The countdown to the 2016 NHL Draft has entered its final stages with the Calgary Flames right in the middle of the action. The Flames have been connected to numerous trade rumours and will likely continue that way until they leave Buffalo on Saturday. With plenty swirling around so far, here are the top Calgary takeaways from Western New York so far.
Ahead are some quotes, so just a couple quick links before we get into it if you’re interested and want to hear the source material.
1. They’re looking hard for a goalie
While this might seem like a “duh” statement, it’s actually more of a motherhood declaration. The Flames are actively searching for a goaltender and that search has intensified in the last 24-36 hours. Everyone knows Calgary needs a goalie and the conditions seem to suggest an ability to strike a deal while at the draft.
General manager Brad Treliving admitted on Thursday morning his team is in a “number of markets” for a goaltender. He also admitted a confirmed expansion team in Las Vegas for the 2017-2018 season has had an effect on the situation, calling it an added “little wrinkle” to his team’s quest.
Assistant general Craig Conroy elaborated on the impact expansion could make when I spoke to him later on Thursday.
“Maybe it’s not the top guys,” Conroy told me. “Maybe it’s just a guy you like from the minors so it gives you more options. You look what [Matt] Murray just did…last year there were three or four guys that went to different teams. There’s guys out there, we just need to make sure we get the right guy for us.”
Conroy says the options for the Flames have opened up significantly since expansion was rubber stamped, so let’s see if it can help the team this weekend.
2. Trading for a goalie is desirable
Calgary’s mindset right now is focused on acquiring a goalie via a trade as opposed to free agency. Unrestricted free agency opens in a week and the Flames could upgrade between the pipes by going down that avenue, but Conroy says it’s not their top priority.
“Free agency you always get nervous because it could get limited and you don’t know how much you’re going to pay,” Conroy disclosed. “At this point we’re looking trade and then we’re going to see where that goes. If that doesn’t make sense…then we’re right back in ready for free agency and then you re-adjust.”
That quote kind of mirrors where my head is at with Calgary’s goaltending search. The more desirable options are definitely under contract to other teams for next season. From Ben Bishop to Marc-Andre Fleury and Brian Elliott, the biggest difference makers would have to be acquired by giving up assets.
As Kent wrote earlier, pending free agent James Reimer presents an interesting option via free agency. Unfortunately, he’s the best prize available in the annual bidding war with a fairly sizeable drop-off after that. Calgary can’t put all their eggs in Reimer’s basket, so trying to get something between the pipes done via trade probably makes the most sense.
3. Prices for goalies are high
Asking prices in net are way up there, at least for now. That doesn’t mean they’re going to stay that way, though.
“Obviously with Andersen going to Toronto, it changes things,” Conroy said. “That kind of set the price so now we’re looking at that and we’re trying to figure out how we can make things work.”
The Leafs gave up a late first round pick and a 2017 second round pick to obtain Andersen’s rights earlier this week. From some of what I’ve been told, a deal like that is just the starting point for some of the goalies still available right now.
The Calgary Sun reported earlier this week the Penguins were asking for Calgary’s sixth overall selection as compensation for Fleury. I’ve been told it was more than that, though; the Penguins were asking for number six from the Flames AND something on top of that. That’s simply too high of a price to pay for Fleury.
The hope is to see some of these prices drop as the weekend continues. As Treliving said Thursday morning, you can’t acquire 2016 picks once the draft is completed so there is an expiry date on some of his currency. That deadline might convince potential dance partners to come off their high asks a little bit.
4. They’re not worried about losing Jon Gillies
This one is on the fringe a little bit but it certainly impacts Calgary’s course of action. With next summer’s expansion draft looming, there is some debate as to whether goaltender Jon Gillies would be exempt from protection lists or not. Remember, his contract started rolling at the end of the 2014-2015 season despite not seeing a minute of professional ice time until the following season. That puts his “second year pro” exempt status in the grey, but the team doesn’t seem worried.
“I’m pretty sure that’s not an issue,” Treliving revealed although he was unable to confirm on Thursday morning.
Gillies’s exemption status is obviously a big deal for the Flames. If he does qualify for an exemption, the team doesn’t have to worry about losing one of him or a potentially newly acquired goalie in the expansion draft. If on the off chance he does not qualify, though, it throws a rather large wrench into things.
5. It sounds like a forward is likely at sixth overall
Calgary’s cupboards are somewhat bare when it comes to high end prospect forwards. That’s mainly because Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, and Sam Bennett are all playing in the NHL. Defensively, though, they’re a little more set with Rasmus Andersson, Oliver Kylington, and Brandon Hickey all in the system.
While Conroy didn’t come right out and tell me, it sure does sound like the Flames are leaning towards taking a forward with their first pick on Friday night.
“We feel very strong on defence,” he said. “We feel like we’ve got…with Engelland and Jokipakka we have we feel six guys we’re very comfortable with. You have that group, [it’s] not a priority but…like we always said, if it’s the best player in our mind and he’s sitting there then that’s who we’re going to take. If we could get a forward…it would be nice to have a forward to build around with Bennett, Monahan, Gaudreau. Add another high, high pick like that as a forward and a guy that you feel is going to be an impact player, that’s pretty exciting.”
Adding another forward like Alexander Nylander or, less likely, Pierre-Luc Dubois or Matthew Tkachuk would be huge going forward. It has become an organizational area of need once again while the back end is a little more set in the futures department. The Flames have a chance to draft a really strong forward prospect at number six and it sounds like they’re leaning that way.