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Why a Blake Coleman trade could make sense for the Calgary Flames

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Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Nick Lacoste
5 months ago
There are many stories surrounding the Calgary Flames hockey team this season, and many of which are centred around “selling.” I have seem numerous pieces on which National Hockey League teams would best fit certain Flames players, whether speculative or informed. There seems to be an eternal buzz from passionate fans, writers, and online creators, who want to see the Calgary Flames succeed, and many believe that the 2023-24 season is the “season of selling.” Many are happy to part with key players in hopes of building a future Stanley Cup contender while Calgary falters. And yet, the randomness of the sport of hockey surprises bettors and fans time and time again. 

The current NHL landscape

Most NHL teams are competitive, and the talent margins are supposedly thinner than ever. Because of this “parity”, teams like the Calgary Flames can lose to the Chicago Blackhawks one weekend and beat the Vegas Golden Knights the next weekend. After seeing this occur, I caution optimists regarding the Flames’ playoff chances since very few playoff teams have lost 41% of their games in regulation as of January (2019 St. Louis Blues aside). These individual game wins should not dissuade fans from their initial confidence in the Flames’ 2023-24 “seller” strategy. 
For context, the worst team in the NHL usually still wins ~20 games out of 82. Each night after a victory, if they were victorious over the 2nd-last team, the game gets excused as an “easy chance to win,” and critics deem it would never be possible to beat a top team in the NHL. Each night that this ‘bad’ team ‘upsets’ a top team, there’s a brief feeling that they can beat anybody, and the only issue seems to be executing a gameplan consistently. With the Flames’ recent performances, gauging the team’s strength and playoff possibility may be difficult, but long-term success seems to still be the goal in Calgary, with low expectations for this year.
On the topic of expectations, when planning for the 2023-24 season, very few would have predicted Blake Coleman’s offensive growth. Blake Coleman is having a ‘career year’, where he is on pace for 35+ goals and 70+ points at his current rate, which is almost double his previous career high (38 points in 2022-23). On a points-per-game basis, Coleman is also operating at the best rates of his career.
This article will look to understand how it may make sense for both Blake Coleman and the Flames to move on from each other, considering history, statistics, and the singular objective of winning a Stanley Cup.

History

Looking back at the Blake Coleman free agent signing, the team landscape has radically changed over the last 2.5 years. When Blake Coleman initially signed his six-year deal in July 2021, the Flames were looking to improve after a poor “bubble” season where they finished 5th in the “North” Canadian division, despite running a first line of Johnny Gaudreau – Elias Lindholm – Matthew Tkachuk by the end of that year. In the first year of Blake Coleman’s contract (2021-22), the Flames bounced back under coach Darryl Sutter and finished first in the Pacific Division. The Flames had two 100-point players that year in Gaudreau (115) and Tkachuk (104). They then beat the almighty playoff god-goalie Jake Oettinger and the Dallas Stars in the first round before losing to the Edmonton Oilers in round two. This was a tough exit, but it was a promising sign for what was thought to be a solid playoff-contending team with optimism toward next season.
Things changed quickly:
Back to the present (2023-24), Blake Coleman and the Flames are competing with six other teams for the final two Western Conference wildcard playoff spots, and fans are ready for a “seller” deadline, just over two years after having two 100-point players and making it to the playoffs.

Blake Coleman’s context

One could argue that every NHL season in your 30s is a gift; this is something that few get to be healthy or talented enough to enjoy. Without looking too far ahead, Blake Coleman should be looking for competitive teams to play for during these healthy stretches of his NHL career from a personal standpoint. Because the Flames hockey team has gone 180 degrees from the core that Blake Coleman joined when he signed, this suggests to me that it is not out of the question that Coleman could waive his no-trade clause (NTC) if a fitting trade partner emerged. 
Keep in mind that we must consider human elements when discussing trades, as family and stability are very important to many hockey players. No one should speak for Coleman’s side but himself, his family, and his agent. This article is not to discredit that Coleman earned a no-trade clause and rightfully negotiated such a clause for years 1-3 when he first signed (with a 10-team trade list in years 4-6). This article rather looks to reflect both the radical hockey roster player changes in such a short time as well as the “seller” business situation that the Flames are currently in.

Four reasons why the Flames should trade Blake Coleman

Offensive growth/value

Coleman’s career shooting percentage was 9.4% prior to this season, but he’s operating at 18.9% this season. Along with that, he has taken a similar amount of shot attempts, with a similar amount reaching the net per game this year compared to previous years (4.36 attempts per game, 2.41 shots on goal per game in 44 games so far). However, the base stats have his profile elevated this year as a great offensive option. His shooting habits are consistent, but more shots are turning into goals this year than in the past. Is shooting 19% sustainable? Should the Flames wait to find out or look to trade Coleman at his highest offensive value?

Defensive reputation

No NHL general manager has time to watch every Coleman game. Reputation matters. As part of the back-to-back championships for the Tampa Bay Lightning, Coleman played alongside players like Yanni Gourde and Barclay Goodrow who provided top-tier forechecking and energy that broke down opposing top lines and arguably served as Tampa’s most reliable line en route to championships. In high-stress times for NHL GMs such as near the trade deadline, teams who need upgrades will be calling about multiple players, and box scores in addition to reputation will play a lot in outsiders’ understanding of Coleman’s value. The ad for Blake Coleman could likely be as follows: 
Blake Coleman, two-time Stanley Cup champion, reliable, playoff-tested, great work ethic, improved offensively, integral to a championship team.

Prospect pool

Going into this season, the Flames prospect pool was known to be average. Structuring a deal for rentals may return prospects/picks, but if a team is willing to acquire a player with term like Coleman, the cost may be greater. As the Flames move on from older players, trading hot assets like Coleman this season would help build up their prospect pool.

Cost certainty

The unique advantage of a player with term like Coleman is that an acquiring team can retain his services after their 2024 playoff run, win or lose. Many teams have had trouble in the past where they failed to win the Stanley Cup and the rentals they acquired left in free agency. This feels like a waste of assets in the eyes of fans. Coleman has a $4.9 million cap hit which may not fit on some payrolls (but likely possible through deadline cap space). Would you take a $5 million player who has the resume of Coleman in addition to a current 70-point pace this season, with the ability to keep him for the foreseeable future? Five million dollars doesn’t seem as expensive if Coleman becomes the complementary piece that helps a contender win a Stanley Cup, as he was in Tampa Bay.

Conclusion

The three main questions we need to ask ourselves regarding the Calgary Flames and Blake Coleman:
  1. When do the Flames want to compete for the Stanley Cup? (How many years away?)
  2. Is Coleman an essential piece for winning a Stanley Cup?
  3. Can they get a future Stanley Cup contributor for Coleman today?
Each of these questions should help direct organizational decision-making. With many significant prospective trade candidates to consider on this year’s roster (Elias Lindholm, Chris Tanev, Noah Hanifin, and even Jacob Markstrom), it’s possible that management fatigue from taking care of each of these stressful situations may push any Coleman discussion to the backburner. Regardless, Coleman is having a fantastic season individually. Now may be the time to maximize his trade value and send him to a high-quality team during a season where Calgary is not able to compete nor has the desire to go “all-in” for the Stanley Cup. Regardless, keep in mind that Coleman has earned his no-trade clause to stay and compete for the Flames, and fans should support Coleman throughout the rest of his Flames tenure, however long that may be. All the best to Coleman this season.

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