The most common question among hockey fans in Calgary these days is “What are the Flames going to do at the trade deadline?” Well, the short answer is: that depends. With an unclear forward market and up to five Western Conference contenders looking to load up, a lot could happen before the deadline.
Which forwards will be available?
The big names in the trade market right now are a trio of pending unrestricted free agents: Columbus’ Artemi Panarin and Ottawa’s Matt Duchene and Mark Stone. The Flames’ preference is to obtain (a) a winger that (b) is willing to sign long-term. Panarin’s destined for the open market and Duchene is a center, so that means the Flames’ ideal match is Stone… if he’s not re-signing with Ottawa.
According to Saturday’s edition of Headlines on Hockey Night in Canada, Ottawa’s focusing in on trying to re-sign Stone. If he’s available in the trade market, he seems like he would be a great fit for the Flames. The Athletic’s Eric Duhatschek suggested a potential framework for a sign-and-trade with Ottawa, building a hypothetical package based off what Ottawa got for Erik Karlsson: a first round pick, a roster player (Michael Frolik) and a pair of prospects (Andrew Mangiapane and Oliver Kylington).
But what if Stone re-signs with the Senators, or is traded to another team? The next tier of rental forwards includes Detroit’s Gustav Nyquist (has no-trade clause), Ottawa’s Ryan Dzingel, Philadelphia’s Wayne Simmonds (has a modified no-trade clause), Carolina’s Micheal Ferland, and the Rangers’ Kevin Hayes and Mats Zuccarello. They’re arguably not quite as exciting or effective as Stone, but they also likely don’t carry the same hefty acquisition cost.
If you’re the Flames you either play wait-and-see with Stone and risk missing out on the best fit of the secondary group, or you can try to hedge your bets in the second tier rather than waiting for Stone.
What do the other West contenders do?
Remember, the Flames aren’t trying to acquire players in a vacuum. Their hand-wringing over Stone and the secondary forwards occurs as teams like San Jose, Winnipeg and Nashville look to dip their toes into the rental forward market.
It’s very much about keeping up with the Joneses; the Flames have a game plan for playing the other contending teams. But if one of those teams adds a big piece, the Flames either need to alter their game plan or alter their roster. If they feel like this is the year they can make a big run, they’re almost forced to make a move if anybody in their path makes one. And if a competitor makes multiple moves, the Flames might have to do the same.
It’s a very interesting time of year as, aside from a few tinkers by the teams well out of contention, no moves are made in isolation and all have a ripple effect. There are many, many dominoes that could topple before the trade deadline at 1 p.m. MT on Feb. 25.