In a perfect world, there would be no need for the Dougie Hamilton trade talk.
But the Calgary Flames were far from perfect this season, and changing the coach was just the first shoe dropping. There is going to be serious effort made to pull off a significant move in the coming weeks, and the truth is general manager Brad Treliving doesn’t have many large denomination chips to throw on the table to make that happen.
He has little in the way of marketable draft picks. The Flames’ first selection doesn’t come until the fourth round this spring, and they aren’t about to let go of next year’s first, which would leave them without a pick in the first two rounds for a second straight year.
Although armed with a nice cache of up-and-coming defensive prospects at different levels (Rasmus Andersson, Juuso Valimaki, Adam Fox and Oliver Kylington), teams are more willing to barter over a proven asset than players who either have yet to step onto the ice as a professional or have had what amounts to a cup of coffee in the NHL.
Meanwhile, there is an admitted lack in depth of skill among the forward ranks.
So desperate for it on the right side of the lineup last year, the Flames signed a 45-year-old Jaromir Jagr as the regular season began in the hopes the living legend would have enough left in the tank to strengthen that flank on a short-term basis.
The Flames finished in the bottom five in the league with a 2.63 goals-per-game average, in spite of a career year with 60 assists and better than a point-per-game pace from Johnny Gaudreau, another 30-goal season from Sean Monahan, and more growth from sophomore superstar Matthew Tkachuk.
So back to Hamilton, whose 17 goals from the blueline were tied for tops in the NHL and who helped form arguably the best pairing on the backend alongside captain Mark Giordano.
Without taking in the full scope of the situation, and focusing solely on the player on paper, it’s difficult to understand why the Flames would even consider trading away an elite 24-year-old, right-handed, smooth-skating, puck-moving, goal-sniping defenseman. Especially after a fourth straight 40-plus-point season.
Heck, they gave up a first and two second round picks to get him from the Boston Bruins just three seasons ago and signed him to a salary cap-friendly $5.75-million-a-year deal that looks like a bargain with another three seasons remaining.
The trade talks are happening, though, and while many fans want to believe it’s TJ Brodie who will be moved out, the banter inevitably shifts back to Hamilton.
And it’s telling that the subject hasn’t been a conversation killer.
So whether you believe it’s because of the positive of Hamilton’s value on the trade market, or negatives like his penchant for taking lazy penalties, or an aloof personality that contributed to the club dedicating dead roster space to carry his extroverted older brother Freddie to help with his integration, there is a very good chance the team’s most impressive offensive defenseman will be lacing up somewhere else next fall.
The return will have to be substantial in order to sell fans on it — although Treliving showed he’s not that concerned about optics by making an extremely unpopular coaching hire in Bill Peters, and seems to have quickly won over many of his skeptics through the press conference.
A few years back, the Bruins dealt Hamilton because of what was a looming contentious contract situation. They happily took that trio of high picks in return. The Flames have Hamilton locked up for a while, which makes him even more attractive to others now.
The potential quality of return is the biggest reason Hamilton is the most likely blueliner to go.
A Brodie deal, barring an extreme overpay on his current market value, is much less attractive to the front office than the notion of shipping out Hamilton for a king’s ransom.
Brodie’s value has taken a hit externally after a couple of down years. He has dipped from a career-high 45 points in 2015-16 to 36 the following year, and 32 this season. Selling low isn’t something they want to do for a player who should still be in his prime at the position. Right now, he may fetch you some mediocre help on the wing, but nothing more. Realistically, the team might have to give up more than just Brodie for a player like Mike Hoffman or Max Pacioretty (and let’s stop the insane suggestions that the Leafs would part with William Nylander or Kasperi Kapanen straight up).
What the Flames want is more than an improvement on the right side of the forward ranks — they also want to get back into the early round(s) of the upcoming draft.
Hamilton would undoubtedly fetch that kind of asking price. He’s a big fish in a relatively small pond. He is the kind of player that everyone wants, and can be difficult to find. The Flames are willing because they believe they have his replacement in-house already.
If that right offer comes along, the Flames are confident Brodie can slide right back into his old spot beside Giordano and pick up where he left off before Hamilton came to town.
Before Giordano and Hamilton, it was Gio and Brodie being mentioned as a top NHL pairing as recently as the 2014-15. Giordano finished with a gaudy .79 points-per-game average despite losing 21 contests to injury at the end of the season. That had him tied for second among defensemen with Kevin Shattenkirk, ahead of Kris Letang, Brent Burns, PK Subban and Roman Josi, and behind only Erik Karlsson. Brodie, meanwhile, finished 25th among blueliners with 11 goals and 41 points.
They took on top competition and on a team that was among the bottom three in Corsi for percentage, Giordano and Brodie were among the bright spots as a pairing in that regard.
If they can recapture the chemistry that made them one of the league’s most dangerous duos under Bob Hartley, the relative loss of Hamilton at the position is dramatically lessened. So if the Flames can land a legitimate top right winger to the mix and bump up their draft position at the same time, it would be as close to a no-brainer as possible.
And if you think that Brodie still has the potential to be a difference-maker for the Flames, then just imagine how little the league’s other GMs would be willing to part with to take that chance. The same goes for underachievers like Sam Bennett, whose best hopes of improving his value will come from a better season this year.
It’s Hamilton or Bust.