Talk about complicating things.
The Calgary Flames won in convincing fashion on Saturday night, dispatching the Edmonton Oilers by a 5-0 score and improving to 17-21-3 on the season.
If the season were to end today, the Flames would have the eighth-best draft lottery odds in the NHL and would finish six points outside the playoffs. They currently sit fifth in the North Division with 37 points in 41 games; the fourth-place Montreal Canadiens have 43 points in just 38 games.
In fact, despite ranking ahead of the Vancouver Canucks in terms of points, the Flames also have a worse record than their westernmost rival. Vancouver has 35 points in 37 games, good for a .473 points percentage. Calgary owns a .451 mark in that department, ahead of only Ottawa among Canadian teams.
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Still, it’s hard not to be even a little intrigued after watching the Flames defeat their provincial rivals in such a convincing fashion. With Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau skating on different lines, the Flames held the Oilers to just 1.13 expected goals at even strength while generating 1.76 of their own.
Both Monahan and Gaudreau scored goals while playing on their new lines. Monahan, in particular, had a great game, with the Flames controlling 65.03% of the expected goals at 5v5 with him on the ice. After a stretch of games where he looked troublingly miscast as Gaudreau’s centre, it was refreshing to see Monahan finishing off plays and spearheading rushes with nice passes.
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Sam Bennett extended his point streak to four games, picking up helpers on goals by Mark Giordano and Brett Ritchie (more on that later). Bennett now has six points in his last six games and was recently the subject of increased media attention about his improved play and comfort level under Darryl Sutter.
What should the Flames do with Bennett? He’s turning 25 in June and needs a new contract this summer. He was the Flames’ most impactful driver of expected goals on Saturday and has posted some solid numbers over the last few weeks. Might this be the Flames’ last opportunity to sell Bennett at any sort of perceived “high”?
Bennett will be a restricted free agent this summer unless his team chooses not to tender him his one-year qualifying offer of $2.55 million. With just four goals and 12 points in 38 games this season, Bennett likely isn’t close to being worth that salary (particularly to a team that’s close to the cap).
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However, Bennett might hold some value around the league as a rental for the playoffs. Less than a year after he scored eight points in 10 post-season games, the narrative surrounding Bennett as being a “playoff performer” has never been stronger.
Bennett was, admittedly, fantastic in last season’s playoffs but what good does he offer to a Flames team that looks extremely unlikely to make it past game 56? At this point, it’s probably time for the Flames to minimize their losses and move on.
As for Ritchie, well, he did this:
Ritchie has not been particularly effective in Calgary, with his relative expected goals rate of -8.59% ranking sixth-worst on the team (only two spots below Bennett). He’s big and clearly has some hands but shouldn’t be in the Flames’ long-term plans. If the Flames can sell Ritchie for a low conditional pick to a playoff team looking for gritty depth, they should.
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So far, we’ve talked about things the Flames should probably do (trading Bennett and Ritchie). They should also look at the possibility of moving David Rittich, Josh Leivo, Joakim Nordstrom, Nikita Nesterov, and even Derek Ryan. What shouldn’t they do?
From this vantage point, the only answer to that question is “buy.” Even after a 5-0 win, the Flames cannot afford to give up picks in a last-ditch effort to build momentum and salvage this season. The time to make additive player personnel adjustments was weeks—if not months—ago and that ship has sailed.
Anything else should be on the table, although some moves will likely have to wait. Flames general manager Brad Treliving recently spoke to The Athletic and said, among other things, “you can’t make offseason moves within the middle of the season.”
In this case, “offseason moves” likely refers to potential Gaudreau, Monahan, or Giordano trades. (Relevant: Gaudreau’s 27-team no-trade list kicks in on July 28, meaning the Flames would likely want to move him—if at all—before then). Some other players, like Milan Lucic, will be difficult to move because of the size of their contracts.
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The Flames would probably benefit from picking as high as possible in this year’s NHL Entry Draft. If you’re dead-set on cheering for them to make the playoffs, however, there is a (small) glimmer of hope. Calgary will play against Montreal, the team they’re chasing in the standings, on five more occasions before the end of the season.
Those games offer the Flames an opportunity to gain 10 points on their Québécois rival. Even if they go 4-1-0 against the Habs, the Flames would be able to make the playoffs if both of the following were to occur:
  • Montreal gets 12 points (or fewer) in its remaining 13 games against non-Calgary opponents; e.g., a 6-7-0 record
  • Calgary gets 12 points (or more) in its remaining 10 games against non-Montreal opponents; e.g., a 6-4-0 record
Does that seem unlikely? Perhaps. Is it impossible? Hardly. Is it impractical? Oh, yes. If the Flames were to come close to catching Montreal in the standings but ultimately still miss the playoffs, their reward would be a significantly worse draft pick at a time where many of their core players are entering the final years of their respective contracts.
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For Flames supporters, Saturday’s win was the epitome of a feel-good hockey game. It also doesn’t change how the Flames are closer to Ottawa than Montreal in the standings. Calgary has an opportunity to gain some ground on the Canadiens if everything goes right but the chances of them making the playoffs remain extremely low.
The Flames (and their fans) should enjoy the 5-0 win. It was fun! That said, it shouldn’t stop them from being sellers.