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The Flames need to ‘burn the boats’ at the 2022 trade deadline

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Photo credit:Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Ryan Pike
8 months ago
When we previewed the current Calgary Flames season back in October, we framed the situation in the following way: “Welcome to the 2021-22 season, where the Flames will either turn the corner or probably face significant change.
Good news: the Flames turned the corner (finally) and as they head towards the 2022 trade deadline, they need to embrace that and lean into the opportunity they have to do something special in the upcoming Stanley Cup playoffs. To the extent that the salary cap will allow them, they need to burn the boats.
The term “burn the boats” is traditionally linked to Hernan Cortes leading the Spanish invasion of Mexico in 1519: he ordered his men to destroy their ships upon arriving in Mexico so that they would have to conquer or perish.
For the Flames, our use of the term refers to the following interrelated truths:

This is the best version of the Flames in decades (perhaps since the early ’90s)

The Flames are currently in first place in the NHL’s Pacific Division. They have a lot of things going for them. Their top line of @Johnny Gaudreau, @Matthew Tkachuk and @Elias Lindholm are playing excellent hockey. @Mikael Backlund and @Blake Coleman have become a formidable shutdown duo. @Andrew Mangiapane is having an offensive breakout in a secondary role. On the blueline, the team lost @Mark Giordano to Seattle and have replaced him with a pair of savvy third line adds in @Erik Gudbranson and @Nikita Zadorov, and the emergence of @Oliver Kylington as a bonafide top four defender. @Jacob Markstrom is having a career year.
The Flames boast contenders for the Hart Trophy (Gaudreau), Selke Trophy (Lindholm) and Vezina Trophy (Markstrom) in the same year. It’s a team that can shut you down or blow you out of the water offensively. It’s a very, very good hockey team.

This is the best chance the Flames franchise has had at the Stanley Cup in decades (also perhaps since the early ’90s)

Ask yourself one question, friends: is there a team in the NHL right now that scares the wits out of you in terms of their ability to trounce the Flames in a seven game playoff series? Honestly, I don’t think anybody wallops them. They could lose, sure, because hockey is weird normally and playoff hockey is pure amazing chaos. But at the very least, the Flames could probably have a competitive, long series with basically the entire league.
In-division, the Flames are well ahead of the pack and are a strong contender to have home ice for the first two rounds – which is huge, because home ice can help them avoid having some of their lineup’s weak spots exposed. They’ve gone toe-to-toe with basically all of the big guns this season and for the most part, they’ve impressed. In a fairly evenly-paced Pacific Division, the Flames have emerged from the pack and put themselves in an enviable position. There’s a path for them to at least make it to the conference final, where likely Colorado awaits them in what could be a heck of a playoff series.
If only the Flames could add to their group and get past Colorado in that hypothetical series…

The Flames won’t be able to afford this deep and/or talented a team next season (and probably not until the cap goes up in 2024-25 or 2025-26)

The Flames have an awesome team. Relative to their performances, a lot of these players are underpaid. Among the underpaid bunch: Gaudreau, Tkachuk, Mangiapane, Kylington and Gudbranson, all of whom become free agents of various kinds on July 13. All of whom have earned significant raises. Paying them accordingly requires losing other players, or means they get paid accordingly elsewhere. Either way, the Flames will necessarily have some turnover next season, and it’s very unlikely that the players they slot in to fill out the roster will be nearly as good.
The cap is going up $1 million in 2022-23 and probably another $1m in 2023-24. Whenever the player escrow debt from the pandemic seasons is fully paid off, the cap will start going up significantly, but that might not be until 2024-25 or 2025-26. The Flames won’t have a lot of cap available to upgrade their roster beyond this season, or even for awhile.
These three factors blend into one: this is the Flames’ best chance at a meaningful playoff run in decades and is probably the best chance they’ll have for awhile to come. This is the type of situation that Brad Treliving and his hockey ops staff have been working towards since 2014, and the type of season you lure Darryl Sutter off his farm to direct the team through. It’s the type of season where management needs to do whatever they can to give the players and coaching staff a fighting chance in May and June.
As the trade deadline approaches on Monday, there’s one simple question for the Flames to answer.
If not now, when?

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