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Calgary has compelling reasons to buy and not to buy at the trade deadline

The Flames are in a fascinating position ahead of next week’s trade deadline. On one hand, Calgary is barely hanging on to a playoff spot, which is not typically when teams aggressively add at the deadline. Conversely, the Flames play in a division so wide open it’s fully conceivable any one of five competitive teams could be in the Western Conference Final. You can understand why Calgary might be tempted to take advantage of such unprecedented parity. So what’s the best approach to take?

Reasons to buy

The Pacific Division is an absolute crapshoot, which gives fans in Calgary, Vegas, Vancouver, Arizona, and Edmonton hope. It’s not just hope for a playoff appearance, either. You don’t have to squint to see scenarios where any one of those five teams could win two rounds inside the division this spring. For any team in this conversation, including the Flames, a run to the final four would be outstanding for business.

Working even more in Calgary’s favour is the fact they’ve put together one of the better bodies of work in the Pacific, at least from an underlying perspective. The Flames aren’t elite at anything, but five-on-five shot metrics and scoring chance data suggests they’re a solid group in the middle of the pack. All underlying data courtesy Natural Stat Trick.

Team CF% Rank HDCF% Rank
Vegas 54.5 1st 55.1 2nd
Calgary 50.3 13th 50.9 12th
Vancouver 48.5 22nd 49.1 22nd
Arizona 48.3 25th 48.1 26th
Edmonton 48.1 26th 49.8 18th

Other than goaltending, the Golden Knights are elite by almost every metric. Of any Pacific squad, they’d be the one Calgary would be advised to avoid. Otherwise, through 75% of the season, the Flames have shown the ability to control territorial play and out-chance the opposition better than the Canucks, Coyotes, and Oilers. By no means does that guarantee a playoff series win, but it’s an encouraging sign.

The fact Calgary sits in a playoff spot so late in the year is rather remarkable knowing how players like Johnny Gaudreau, Mark Giordano, and Sean Monahan have underachieved. You can bet there’s an internal hope those players will figure it out, which could easily be enough to convince general manager Brad Treliving the team is poised to start peaking in the spring.

Reasons not to buy

We’ve seen a number of deals involving traditional “buying” and “selling” teams over the last week, including one involving the Canucks on Monday night. Prices have been steep, even though there was a thought things could be more reasonable in 2020 compared to recent trade deadlines.

To Vancouver:
F Tyler Toffoli
To Los Angeles:
F Tim Schaller
F Tyler Madden
2020 second round pick
2022 fourth round pick (conditional)
To Tampa Bay:
F Blake Coleman
To New Jersey:
F Nolan Foote
2020 first round pick (Vancouver)
To New York Islanders:
D Andy Greene
To New Jersey:
D David Quenneville
2021 second round pick
To Pittsburgh:
F Jason Zucker
To Minnesota:
F Alex Galchenyuk
D Calen Addison
2020 first round pick

If your view is the Flames are a player away from rolling with the top dogs, then paying a price like those above likely doesn’t scare you. However, if you believe Calgary is not a true contender with the current core, giving up numerous assets is a less attractive proposition.

It’s a fair bet to suggest other top rental options (Chris Kreider, Jean-Gabriel Pageau) will command similar returns as what the Kings got for Toffoli. I don’t believe the Flames were in the mix for Toffoli in a serious way, which could mean they weren’t interested in paying that price. It could also mean they weren’t interested in the player, so reading too much into that is dangerous.

Players with term beyond this season are bringing back even higher returns. Zucker (three years remaining) and Coleman (one year) both went for packages including 2020 first round picks. Reports suggest Treliving is more interested in a player with term as opposed to a rental, which almost certainly means a steeper price.

We can take shots in the dark at who might be available (Josh Anderson, Matt Dumba, Kyle Palmieri, Kevin Labanc), but that’s all they are. Regardless, giving up a high pick, or picks, is a contentious topic for Flames fans knowing how many have been dealt away over the last five years.

The scariest thing for Calgary would be a realistic scenario that sees them shell out big for a player and still miss the playoffs. By points percentage, the Flames sit eighth in the West with slim leads on Arizona and Winnipeg. Calgary also has the fewest regulation/overtime wins of the group, which would come into effect in a tiebreak situation.

I’m not saying the Flames are going to miss. In fact, thinking objectively, I’m somewhere in the 60-40 range they end up getting in. But, knowing how infuriatingly inconsistent Calgary has been this season, a playoff berth is anything but a guarantee.

What’s the right call?

Personally, I don’t believe the Flames should be in the big name rental market. From what I’ve seen through 61 games, I don’t think this group is “one player away” from truly contending, even with a wide open division. As such, giving up significant assets for a player that might not re-sign is too risky, especially with how tenuous Calgary’s playoff position is.

In saying that, my opinion is slightly different when it comes to acquiring a player with term. Bringing in someone under contract beyond this season, or as a pending restricted free agent, makes way more sense for the Flames. It’s a whole lot easier to swallow giving up futures for a longer term piece, even if the season ends in frustrating fashion.

That’s my opinion, but here’s the thing: if you think differently, I can’t tell you you’re crazy. There are numerous compelling reasons to add aggressively ahead of Monday’s deadline, even if I believe the reasons not to are more convincing. This really is a tough situation for Treliving because the arguments on both sides of this conversation are valid. In the end, his opinion is the only one that truly matters.