The Flames? One of the top teams in the NHL as buyers at the trade deadline? It’s more likely than you think. But while that in and of itself is obvious, what’s less apparent is just how much the Flames should be willing to give up.
Could that include a roster player?
The Flames have 16 skaters who should be considered regulars in their lineup this season. This includes players like Michael Frolik (missed a month due to injury) and Rasmus Andersson (didn’t start the season in the NHL, but seems pretty established as a regular at this point), but excludes guys like Austin Czarnik (frequent healthy scratch), and Oliver Kylington and Juuso Valimaki (who’s to say how many NHL games either would have played were it not for injury?).
Many of those players – all of the 50-point scorers, for instance – are untouchable in a trade; their departures would unquestionably make the Flames worse. But moving current roster players could pay dividends – not just for this season, but down the line as well, as the team will have to work to ensure they stay under the cap for 2019-20 (and trading away a roster player now could allow them to re-sign a bigger get; say, if it was possible to trade for and then sign Mark Stone, that would certainly hold some appeal, wouldn’t it?).
Potential cap hazards include:
- James Neal ($5.75 million hit for another four seasons after this one)
- Michael Frolik ($4.3 million hit for one more season)
- Derek Ryan ($3.125 million hit for another two seasons)
- Sam Bennett (restricted free agent after this season; no telling how much his next deal will be)
- TJ Brodie ($4.65 million hit for another season)
Ryan is only playing on the fourth line, but he does have 20 points in 55 games played (on pace for 29 total). He may be expensive for his role, but he’s performing well for what’s being asked of him; it’s difficult to see the Flames wanting to cut bait on him this early into his contract. Besides, he’s an undrafted fourth line centre – how much would he really be worth?
Neal is a unique situation. That expensive a contract for that long for a player already in his 30s was bound to look poor by its end, but Neal has severely underperformed so far this season. He has just 15 points in 54 games, and is unlikely to hit 20 goals for the first time in his career. Much as some of Neal’s struggles can be blamed on his 4.1 shooting percentage and just plain bad luck, the contract is already looking bad; it could maybe work as a sell if another team really needs to take back cap space and feels Neal could return to form with a change of scenery, but it’s not likely.
Frolik and Brodie are both established NHL veterans, but with somewhat hefty price tags (though each contract only lasts for one more season). They would likely both be assets to the Flames in the playoffs this season – Frolik plays on the second line, while Brodie is on the top defence pairing – but it’s also possible the Flames could upgrade on their roster positions. Frolik, for example, could be sent the other way in return for a true top six forward, while the Flames have plenty of in-house replacements on defence.
Bennett, meanwhile, hasn’t lived up to the potential that got him drafted fourth overall. He seems to have found a home on the Flames as a third liner, but could he do more for another team? Is a third liner going to be worth the eventual salary he’ll command – likely at least something over $2 million? Or could the Flames put that cap space to better use, perhaps while promoting one of their prospects on an entry-level deal to fill in his spot?
The Flames also have a couple of other regulars without much consequence to the cap who could possibly go the other way in a trade: Mark Jankowski and Garnet Hathaway.
They don’t have many other players of Hathaway’s ilk, but we’re also talking about a player averaging 9:50 a game with a mere nine points in 50 games to his name. One may like what Hathaway brings to the table, but compared to the rest of the Flames’ roster, he’s certainly expendable.
As for Jankowski, it could be a matter of selling high. He has 22 points in 53 games, seven of which – just over 30% – are shorthanded. Is that sustainable, is he still growing as a player, or has Jankowski already hit a high point?
Ultimately, though, it seems rather unlikely with the way their season has been going that the Flames will trade away one of their current regulars unless they absolutely need to send salary back. It falls under the “why mess with a good thing” umbrella, both in terms of maintaining locker room chemistry and recognizing that their current roster has them as one of the top teams in the NHL. The goal is to improve the team, and there’s very little addition by subtraction that can be done with this group.
Still, though, is it worth exploring – not just for this season, but to potentially set up next year’s roster? What would you do?