Photo credit: Sergei Belski/USA TODAY Sports
The day is Feb. 22. That means we are officially T-minus seven days until the trade deadline. Just one more week until the Flames organization is locked into place and left to meet their fate with the personnel they have, whether they miss the playoffs or… yeah, miss the playoffs is probably the only realistic option here.
And what should teams that are going to miss the playoffs do? Buying would be ludicrous; even if there’s a single attainable player out there that could make the Flames a playoff team, they’re still rather far behind the eight ball.
Standing pat would be even more ludicrous. It’s a move we’ve seen before, primarily in the Jay Feaster #goingfor it years. All it ever left the Flames with were mediocre ninth or 10th place finishes, no playoffs, and an ever-increasingly delayed rebuild.
Teams that miss the playoffs sell. Mathematical life is wonderful and all, but realism needs to trump all: and realism says the Flames need to get what they can for as many players they have who aren’t a part of their future plans.
Areas of need
Beggars can’t be choosers, and rebuilding teams are rebuilding for a reason: they’re missing things across the board. The Flames can use help at all positions, so pretty much every area is an area of need.
Some needs are less pressing than others, though. For example, having centre depth consisting of Sean Monahan, Sam Bennett, Mikael Backlund, and Matt Stajan? Only Stajan is older than 30, and only Stajan probably isn’t part of the Flames’ future plans among that group. That still leaves three young players down the middle: Monahan, who has some of the best numbers of his draft class and is clearly doing something right; Bennett, who has elite potential; and Backlund, who is probably as excellent as a third line centre as you’re ever going to get.
The Flames’ top three defencemen are Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie, and Dougie Hamilton: two under 30 years old, and all three with great scoring potential. Giordano is the steady veteran leader who is still fantastic at the game, Brodie is flat out elite and one of the very best defencemen around, and Hamilton is still growing, but already a high-level player.
But that’s about it. The Flames still need to round out their top four with another defenceman; Kris Russell is not the guy. Outside of Johnny Gaudreau for scoring and Michael Frolik for all around play, Calgary is still lacking in quality wingers, although a guy like Micheal Ferland may be able to one day help out – but they still need more elite talent up front.
The two really pressing areas of need? To shed terrible contracts – Ladislav Smid makes more than Jakub Nakladal and Tyler Wotherspoon combined, but may be a worse option than the both of them; expensive players signed to too-long deals have not only inhibited chances for other players, but likely worsened the on-ice roster – and goaltending.
Oh god, do the Calgary Flames need goaltending. Save us Jon Gillies, you’re our only hope isn’t going to cut it, even if he hadn’t just lost almost his entire rookie pro season to surgery.
Since the Flames aren’t buyers, they really only have one contribution to the market: players for sale.
Jiri Hudler is a reliable 50-point top six insurance forward at absolute worst. Russell is billed nowadays as a shot-blocking top four defenceman of great character and heart. That makes them the Flames’ greatest assets – especially considering how the Flames’ other UFAs consist of David Jones (whose plain name matches his abilities: sure, he can contribute, and he’s an NHLer, but he’s not an exceptional one, and nobody is going to break bank for him), Nakladal (only just now getting actual NHL action), Jonas Hiller (in the worst season of his career to date), and Karri Ramo (RIP).
So if the Flames are going to make any splashes over the course of this week, it’s probably going to be off the backs of Hudler and Russell, as we should bid them farewell.
What does one get for a Hudler or a Russell? Picks, prospects, or young, capable roster players, ideally. Anywhere they go is likely to be a team gearing up for a playoff run: Hudler adds scoring depth, Russell adds another mobile body on the backend accustomed to big minutes. They’re good pieces to go after.
Now, here’s a question in regards to them: do you trade them to two separate teams, or package them together? For example: if the Score’s idea of Hudler and Russell to Dallas for Valeri Nichushkin is even remotely feasible (and I have my serious doubts, because that would be a dream come true), then that’s pretty much all the excitement I’d need on trade deadline week.
Or they could be traded for picks. The Flames loading up on picks for the upcoming draft would be a good thing to do. It’s just not fun to talk about, but it would still be smart.
This so happens to be one of the Flames’ areas of need. They need to clear salary, not because they’re in a Chicago Blackhawks-like situation and have to sell off valuable players for essentially nothing (Patrick Sharp and Stephen Johns for what turned into Jiri Sekac and Rob Scuderi in the AHL is hysterical), but because they have too many bad players taking up too much cap (and roster) space.
Sure, via NHLNumbers, the Flames still have roughly $2.6 million in cap space. That’s a bit of change that could allow them to retain salary or take on a bad contract in exchange for a pick or prospect, but it’s not much.
Much of the core is already set: Giordano, Brodie, and Hamilton locked up, Gaudreau and Monahan about to be, and a year still to go on Sam Bennett’s ELC. But then there are all the dollars Mason Raymond, Dennis Wideman, and even Stajan and Smid are taking up, and it gets ugly, fast. It’s these deals that are going to limit the Flames’ monetary flexibility, not Gaudreau’s upcoming contract for many, many dollars.
Going half-cocked in ill-advised trades or in free agency when the Flames were swimming in cap space limits the Flames’ flexibility in this area.
The Flames essentially have a full round of picks with which to work in the 2016 draft, and that’s it, barring a condition or two here or there. More would be nice; after all, it was the Flames’ flexibility in picks garnered via trading Curtis Glencross in 2015 that allowed them to pick up both Hamilton and Oliver Kylington, and those two adds did wonders for Calgary in its quest to better its defence for the future.
The only way any of Calgary’s picks go anywhere is if it’s an upgrade. And their first probably isn’t going anywhere at all; they can’t afford that. Not when they’re sitting 25th in the league.
Picks are just one piece of the puzzle, though. Picks are great, but usually only when they pan out. Prospects on the cusp of breaking in the NHL – or young players who are already there – count in this category, and count as something the Flames need to collect more of.
But that’s not to say the Flames don’t have any of their own to offer up. Raymond, for example, was sent down so Markus Granlund could remain in the NHL; Granlund has been a healthy scratch six out of 10 times this month. He’s 22 years old. What’s his role on this team? Josh Jooris has, undeservedly, been a frequent healthy scratch this season: where is he meant to fit in? If Tyler Wotherspoon is in his third professional year, and is only just now getting his second real shot with the Flames, could he be better utilized on another team?
If the Flames have any young players they aren’t sure where to fit in, and they have a chance to include them in a trade that would provide an upgrade, they should pull the trigger. And for a team with a solid handful of bottom six players and AHL-NHL tweeners, this could be a chance to capitalize.
The key to a successful trade deadline for the Flames is very simple: trade Hudler and Russell for future assets. That’s the minimum standard.
Anything more would be great, but Hudler and Russell will likely be too expensive to re-sign, and you can’t let players of that ability or market value go for nothing. Especially not when you’re still looking to the future, and still need help getting there.
They’re the best chance to help. That’s their future role. You can’t let that slip away.