How the Calgary Flames can balance their NHL and AHL needs at the trade deadline

Photo credit:John Jones-USA TODAY Sports
Ryan Pike
1 month ago
Friends, we’re less than three weeks from the NHL’s annual trade deadline. As we approach, the Calgary Flames are attempting to balance a few different needs. Most prominently, they would really like to make the playoff – in both the NHL and the American Hockey League – while juggling some expiring contracts at the NHL level.
As such, the Flames have a few different plates they’re trying to keep spinning.
Here’s roughly where the NHL and AHL clubs sit relative to their respective playoff races:
  • NHL: The Flames are chasing a wild card spot in the Western Conference. The team in the final playoff spot, St. Louis, are five points up on the Flames with a game in hand.
  • AHL: The top seven teams in the Pacific Division make the playoffs. The Wranglers sit fourth, and they’re seven points up on the eighth-place team (Henderson) with three games in hand.
The Flames have an uphill battle to claw their way in. The Wranglers merely need to maintain a steady pace to qualify.
So with the NHL and AHL races in mind, here are the rules the Flames and Wranglers need to work within:
  • As of midnight ET, when NHL calendar flips from Thursday, March 7 to Friday, March 8 (deadline day) roster limits no longer exist. At all times teams need to have a cap compliant roster of at least 20 active players, but aside from that (and after the trade deadline, the four recall limit) it’s buck wild.
  • The four recall limit refers to “regular” call-ups from the AHL. The idea is teams are allowed to replace injured players on emergency recall as much as they need, but they can’t just call up tons of players to sit around as insurance to rest players before the playoffs.
  • In order to be eligible to play in the AHL after the trade deadline, an NHL player has to be on the AHL roster as of the NHL’s trade deadline. What usually happens is players are sent down earlier in the day, and then called up again after the deadline, using up a few of the team’s four recalls.
  • The AHL has its own trade deadline, which happens a week after the NHL’s, and is mean to restrict movement between AHL teams.
The other factor the Flames would need to try to balance is, of course, waivers. Of the 23 players on the active roster (as of Monday morning), the vast majority would require waivers to go to the AHL. Exempt all season are Connor Zary and Jakob Pelletier. Players who have cleared waivers and are within their 30-days (on NHL roster) exemption window after clearing are Kevin Rooney, Walker Duehr and Dryden Hunt. However, unless they’re sent down to the AHL between now and the trade deadline, Rooney and Duehr will both be waiver eligible again by March 8. (Hunt will remain exempt.)
If it were up to us – and it’s not, mind you – we’d probably keep Zary on the NHL roster and float Pelletier down and back from the AHL. And the reasoning is pretty simple: Zary has established himself as an NHL player, while Pelletier has not (yet).
Zary’s carved out a really good niche for himself in the Flames’ top nine and, to be quite honest, has played enough and played well enough that he’s probably earned some time off whenever the Flames’ season ends. Heck, there’s a decent chance that Zary shows up on a few Calder Trophy ballots and he could potentially be on the year-end All-Rookie Team. Given all of that, a good argument could be made that he’s outgrown the AHL and shouldn’t go back.
Pelletier, meanwhile, is a good player who needs to keep playing games in order to keep pushing for a regular NHL role. He was injured in the pre-season and didn’t play his first game this season until late January. Between the Flames and the Wranglers, he’s played eight games so far. (Zary, on the other hand, has played 51.) If the point of the AHL is to help develop prospects into NHL players, there’s still runway this season to use the Wranglers to help Pelletier (and use Pelletier to help them).
Beyond Pelletier, perhaps maybe sneaking Dryden Hunt down and back to keep him eligible for the AHL’s playoffs, we’re not anticipating a whole lot of recall or waiver shenanigans between now and when it’s pencils down at 1 p.m. MT on March 8.
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