For me, and many others, Calgary’s huge deal with the Hurricanes over the weekend is more about the future than it is about right now. Based on the evidence I’ve seen, I believe the Flames have taken a slight step back back in the immediacy with a solid chance for a good return longer term. In saying that, though, if a couple other boxes get checked this season, this trade has the potential of improving the team right away.
This is pretty simple: for this trade to make the Flames better at forward right away, Elias Lindholm will have to better than Micheal Ferland. Down the road that seems like a safe bet, but right away isn’t as much of a guarantee. Lindholm put up 16 goals and 44 points in 81 games last season compared with Ferland’s 21 goals and 41 points in 77 games.
From a purely counting perspective, these two were fairly similar except when you look at shooting percentage. Lindholm’s 10.5% wasn’t low by any means, but Ferland’s was sky high at 14.6%, which leads many to speculate his goal total might come down. A look at the underlying numbers shows us Ferland was the more productive five-on-five player last year, while Lindholm was the superior possession forward.
If things go the way they’re scripted to right now, we’ll have a pretty good comparison with these two. Head coach Bill Peters has intimated Lindholm will slot in on the right side with Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau, which just happens to be where Ferland spent most of his time last season. The latter scored 21 times on that line, so how will Lindholm fare there?
Count me as one who thinks Lindholm will be an upgrade. It comes down to history and track record for me: Lindholm has four straight seasons of 39 points or more, whereas Ferland is coming off a career season with a jump of 16 points. I really like Ferland, but I’m still not sure whether 20 goals and 40 points is something we can expect from him on a regular basis.
Lindholm is just 23 and has a good chance of being an upgrade on Ferland in the bigger picture. For 2018-19, though, it’s no guarantee that’ll be the case, although I think there’s a decent possibility. Lindholm has never played with skilled players like Monahan and Gaudreau and I’m fascinated to see how he responds to the opportunity.
ON THE BLUELINE
This is where things get a little more complicated because a few more things come into play. At least to this point in his career, Noah Hanifin hasn’t been the same type of impact maker as Dougie Hamilton. As such, it’s more difficult to make the argument the Flames are better on the blueline when comparing players straight across.
However, if a few other things fall correctly, there’s a chance Calgary’s backend will be able to make up for the loss of Hamilton. Before we go too much further, let’s look at how we’re expecting the team’s top two pairings to shape up to start the season.
Mark Giordano-TJ Brodie
Noah Hanifin-Travis Hamonic
For this to work for the Flames, the true key is a return to form for Brodie if/when he returns to the right side with Giordano. Despite being a left shot, Brodie’s move to that side never seemed to truly work out for whatever reason. In the table below you can see the difference upon his move to the left side for the 2015-16 campaign.
From a possession standpoint, Brodie’s best two seasons in the league came at the top of the table. His pairing with Giordano between 2013 and 2015 was outstanding: they saw some of the league’s toughest minutes and routinely got the better of their matchups. If those two can find that form again after three seasons apart, Calgary will be in a much better spot to withstand the loss of Hamilton.
I won’t lie, though, I’m somewhat sceptical on this potential reunion. I know he’s not comfortable on the left side, but no one can deny how Brodie’s play has steadily declined, specifically the last two seasons. It’s definitely not a sure thing a move from left to right will see Brodie snap back to prior form.
The second part of this equation rides on the success of the proposed second pairing. As we laid out earlier this week, Hanifin took some big steps forward last year but also saw some of the league’s most offensively tailored minutes. That’s likely not going to be the case this season. That’ll be fine, though, if Hanifin can adjust to playing unsheltered top four minutes paired up with Hamonic.
To summarize, the Flames would need Brodie to bounce back to his caliber of play from three years ago AND Hanifin-Hamonic to make up a solid second pairing for this scenario to work. That’s a lot of ifs, which is why it falls well short of a guarantee.
Calgary made a blockbuster deal at the NHL Draft that has a good chance to pay off in a big way down the road. Far more uncertain is how last weekend’s trade affects this team in the immediacy, for better or worse.
All available data suggests Lindholm is a slightly better all around forward than Ferland is right now. That same evidence points to Hamilton being the superior defenceman when compared to Hanifin by a larger margin. Conventional wisdom would suggest the Flames “got worse” as a result, at least on paper.
However, we’ve laid out some conditions above showing a blueprint for how Calgary can avoid that being the case. If Lindholm is an upgrade on Ferland and the entire blueline as a whole is close to a wash compared to last year, the Flames likely come out ahead right away. The chance of all this actually happening is anyone’s guess.