The Flames are probably headed to the playoffs, barring a late season disaster, but they’re still not quite a perfect team yet. There’s still some issues that they need to address if they want to parlay their regular season hype into meaningful postseason success.
The NHL’s biggest holiday, trade deadline, is fast approaching, and this year’s sees the Flames in the unfamiliar territory of being buyers. Who are they looking for, and what do they have to pay?
Friedman noted in 31 thoughts that the flames might be looking at another defenseman since Valimaki is still out and may need to be sent down to regain his form. Who do they look to pick up and at what cost?
— Khalid Keshavjee (@KMKeshavjee) January 6, 2019
When the news broke, I was not surprised that the Flames wanted a veteran depth LHD for a playoff push, but I’m still a bit confused as to who. The Flames probably want a defenceman that is both cheap but disposable, as they can pick between Juuso Valimaki or Oliver Kylington for 2019-20. The issue being that they might pay an inflated price for someone who isn’t much of an upgrade on the rookies.
A cursory glance, even one that gives the Flames an extended budget (presuming they find a way to dump some salary in any potential trade), at potential rental UFA defencemen reveals a pretty uninspiring list. The big gets are Alex Edler and Jake Gardiner, two players that are probably not Calgary bound anytime soon, and certainly not Calgary bound for third pairing minutes. Braydon Coburn might be an intriguing option, but there’s no way Tampa trades him to another top NHL team.
If you come back to reality and factor in the Flames’ cap space, you find yourself picking between a grab bag of ineffective old guys nearing the end of their career. If they’re going for an RHD, you run into a lot of similar options. The good ones are expensive, the cheap ones aren’t that good.
I really have no clue who the Flames could be looking at. Maybe they get creative and go for an RFA defenceman who they can then flip in the offseason, but I doubt there’s any sellers who want to move an RFA.
The Flames need to find a backup goalie at this point, right?
— We Saved Mikael Backlund (@TylerLeduke) January 6, 2019
Undoubtedly, yes. Even if you’re Mike Smith’s #1 fan, you have to admit that he’s done. He hasn’t been the same since his injury last February and his 36-year-old body isn’t going to get any younger. He might have a great game every once in a while, but they pale in comparison to the five bad ones he had prior. Case in point, if he made one more save against Toronto, Arizona, and Los Angeles, he would have five shutouts in 23 games with an 0.891 SV%. That’s the volatility of Mike Smith goaltending.
And obviously the Flames can’t have that. If David Rittich either gets injured, minor or serious, or just falls off the map, you can’t just sub in Smith and pretend there’s no difference. The minor league goaltending mess is approaching radioactive status, so you can’t trust that either. I mentioned that only disaster can boot the Flames out of a playoff spot; here’s that disaster. Even if they hold on, there’s no way they can last long in the playoffs unless Smith reaches another level.
So who do they look at?
[ed. note – There’s a lot of backup goalie talk below, but rest assured, we’ll have even more coming later this week!]
Can we get mcelhinney out of Carolina or is that well run dry?
— Nick Adams (@T0Y_L0VE) January 6, 2019
McElhinney is a pretty enticing asset for any team looking for a backup, as he’s cheap and has been providing some good goaltending for a Carolina team that hasn’t seen good goaltending in nearly a decade. For the Flames, he won’t screw up their limited cap space and he could be a fine backup to give Rittich some rest for the last 20 or so games of the season. He also makes the team younger, surprisingly (McElhinney is 35, Smith 36). It would also be fun to bring back a player who saw playoff action with the Flames in 2007-08, so let’s do it.
But this question will be resolved closer to deadline time, as Carolina still holds all the cards. Although currently out of a playoff spot, they’re just seven points back and are winners of their last four games. Despite rumours of a fire sale happening (including Dougie Hamilton and Micheal Ferland, making that trade that much sweeter), there’s a chance that they might need McElhinney after all. Carolina might still be in the fight at deadline time, which makes trading for their best goalie either impossible or expensive.
How would you go about upgrading the bottom 6 forward group and back-up goalie positions?
— JarkMankowski (@JarkMankoswki) January 6, 2019
I think they look internally to upgrade the bottom six. Again, cap space is going to hinder them from acquiring anything substantial, and they’ve received some surprising performances from AHL call ups so they might just go to them again. The playoffs are a different beast, of course, but the Flames are going to head to the playoffs with at least two AHLers. There is the chance they dip into the Michael Stone LTIR money (important point of clarification: it isn’t free money. There is cap space relief, but the Flames still have to pay Stone the $3.5M) but that might be a desperate last resort move. Given the way the season has gone so far, I can’t see that happening.
For goalies outside of McElhinney, the Flames can get a bit more creative. They could swing an even money deal involving Smith with Detroit to bring aboard Jimmy Howard, who could split starts and provide playoff experience. Maybe they try taking Pheonix Copley from the Capitals. Keith Kinkaid from the Devils has had some success in the past as a backup, as has Petr Mrazek from the Hurricanes. The Flames are definitely looking at their backup goaltending options, but who they’re after is anyone’s guess.
What kind of assets could CGY part with at the deadline for acquisitions? I would assume BT doesn't wanna trade high picks (1st-2nd) if he can help it but lack of picks over the past 2 years has hurt the Flames prospect pool to trade from no?
— Daniel Tiller (@tiller_daniel) January 6, 2019
That assumption is correct. The Flames don’t have many high-end prospects, which is fine for now because all of them are currently in the NHL, but they can’t keep operating with what they have. Looking ahead a bit further than the scope of this mailbag, the Flames might have two current AHLers – Andrew Mangiapane and Dillon Dube – who can come into next training camp with good odds of landing a full-time NHL job. The next closest might be Matthew Phillips, who is still a work in progress.
Peeking beyond that and looking at the longer term guys, you might have three or four that could compete for NHL jobs (I would say Dmitry Zavgorodniy, Martin Pospisil, Emilio Pettersen, Tyler Parsons), but they are still way far away from determining whether they’re certainties or just minor league all-stars. The Flames could use a bit more cheap lifeblood in the system. The production versus cap hit of young players on ELCs compared to UFAs (look at how people talk about James Neal and Derek Ryan) is necessary to keep winning teams alive during the cap era.
Obviously, if there’s a deal that requires a Dube or a Phillips to land an affordable superstar that the Flames can lock in for the next few years, they should take it. But the team is currently a bit lean on future talent that it could make them hesitant to move any more futures than they already have in years past.
So who might they trade?
Is Sam Bennett still a valuable trade asset?
— Ayoon.A (@Ayoon35233086) January 6, 2019
We’ll assume “valuable” means that Sam Bennett can get a big return on his own, and in which case, he really isn’t. You can argue his value to the team, but the rest of the NHL likely sees Bennett as just a grinder or a failed project. Given that he’s very close to 300 games played (where has the time gone?), it’s hard to sell anyone on the undiscovered potential of Bennett, which is key for the rebuilding teams the Flames will likely be negotiating with at deadline time.
That doesn’t mean that you should count out a potential Bennett trade. He could still be a secondary piece that clears just enough salary for the Flames to get what they want without losing a step in the lineup, he just won’t be the main piece. Ironically, the same things that sink his value can also sometimes boost it. Teams who don’t have a lot to lose will take risks on young-ish players perceived as needing a change in scenery, provided they get a little extra in return. Not saying that the Flames are looking to move Bennett, but I don’t think it’s as out of the question as it was a year or two ago.
Given all the tension between Froliks agent and the team, do you think he gets moved before the deadline? If so, is this a good move for the team and what's a realistic return?
— Khalid Keshavjee (@KMKeshavjee) January 6, 2019
On its face, trading Michael Frolik would be a pretty bad decision. Without Frolik, the Flames wouldn’t have a winger that can play top six minutes on a consistent basis, and they wouldn’t have any as defensively-minded as he is. There’s contracts and underperformers you should trade first before looking to move Frolik. The coaching staff doesn’t seem to like him, for whatever reason (Frolik has two goals and two assists in his four games back from injury. He received less than 12 minutes in AS ice time in two games where the Flames were trailing) but he’s still been an effective player in limited minutes for the team, on pace for career average scoring totals despite four minutes less ice time per night.
On the other hand, if the Flames can finagle a pretty good return for Frolik at the deadline, it might be worth it. Just spitballing, but if the Flames could pry Gustav Nyquist out of Detroit at the cost of Frolik and some assets, that’s a pretty good return that works for both the now and the future (they would still have to sign Nyquist, however).
Any potential Frolik trade shouldn’t focus on getting rid of the player, but should bring back something substantial to the team. At the end of the day, the team is better with Frolik in the lineup. Unless they can get a better player back, they should stick with Frolik.