burnward

        Agreed. Remember poor Wotherspoon? Seems like ages ago he had his stint and actually looked good. Poor guy, I’m sure he can’t wait for his contract to run out so he can go to a team that will give him a real shot

  • cberg

    First off, I agree the Flames should be Sellers overall in the upcoming TDL. It just makes sense because of the UFA status of many players and the LT outlooks for keeping them.

    Having said that, I haven’t even finished the article before need ing to comment on a few premises therein. Perhaps its a bit of revisionist re-writing going on but Ari makes it sound like the Ducks walked all over the Flames and we had no business being in the same rink. Take a step back please.

    We went into the playoffs with a major injury to our best player and Norris-season defender, Giordano. Also, one of our best and toughest forwards in the first round, Ferland also got injured early on. So please take those into consideration.

    Secondly, as I recall, we beat the Ducks once and went into Overtime in the critical Game 5 in their barn. Certainly we were dominated many times but it is not like we were COMPLETELY out of it.

    And this is important, because with the improvements made in the off-season its very likely we’re/we will be even better come this year’s playoffs should we make it. Finally (for the moment, got to run out) its not a SOMETHING or NOTHING proposition at the TDL. Getting to the playoffs and advancing farther than we have in 25 years (minus 1 miracle run) is SOMETHING.

    • ChinookArchYYC

      It’s not revisionist history to suggest that the Flames barely made the playoffs (largely on the back of an excellent team shooting %). The deserved to be the 15/16 team to qualify for the 2015 playoffs, but no better. And to be clear they were no match for the Ducks last year. That’s no put down either, not many teams were and that team could have become champions last year.

      Ps Thank the hockey gods they didn’t win the cup.

    • Kevin R

      Yeah, but all that showed was that we really don’t have the right kind of depth to take a long run in the playoffs. Quite frankly, Gio’s injury pushed BT to selling, but if he didn’t get injured we could have sold & still made the playoffs anyway. I think we are at that point yet this year as well. We can sell & still be in the hunt come March.. Problem even with our cruddy division, meaning we are lumped into the same crud, these teams are getting 3 point games, like the two last night & that hurts. I think our chances of making the playoffs will not hinge on transactions that happen at the trade deadline. Really, if Hudler was having another incredible year & the reason making Gaudreau & Monahan tick, then you can’t really sell him & hope to challenge for a spot. But that isn’t what has happened & personally, put Ferland on that line or Jones & we have a pretty solid top line.

      I think BT is going to get a finger on the pulse of what Russell will want to get an extension done. If it’s an attractive # 3.0-3.5Mill per, I see him trying to move out Wideman. We lost ground on everyone last night except for Anahein & the scary part, Anaheim is 4 back with 1 game in hand. We have big games coming up in our division from now through Jan. Things will be clearer Feb 1. Either way, Im with Ari in the sell camp.

  • DoubleDIon

    I’d keep Jones and Ramo. Sell the rest if you can. Also if at any point a team is willing to take on Smid or Engelland you do it, even if you need to keep some of the cap hit.

    I just don’t see Jones bringing more than a 3rd round pick and I think he’d resign here at a good number. Big bodies who can skate and have enough finish to play in the top 9 are valuable.

  • Burnward

    Ari, I tend to disagree about the Flames being a bubble team because they are in the Pacific Division…they are a bubble team because of the horrendous October when they started the season at 2-8-1. This happened because of: TJ Brodie going down, Gio trying to get up to speed and timing after a serious year-ending injury, Dougie trying to adjust to new systems, new teammates, new city…no wonder the defense looked like a garbage fire and the goalies suffered as a result.

    Since then the team has been 14-8-1….quite an improvement! Flames have only played 8 of their games against the Pac Division this year….and many more to come (22-6-1 last season)…

  • if there is a market for either goalie, trade whichever one there is interest in, and if not, keep them. I doubt either of them come back. (Though I’d keep Nak if you can trade Russell, it’d be interesting to see what the flames have there)

    Draft picks and prospects are great things for rebuilding teams, and let’s face it, this team is still that. If you can trade all of these guys (save for one goalie) for those kinds of pieces, do it. This team might sneak in based on being a Pacific Division team, but I don’t think anyone can legitimately believe they get past the west powerhouses in a 7 game series.

    I do agree that there could be value to David Jones on a far reduced salary, but there will be a lot of similar players on the free agent market (Brad Boyes comes to mind) that you could also pursue on the cheap while still picking up an asset for Jones. Don’t see why you wouldn’t do that.

    Let’s all plan a party for the day that Wideman, Smid, Engelland, and Bollig come off the books.

  • Burnward

    Maybe someone smarter than me can figure this out.

    What’s their record in games where they get league average goaltending?

    Bet it’s about 10 games above. 500.

    • ville de champignons

      For the past couple of hours I’ve been trying to do the math and all the looking-up-stats-stuff and concluded that its not humanly possible to figure out unless you are stats-addicted with a very high threshold for boredom. But I am still haunted by the suspicion that you are correct, ie that better goaltending would have resulted in more wins. 10 games above .500 sounds about right.

      • KACaribou

        The problem with s#$tting on the goaltending, is that it always raises the questions: Was the goaltending beyond horrible? or was the beyond horrible goaltending the result of beyond horrible defense?

        I think we all agree that the defence is far better now, and is allowing far less quality scoring opportunities each game now, compared to the first dozen or so this season when they looked like a tire-fire.

        Therefore if the present goaltending was always subject to the present form of defence rather than the beyond horrible defence of earlier in the season, would the goaltending stats from earlier in the season even have existed? or would they have looked much more like they do now?

        Save percentages relate entirely to quality of shots. If quality of shots are equal it is fair to compare goaltenders’ save percentages.

        • ville de champignons

          You are exactly correct. Way too many variables for my limited RAM to contain so I gave up.

          Edit: *effectively unmeasurable variables*

          Edit 2: Just had a thought: Apply league-avg SV% to all teams and multiply by shots against. Is that sample size large enough to smooth out the lumpiness? I’ll let somebody else try it if they have the motivation. Gotta go update and re-boot my brain.

  • MontanaMan

    I mostly disagree with this article.Using phrases like the Flames are not a very good team is based solely on the much over rated corsi stats.Having a close look at the standings, I see a lot of parity in the league. So to make such statements based on points not corsi, it would be saying that most teams in the league are not very good.It should be noted that teams make the playoffs on points, not corsi…. I do agree, changes need to be made in order to optimize contract positions, but that is the business end of hockey, and every team needs to do this.It’s safe to say the core and future of the Flames is mostly identified at this point and hopefully the team can acquire the players they need to replace, expiring contracts,but if the team goes on another run and is looking at the playoffs, then what do you do at the trade deadline? Making the playoffs and advancing to the second round is not exactly rebuilding, but dumping your players at the deadline for prospects is kind of like giving up for that season. The next year mentality really sucks, and there is no reason that a team with 60 million dollars in contracts can’t compete,if they take their game to another level.

  • Burnward

    Saying the Flames would be a worse team if they played in another division does not make sense, because if they did their schedule would be different as well.You would then have to predict how they would do with a different schedule. Maybe they would have started 10-0, and this article would be moot…..:)

  • MontanaMan

    According to EK (don’t shoot the messenger!!!) the Flames are considered the front runner in the Ryan Johansen trade talk. Not that we put any faith in EK, but for the purposes of discussion, are the Flames interested in Johansen and if so, what would it take to get it done? He would immediately take over the number one centre position (yes in my opinion over Monahan) so to acquire a #1 centre at 23 years of age is appealing, for the right price. I would think it would start with Bennett, but where from there?

    • Kevin R

      Honestly, why the Flames would be interested in Johansen is beyond me. If Flames were dumb enough to even dangle Bennett in a deal, I don’t see why we would have to to add anything. What has Johansen done in Columbus to warrant such a high return. Bennett has as much if not more upside & the cost of Bennett is going to be way cheaper than Johansen.
      Now if Columbus were to want Russell (their GM seems to be very high on him) & we add Back lund & another piece from the farm, OK I would be over that. Seems like Hartley likes playing Bennett on the wing, have Bennett Johansen & Hudler on a line. I guess you couldn’t go wrong adding a Johansen to your arsenault of weapons.

      • MontanaMan

        If the Flames could work a deal with Backlund and Russell going to Columbus for Johansen I would drive them to Ohio myself. That would be robbery and would never happen but if BT could swing it, he’d be GM of the year.

        • Burnward

          Both of those players are Torts type players. Doesn’t mean it would happen, but they match the work ethic that Torts is trying to bring. Add in a 1st rounder and it could be a reasonable consideration for CBJ.
          Or a high-level prospect.

          The downside is that Johansen is that in 2016/17 he jumps to an actual salary of $6m. That sets him up for a big raise. The other problem is Russell + Backlund is around $6m in cap to Johansen’s $4m with CBJ only having $787k left.

      • Christian Roatis

        Montanaman’s suggestion was very ridiculous indeed. If you think Columbus will give you Johnasen for your garbage then I have news for you.

        Giving up either Bennett or Monahan for an overpaid, arrogant, out of shape star that only plays on his own terms is a non starter for me….

        • MontanaMan

          I don’t disagree with your assessment and I’m one who doesn’t like to take on athletes with baggage but someone is going to take a flyer on Johansen, assessing that he is floundering under Torts but that he could flourish under Team X’s coaching staff. It’s risky but there is tremendous upside. Don’t forget that Johansen has been an all star and not too long ago mentioned for the Canadian Olympic team. No doubt, the shine has come off of him recently, but there is tremendous upside in the right environment. To me, he will end up a Flyer as he’s a typical project that the Flyers like to take on (and rarely succeed at).

      • Christian Roatis

        Very well put, and I’d add that trading a 19 year old that has seemlessly fit into the best league in the world is playing with all kinds of fire. I’ve seen suggestions of flipping Monahan for Johansen but that’s poor deal too considering Monahan hasn’t had any of the problems Johansen has had so far in his career, plus interrupting his chemistry with Gaudreau would be counterproductive.

        I think it best the Flames let Johansen be, barring a steal of a deal.

  • MontanaMan

    Flames beat Dallas Stars twice and have beaten good teams along their current run = team is terrible. Some things never change on this site from the writers.

    • KACaribou

      Paralysis by analysis.

      We don’t lose points for poor possession numbers. We get points for beating teams.

      The Oilers are going to find that out tonight.

      Plus whoever we dump, we will have to replace with guys just like them and then the situation will re-occur next season.

  • Cfan in Vic

    Selling is a very good idea this season, mostly because I don’t think the team will be that affected by the moves.

    I honestly don’t think Hudler is bringing much to the table this season, and we have guys that can come up and plug holes on defense if we can get something for Russel. If forward injuries are still a problem, missing Jones might hurt a bit, but if they’re relatively healthy I don’t think that void is too deep. Hopefully Tre is doing the diligence to see if he can bring Ramo and Jones back for a good deal. I don’t think either goalie will bring much of a return, given how the season has gone.

    All that said, saying the Flames are just plain “not good”, is a bit harsh. The season start was straight up horrible, and they still have a long road to travel, but they are certainly making progress. They’ve shown that they can take on some really good teams in the last few weeks, and I still don’t think they can be judged by the first few weeks of the season.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    There seems to be a lot of debate surrounding trading vs staying the course for the playoffs. I’m curious where fan sentiment is. Straw poll:

    PROP – I generally agree with trading expiring contracts this year before the trade deadline.

    TRASH – I want to stay the course and go for a playoff berth and run.

    • piscera.infada

      I voted “prop”, but I really don’t see the two as mutually exclusive. Trading a Hudler, Russell, and Hiller (god-willing), doesn’t strike me with fear that the playoffs in a weak division aren’t a real possibility.

  • T&A4Flames

    I agree with Arii and am firmly in the sell camp. I’ve read the arguements people have re: our slow start; Gio trying to get back to standard after a long, terrible injury. Hamilton trying to get used to a new system in a new div. Brodie injured to start the season etc. All that says is we are not yet ready to truly compete because all teams go through this. We need more top end skill. 3 years ago I bought into the likelihood of a long drawn out rebuild. If 1 or even 2 more years of missing PO’s results in high draft picks, so long as the culture of effort they’ve worked so hard to produce remains, so be it.

    Trade Hudler, he helped the kids a ton, but his next contract will not be worth the likely $’s or especially likely term. Trade Russell. It’s amazing to me that there remains so much belief that he could fetch $5-6 mil on the open market. If GM’s still believe he’s worth that, then the return on a trade would be worth much more than having him as a low end #4 or bottom pair D. We have to keep 1 goalie so which ever may bring back the best return in relation to the players value to us goes. I doubt either resigns here anyway. I also see no reason to keep the others. If possible move Wideman as well. Why not. Gotta play Nakladal. Why sign him and bring him over on a 1 year contract if not to see what he has at the NHL level. We need to know if it’s worth resigning him.

    We will be at a level next year where the newly high paid Monahan’s, Gaudreau’s, Brodie’s and Hamiltons should be the voices of the team and the leaders.

  • Burnward

    if the Flames could move jones ,Raymond and Hillier. for almost anything, that would do for me.that frees up 11million and the Flames can get by with replacements for these guy’s

  • Burnward

    Hudler isn’t exactly playing himself into the same kind of money he could have got after last season, but he could still be a valuable piece moving forward as he has good skill and point production

  • Plumsrus

    What is obvious to me is that your Flames as they sit today, are a pretty tight group and these guys are playing for one another. So you do not want to disrupt the team too much.

    I would resign Ramo to 3 years @ 3 mil as your no.1 goalie. Bring Ortio back even though his numbers are crap. Bringing him back might turn him around.

    Resign Jones for 3 years at $3 mil. You trade Russel for a 2 and a really strong prospect or a 1 and 2. You hang onto Smid and just let him go next year at the deadline. You trade Wideman for a strong prospect and a 2 plus a 3.

    Keep Engelland through this season to avoid too much disruption to the team
    And buy him out at the end of the season.

    I think Hudler will bring a top notch defence an or top AHL player ready for the NHL plus a couple of picks.

    In terms of Hiller, I would take a strong forward prospect and an agreed upon during D prospect if resigned by the trading partner

    Then bring up the kids and let them show their stuff. By bringing up your own people for the most part, you retain continuity as the boys play our system already and they are due a real chance.

    There you go, Bob’s your Uncle and give me an Assistant GM job for $ 500k
    A year in charge of keeping Burke’s haircut schedule and teaching him how to
    Tie his Ties. Additional duties would be to keep his day timer in order and to keep his office beer fridge full