Win now? Or build for the future? What direction are the Calgary Flames going to go?

Photo credit:© Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Robert Munnich
11 months ago
The Calgary Flames are in one of the more unique positions in the NHL. General manager Craig Conroy and the Flames ownership group have to make some big decisions that could change the course of the Flames franchise for the next few seasons.
Do they try to win now? Or do they sacrifice next season for the long-term health of the organization?
Let’s take a look at each direction they could go in.

Win now

The Flames have a good team for the 2023-24 season. There is a lot of talent on the roster in the forward ranks with players like Jonathan Huberdeau, Elias Lindholm, Nazem Kadri and Andrew Mangiapane. They have a deep blue line that includes high end players like MacKenzie Weegar and Rasmus Andersson. And in net they have a 2021-22 Vezina Trophy finalist and the best goalie in the AHL the last two seasons.
There is a lot to like about the team next season. Especially when you consider they will be playing for a new coaching staff that include offensive savant Marc Savard.
If the players on the Flames roster can live up to their potential, they will make the playoffs and could even win a round or two.
But the problem with keeping this team together is that there are currently six prominent pending UFAs for the 2024 off-season. If the Flames decide to try to win now, they could be losing players like Lindholm, Chris Tanev, Mikael Backlund, Noah Hanifin, Nikita Zadorov and Oliver Kylington for nothing if they wanted to test free agency.
Losing 2-6 of those UFAs for nothing would significantly impact the Flames’ long term health as an organization. They need to get young players, prospects, and draft picks in return for some of those players to ensure that they won’t get stuck in the place the Flames were in from 2009-14.

Build for the future/sacrifice next season

The other option in front of the Flames is to deal their 2024 UFAs between now and the trade deadline.
In this scenario the Flames could acquire players and draft picks to help build a winning team in the future. They might be able to pull off what Dallas has done and build a young core around aging veterans like Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn.
The problem with this course of action is that the Flames would be essentially punting on the 2023-24 season. It would be highly unlikely for this team to make the playoffs and do damage without players like Lindholm, Backlund and Hanifin.
Not only is there the on-ice impact of losing those players, but it would also affect the Flames off the ice from a business perspective. Demand for tickets, merchandise, food and beverage will likely decrease significantly this season if the Flames trade core members of their roster. That isn’t something the fans care about, but we know Murray Edwards and John Bean will. And don’t think that’s an insignificant factor for what direction they decide to take the Flames.
However, there is one Flames team that was an outlier. That was the 2014-15 “Find a Way” Flames. They traded Curtis Glencross to Washington at the trade deadline and lost Mark Giordano and Paul Byron to season ending injuries. Despite losing those three players to trade and injuries, the Flames still made the playoffs and won a round against the Vancouver Canucks.
Trading players at the deadline and making the playoffs can happen, but the ’14-’15 “Find a Way” Flames were the exception, not the rule.
With all that in mind, what are the Flames going to do? Are they going to put all their chips in the middle and go all in for one season? Or will they take a long-term approach and make futures trades for their 2024 UFAs?
The next six months are going to show Flames fans what the priority of ownership is. Win now and get playoff revenue. Or build for the future success of the franchise.
What do you want ownership to do? Give Conroy the green light to make trades? Or hold on to the 2024 UFAs and try to win this year? Let us know in the comments section!

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