There has been a lot of talk about the Calgary Flames being a big shopper on the rental market.
But if their recent losing streak was an indicator of anything, it might be that management should rethink the idea of potentially overpaying for one of the bigger names available.
With better-than-anticipated results through the first two-thirds of the season, it makes a lot of sense for GM Brad Treliving to explore ways to further strengthen the lineup for a chance at a deep run in the playoffs. They have the assets to land a player like Mark Stone, whose attributes and fit with the Flames have been discussed to death lately.
Let’s just say for the sake of argument that he’s a great fit and that the Flames could land him if they’re willing to pay the price. It’s the second part of that sentence that is the key to this deadline. The price was more palatable (as an ask, it’s likely a first round pick, another top asset or prospect, and a young roster player) when the Flames appeared as if they had a reliable No. 1 goalie in David Rittich and were getting consistent scoring support beyond the top line.
Until the 5-4 matinee victory over the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Saturday, that hasn’t been the case lately.
Michael Frolik’s goal on Saturday assisted by linemates Matthew Tkachuk and Mikael Backlund were Tkachuk and Frolik’s first points since the all-star break. Backlund now has two. The team had gone 1-3-2, with Rittich splitting starts with the on-again, off-again veteran Mike Smith. Neither had fared well, either. Rittich is 1-1-1 and was pulled in his other start after allowing two goals on the first six shots he faced. Picking up the win in Pittsburgh (barely) Smith is 1-2-1 and has statistically been better than his counterpart.
Meanwhile, there must be a slight shortage of purple Gatorade, because the top line hasn’t been passing it around much on the bench. Not that six goals in the seven games since the break isn’t decent (Sean Monahan has two and Elias Lindholm four) but when you’ve been the only line producing and were doing so at a much higher rate previously, having one player at a point-per-game pace (Lindholm) won’t keep the Flames in the elite conversation much longer if the trends all continue.
And these are all the shortcomings people were worried about in the offseason. Secondary scoring. Goaltending. Lack of experienced depth on defence.
Is this a team that can make the playoffs? Absolutely. They’ve been one of the best in the league for more than three months. Could they also find themselves the victim of a first-round upset because of spotty goaltending on hockey’s hardest stage? Definitely — with or without an addition like Stone to help address one of the issues.
Goaltending has become equally as important an avenue of exploration. Concern is valid considering the way Rittich played down the stretch when Smith was injured last year — something Rittich addressed in an article on NHL.com this week.
“I took all the pressure on me so that was maybe my mistake,” Rittich told Kevin Woodley of NHL.com.
That was backed up by a telling quote from Flames goalie coach Jordan Sigalet.
“When Mike was hurt last season, you could see his body language was different, he wasn’t as loose as he usually was,” Sigalet said in the same article. “When he’s loose and being himself, that’s when he’s at his best. He almost became too serious and you could even see it in his eyes, sitting in his stall, that he was too intense. That works for some guys, but it doesn’t work for him.”
How seriously he handles this current adversity will go a long way in telling the Flames where their real need is at the deadline and in the offseason. It’s nice that Smith has showed signs of improvement, but Rittich is the guy the team has rallied around all year.