The real story may never be fully told.
Those “things” Flames GM Brad Treliving said he’s going to keep internal rather than share in the aftermath of trading away one of the best offensive defencemen in the league on Saturday have been talked about ad nauseam for months already.
A lack of interest in bonding with the boys. An irksome acceptance of the outcome of games. A conspicuous absence at the end-of-year exit interviews (with the media, and perhaps, with the brass, too).
Dougie Hamilton’s personality wasn’t part of the fabric of the dressing room. He wasn’t happy here. There’s no denying that.
Dougie is different. There’s no way he should be demonized for that, but the bottom line is the team didn’t believe the many contributions they received offensively over three years as a member of the Flames were helping them move toward their ultimate goal — so they moved on.
We knew it was coming. It may not have played out exactly as myself and others predicted in the days following the disastrous end to the regular season, but it’s not far off.
The bottom line moving forward should be whether or not the blockbuster move makes the Flames better.
Treliving believes it does. Only time will tell.
Numbers on the ice don’t necessarily support that theory, as Ari Yanover brilliantly broke down for Flames Nation in a piece formed separately from emotion.
But the reason the NHL is so damn sensational as a league is how excruciatingly complex it is. The numbers never tell the whole story, as incredibly meaningful and illustrative as statistics have become.
So you have to ask yourself — until the evidence produces the undisputable verdict many months from now — do you believe the Flames a better team following the departure of Hamilton, winger Micheal Ferland and highly-touted prospect Adam Fox in return for forward Elias Lindholm and defenceman Noah Hanifin?
It should probably be broken down into two categories: immediately, and a year or two down the road.
Those 17 goals and 40-plus points from Hamilton on the backend will sure be missed. Unless, of course, TJ Brodie can get back to the 40-point plateau after two years of diminishing returns following his separation from Mark Giordano and a move to the left side.
Since he netted 17 goals and 86 points during the two years he spent the majority of his time with the Flames captain, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt that he has a bounce-back campaign on Gio’s right side in 2018-19.
Even if he only moderately improves, let’s not forget what that change should do to improve the second pairing, which was pitiful for most of last year with Brodie on the left and Travis Hamonic to his right.
The 21-year-old Hanifin started in the league as an 18-year-old three seasons ago and has improved every year with the Hurricanes. If he only produces as much as he did last year, and Brodie improves his own numbers, the Flames won’t feel much of a loss offensively — without taking into consideration what effect the Lindholm addition will have up front.
So in the immediate, the Flames should have a more balanced backend if a little less dynamic.
In the long run, the upside of Hanifin is tremendous. He and Hamonic could prove to be the team’s top pairing another year from now. Hanifin instantly becomes part of the nucleus of a blueline group that has some exciting prospects looking likely to join him in the near future, with Rasmus Andersson set to crack the lineup as a regular on the right side, and both Juuso Valimaki and Oliver Kylington boasting significant offensive skill on the left at the WHL and AHL levels, respectively.
But let’s not dismiss the talents of the veteran Giordano just yet either. The kind of shape he keeps himself in, and the relatively low number of NHL games he’s played because of his foray into Russia, might suggest he’s one of the rare exceptions to the diminishing return of players in their mid-to-late 30s.
Up front, the team will miss Ferland … well, at least the 2015 first-round playoff version of him … or the first half of last season version.
And as effective as those two versions were, even they were very different from each other. He was far from physical for most of this season a couple of years removed from punishing the Vancouver Canucks in the postseason.
His inconsistency last year came after he’d finally established himself as a potentially elite winger on the top line with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. His 40-goal pace stagnated and he wound up with 21 after scoring all but two of them before the all-star break.
Is Lindholm an instant upgrade?
At worst, the 23-year-old should put up as many points as Ferland. If he meshes with Johnny Hockey and Monahan, he could be in for a big jump from the 16 goals and 44 points he posted while playing with a revolving door of partners like Jordan Staal or Phillip Di Guiseppe and Sebastian Aho.
Again, he’s younger and quicker and more defensively responsible than Ferland, who will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of next season.
The long play is nearly as big a part of the picture for Treliving as the immediate need to shake up his dressing room chemistry (which, by the way, should be helped by the relationships between Hanifin, Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk, as well as Lindholm’s familiarity with fellow Swede Mikael Backlund).
He added two players with considerable NHL experience and success in spite of the fact they are in their early 20s, while parting ways with an unhappy star who had three more years on a deal but little interest in being here for them, a frustrating top line fill-in set to become a UFA a year and a few days from now, and a prospect who they knew was unlikely to sign with them following college — something they knew would hurt his trade value another year from now as that became more publicly clear after his junior year at Harvard.
With both Hanifin and Lindholm currently restricted free agents looking for new deals, their contracts become another massive piece of the future judgement on whether or not this trade was a successful one for the Flames.
You can bet that’s where Treliving is focusing his efforts now.
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