Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: in all likelihood, the Flames, a top team in the NHL this season, will be buyers at the trade deadline. Unfortunately for them, they don’t exactly have a lot of capital to spend – both in the immediate, and without risking jeopardizing their future.
That brings up an interesting question: just how much should the team be willing to spend to improve this season?
This is especially keeping in mind that any moves the Flames make in the coming weeks may only hold impact for this season only; with Matthew Tkachuk (more on him later today!) and David Rittich’s impending extensions, the team likely won’t have a lot of cap space remaining for a big addition for next season’s roster. That’s fine – the Flames are still a relatively young team, especially where their top players (other than Mark Giordano) are concerned – but it does draw into question just how much is too much to give up for just a couple of months of a new player.
First round pick
The Flames’ first round pick is reportedly in play, as it should be. At the rate the Flames are going, they’ll likely be picking anywhere from 25-31 overall – a range that can yield some good players, but not likely anybody who will make or break a team. (David Pastrnak was taken 25th overall in 2014, Rickard Rakell 30th overall in 2011, and Evgeny Kuznetsov 26th overall in 2010 – but they’re much more the exception than the rule.)
In other words, even though it’s possible the Flames could be without a first round pick for the second time in two years – their 2018 first rounder was among the picks exchanged for Travis Hamonic’s services – the chances that their 2019 first rounder would turn into an impactful player aren’t particularly high.
And besides, trading away first round picks to bolster their roster is just the kind of thing contending teams tend to do. So far:
- The Lightning’s first goes to the Rangers if they win the Cup this year (via their trade for Ryan McDonagh and JT Miller).
- The Sharks’ first goes to the Sabres due to the Evander Kane trade.
- The Leafs traded their first to the Kings for Jake Muzzin.
On the other hand, the Flames really don’t have much in the way of prospects they can count on entering the NHL any time soon. They have a relatively young team now, but how will things look as players start to hit free agency and there’s nobody internally with which to replace them? The Flames don’t even have anybody right now who can hold down a fourth line spot on the regular; how much worse will it be if they don’t have anybody who can fill in on the top six?
Here’s likely the big question in regards to the Flames potentially trading their first: how much will it hurt them to not pick until the third round of the draft in 2019 (their second round pick also being forfeited in the Hamonic trade)? They have a relatively young forward group. They have an extremely young defensive group. And there’s no guarantee the late first turns into a prospect who helps them at any point down the line.
Is it worth it to bolster the Flames’ present-day lineup by forfeiting their highest pick when they don’t have much in the way of notable prospects (because their most notable ones have already made it to the NHL)?
The Flames’ forward prospects of note pretty much boil down to Dillon Dube and Andrew Mangiapane – although that’s in part because someone like Tkachuk made the NHL right after being drafted.
So, if you have to give to get, that begs the question: would you be willing to part with Dube or Mangiapane for the right player?
Mangiapane is a third-year pro who, at times, looks like he has the talent to play in the NHL, but not the muscle. He’ll turn 23 years old in April, which is still relatively young, but the clock is starting to tick. Will he be a meaningful contributor for the Flames in the near future, or would it make more sense to sell him on potential to a rebuilding team while getting a more established player back in return? It would suck to part with him if he turns out to be really good, but if he ends up being one of those players who’s too good for the AHL but struggles to hold down an NHL spot, well…
Dube is an even riskier trade. He’s a 20-year-old first-year pro who made the NHL right out of camp. No, he hasn’t been able to stick around for the full season, but that’s because he’s a 20-year-old rookie; being NHL-ready at that age is rare. Dube could really be sold on his potential here – but is it worth giving up on him now for possibly only two months and change of another player (even if said player is really good)? Particularly when that means losing out on being able to have an entry-level contract in the lineup?
After those two, are there any other forward prospects worth all that much on the market? Matthew Phillips is exciting, but could be years away. Glenn Gawdin has potential, but likely more of the bottom six sort. Anyone else of note is still playing in junior, so they haven’t shown much yet, and may not yield that great a return.
The Flames’ lack of forward prospects is offset by the fact that their top line averages out to 24 years in age, and that Tkachuk is only 21 himself, but we also have to consider that Mikael Backlund will be turning 30 in March. (They grow up so fast.) Furthermore, Johnny Gaudreau’s contract is up three seasons after this one.
So, is it worth potentially mortgaging the Flames’ future in forwards – the very little they appear to have, at that – for a couple of months now, and possibly a better shot at the Cup with it?
Giordano is 35 years old. At some point, he is not going to be able to play high level hockey. Of course, we have no idea when that will be, but at some point, it’ll happen. And then, who will replace him? The Flames don’t really have any prospective defencemen at all.
… Because they all just graduated to the NHL.
Noah Hanifin and Rasmus Andersson are 22. Oliver Kylington is 21. Juuso Valimaki is 20. The Flames could potentially have their entire top four of the future right there, all already in the NHL (injuries be damned). It’s an embarrassment of riches.
Which then begs a new question: when you have an embarrassment of riches, do you trade from a position of strength to bolster another position?
The Flames really don’t have much else in the way of defencemen who can take over, but they really don’t need to worry about that at this stage: three-quarters of them are barely legal drinking age in the U.S. All four of these defenders could be playing for another 15 years, easily. But does it make sense to keep them all on the Flames, or should they spread the wealth some in order to address other positions that don’t have the luxury of scratching a talented player (or even dressing that talented a lineup across all forward spots, or in the backup goalie rank)?
Keep in mind that the expansion draft is looming, as well, and a talented young defenceman is probably going to be a big help for a team starting out.
How much is too much to give up for a chance at the Stanley Cup this season? What would you do?