(Kirby Lee / USA Today Sports)
In just over three weeks, the Calgary Flames are going to take part in one of the most unpredictable National Hockey League trade deadlines in recent memory. Due to a combination of league parity, a flat salary cap for next season and the impending addition of the Vegas Golden Knights via an expansion draft, we could see few big trades. Or because of the parity, a team or two might make a big swing to try to break away from the pack.
In terms of the local sports club, it’s hard to tell exactly what the Flames will do on March 1. But here’s what we can decipher as of right now.
Expansion Draft Protection and Exposure
The challenge for teams is they don’t want to go out and spend assets acquiring a player that they’ll lose in the summer, either via free agency or this year’s expansion draft (which is why I’m not so sure that they’ll add a top-four defender before March 1). Just who does it seem like the Flames need to keep for the expansion process?
For protection, it seems like Calgary will go the route of one goalie, three defensemen and seven forwards:
- Goalie TBD
- Defenders Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie and Dougie Hamilton
- Forwards Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Troy Brouwer, Mikael Backlund, Michael Frolik, Sam Bennett and Micheal Ferland
For exposure, the Flames have AHL third-string goalie Tom McCollum, defenseman Jyrki Jokipakka (who still needs to be re-signed) and forwards Matt Stajan and Lance Bouma.
Any moves that impact a projected protected player would probably have to replace them with an upgrade at that position and any moves that ship out a player needed for exposure requirements would also probably need to involve replacing them.
What Might They Do?
Upgrade their forwards
The obvious player involved here would be Ferland. Bless his heart, but Ferland is a bottom six guy who hasn’t really ever clicked consistently when moved into the top six to play with skilled players. That’s not to say that he’s bad, but if the hope was that he’d eventually become Milan Lucic the sands are running low in the proverbial hour-glass.
An Eastern Conference playoff team may covet Ferland, though, because he plays a rough-and-tumble style of game and he could be very useful during a playoff series. Sending Ferland to an Eastern team for future assets could be married with another deal that brings another forward to Calgary, ideally one that’s a long-term upgrade over Ferland.
Send away a goalie
The Flames don’t have a clear-cut starter and I wouldn’t expect them to do much of anything at the deadline unless (a) one of Chad Johnson or Brian Elliott emerge as The Guy or (b) a team comes to them with a deal they can’t refuse (ala a second round pick for Reto Berra). But the Flames will probably be using one of David Rittich or Jon Gillies on their NHL roster next season. It’d be useful to know if they’re any good, or if they need to go buy a goalie this summer.
There are eight teams with worse goaltending (measured via even strength save percentage) than the Flames: the NY Rangers, Tampa Bay, Winnipeg, Philadelphia, Boston, St. Louis, Carolina and Colorado. Ruling out the Flames trying to help out teams they’re fighting for playoff spots with out West, the Rangers, Bruins and Flyers have designs on being playoff teams out East. Might one of them like to have Johnson or Elliott for the rest of the season?
Sell off pending UFAs
Aside from their two NHL goaltenders, the following players will be unrestricted free agents as of July 1: Dennis Wideman, Deryk Engelland and Kris Versteeg. I could see the Flames shipping any of those three gentlemen out of town in order to capture an asset for them. That said, Versteeg is probably the least likely to be moved because he’s extremely useful and probably should be re-signed by the club.
Fresh starts for prospects
In the spirit of Sven Baertschi and Markus Granlund to Vancouver, I could see Brad Treliving sending prospects that don’t really seem to fit into the Flames’ long-term plans elsewhere in order to (a) recoup an asset and (b) give them a fresh start. So don’t be shocked if somebody like Emile Poirier, Tyler Wotherspoon or Ryan Culkin are traded by March 1.
The Flames are in a playoff race. They don’t have a clear-cut top goalie. They likely need to hold onto their pending UFAs if they want to make the playoffs. Most teams have their own versions of Poirier and Wotherspoon in their systems. Honestly, it’s not hard to think that the Flames won’t do anything significant before the trade deadline.