With the NHL trade deadline down to its final push, there is plenty of chatter out there about who may be available, which positions teams in the playoff hunt are looking to fill, and what it might cost to pull off these deals.
When it comes to the Calgary Flames, there are plenty of needs. Hockey writers have talked ad nauseum about the glaring need at right wing for the better part of a decade. Depth. Toughness. Guys who may have more will than skill are always part of the conversation as well just because of the delicate dressing room chemistry experiment that becomes even more critical down the stretch with so many teams battling for the final playoff positions.
The Flames missed out on a couple of guys they’ve been linked to in the past — Jason Zucker and Tyler Toffoli. And while they are kicking the tires on free agent defenceman Zach Bogosian, who just had his contract terminated by the Buffalo Sabres, there are many other avenues being explored … although general manager Brad Treliving does his work about as quietly as any covert federal agent south of the border.
Flames Nation has put out articles on some of the more obvious potential targets like Kyle Palmieri of the New Jersey Devils and Kasperi Kapanen of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Both are right-shot flankers with contract term remaining. Just what the boss is looking for. Of course, if the price is right on a rental like Chris Kreider, don’t discount the Flames from taking any forward of top-six caliber — they’ve converted Matthew Tkachuk and Dillon Dube to the right side despite their lefty status.
But there’s no doubt a right-shooting winger would most excite the Flames brass. With that said, let’s take a look at some of the more under-the-radar targets the Flames are likely talking about that specifically fill those characteristics.
Kevin Labanc, San Jose Sharks
Cap hit: $1M, expires 2020 (RFA)
Labanc isn’t a guy on any of the TSN or Sportsnet trade lists, and may not be an obvious choice to move on from San Jose when you’ve got the more senior Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau on expiring deals for a team that is tanking at the moment after years of success. But the 24-year-old has had success as a top-six winger, following up a 40-point campaign in 2017-18 with a 17-goal, 56-point breakout last season. Much of his production has come with a past-his-prime Thornton as his centre, so his upside is pretty good. The Sharks might be of the mindset to get the most they can for Labanc while his value is still higher and his playoff performance against the Vegas Golden Knights last spring is still memorable. He’s having a down year, like most Sharks, but that probably offsets the value of his age, contract and upside as a young RFA-to-be.
Josh Anderson, Columbus Blue Jackets
Cap hit: $1.85M, expires 2020 (RFA)
There is a lot of risk to dealing for Anderson, who has been out since December with a shoulder injury. But the upside is huge. He’s just the kind of heavy goal-scorer any team with hopes of doing some damage in the post-season would love to add. The problem is he hasn’t played and his original six-week recovery timetable has long passed. Given his slow start to the year (a goal and four points in 26 games), and his 27-goal performance the previous season, he’s going to be someone who’s asked about a lot but whose price may be impossible to pin down for either side. If the Flames could land him and he’s healthy enough to finish the season, he could be a difference maker as the 25-year-old plays for his next contract trying to prove his early scoring success in the NHL — 64 goals and 111 points in 241 games prior to this season — wasn’t a fluke.
Connor Brown, Ottawa Senators
Cap hit: $2.1M, expires 2020 (RFA)
Another pending RFA (sense a theme here?), Brown is a versatile right-shot forward having a pretty good season for a really bad Senators team. Is he a legitimate top-six winger on a contending club? Maybe not, but he certainly gives you more depth as a middle-six guy with the right shot they need to add. And his upside as a 20-goal scorer playing with quality linemates is high. He’s got 11 goals through 62 games this season so far playing with Brady Tkachuk. Perhaps brother Matthew would make an even better linemate. The salary will likely be in the same ballpark as an RFA since he signed his current there-year pact after netting 20 in 2016-17, so the value of the contract is a good one. That means the price to pry him away could be higher than a rental but the Flames are willing to part with roster players and picks for the right fit in a hockey deal.
Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Ottawa Senators
Cap hit: $3.1M, expires 2020 (UFA)
Sticking with the Senators, Pageau is a guy who could find himself a new address Monday afternoon because of his impending unrestricted free agency. Along with Nashville’s Craig Smith and perhaps Wayne Simmonds, Pageau is one of just a few UFA candidates the Flames might consider seriously. Smith and Pageau can both play the middle or on the wing, which would only further add to the Flames’ ability to find the right combinations and play to their strengths. Pageau is on this list over Smith because of his age and the way he plays the game. Small in stature, Pageau is rarely pushed around. He uses his speed, smarts and surprising strength to get to the harder areas to hang around on the ice — which is why he has scored a career-high 24 goals through 60 games this season and will tie his personal-best 43 points with just three more.
Vincent Trocheck, Florida Panthers
Cap hit: $4.75M, expires 2022 (UFA)
Hard to believe that Vincent Trocheck is being talked about as a potential trade piece considering the Panthers are still in the playoff hunt and the 26-year-old has three 20-plus-goal seasons under his belt. But when a player struggles to live up to his contract in back-to-back seasons, the fresh start theory starts to surface. His incredible 31-goal, 75-point campaign in 2017-18 will attract plenty of suiters and the cost will be extremely high considering he’s signed for two more seasons after this one. He’s a solid second-line centre at worst but can easily slide over to the wing. Again, he offers a lot of lineup versatility and the right shot the team so desperately needs to keep their left-wingers over on the left side where they’re most effective.