With the trade deadline fast approaching, we will be taking a closer look at the situation for each team over the coming weeks. Where do they stand, what do they need to do, and what assets do they have to fill those needs? As we begin to examine the Pacific Division, here is a look at the Calgary Flames.
The Calgary Flames are the kings of the Western Conference so far. With 71 points in 51 games, the Flames hold a commanding six-point lead with a game in hand over the San Jose Sharks in the division and are three points up on the Winnipeg Jets overall. In fact, the Flames trail only the Tampa Bay Lightning in the NHL standings right now. The team has been rolling on all cylinders this season, finding success on both offense – No. 2 in goals per game – and defense – No. 7 in goals against per game. However, Calgary is not without fault and will be looking to add in several areas at the deadline.
However, GM Brad Treliving and company must be methodical in their approach. The Flames have just over $7MM in cap space to work with and need to be sure of their priorities when it comes to the market. The team also needs to avoid trading one of their most valuable trade assets, this year’s first-round pick. With only five selections scheduled for this June, losing their first-rounder could see Calgary make their draft debut in the late third round. As such, the Flames need to do what they can to capitalize on the strong regular season and improve before the postseason, but will be forced to be more strategic than a typical all-out buyer.
33-13-5, first in the Pacific Division
Deadline Cap Space
$7.09MM in full-season cap hit, 0/3 used salary cap retention slots, 45/50 contracts per CapFriendly
Upcoming Draft Picks
2019: CGY 1st, CGY 3rd, NYI 4th, CGY 5th, CAR 7th
2020: CGY 1st, CGY 2nd, CGY 3rd, CGY 4th, CGY 5th, CGY 6th, CGY 7th
If the Flames indeed take this year’s first-round pick off the table, it will have repercussions in their dealings with sellers. Depending on the team and target, some may be happy with next year’s first-rounder or, in a buyer’s market, a later pick. Others could look for a pro-ready piece to substitute the immediate boost of a first-round talent in the system. If that’s the case, Calgary has to be prepared to listen to offers including Sam Bennett. Bennett, the 2014 fourth overall pick, is struggling through another disappointing season. Now in his fourth year with the Flames, Bennett has yet to crack 20 goals or 40 points in a single season and looks likely to fall short yet again. It is far from the output that Calgary expected, but they have stuck with the frustrating forward thus far. Bennett’s ability is apparent and he’s shown flashes of brilliance from time to time, but he has been unable to put together a complete game. Even as the 22-year-old has tried to embrace a more physical, high-energy style over the past season plus, he has again missed his mark and has become a penalty liability far too frequently, especially for a team with a poor penalty kill. Bennett may reach his potential one day, but it seems unlikely to be with Calgary. In a season where the Flames have a legitimate chance to win the Stanley Cup, they need to finally give up on Bennett if that’s the price of a much-needed addition. Another castoff who has yet to meet expectations is Curtis Lazar, who could still have some intrigue for sellers.
One of the Flames’ current young defenseman could also be a trade deadline target. With five capable veterans on the back end signed through at least next season and three promising young defenders itching for more NHL responsibility, someone is going to be the odd man out next year. Juuso Valimaki, the team’s top defensive prospect, seems like a safe bet to stay put. However, the current bottom pair of Rasmus Andersson and Oliver Kylington may not stay together much longer. Both have more than proven themselves as capable pros this season, but if the Flames want to land a big fish at the deadline, they may have to give up one or the other. Losing Kylington would hurt slightly less than Andersson.
Among other prospects, first-year pro forwards Matthew Phillips and Glenn Gawdin are sure to draw interest, but the Flames may be hesitant to move either. However, with Dillon Dube out of the question, the pair could be next up among Calgary’s top minor league pieces. The Flames could try to capitalize on the breakout season of USHL star Martin Pospisil to sell high on the recent fourth-rounder.
Finally, with Jon Gillies officially losing out to David Rittich in the battle of young goaltenders in Calgary, the Flames would likely be open to moving the struggling 25-year-old. Especially if they are in pursuit of a replacement goalie of their own, the seller may like the idea of taking a waiver on another young goalie and Gillies fits the bill. So too may Tyler Parsons.
1) Starting Goaltender: Most contenders don’t get to that point if they have a need at starting goaltender. This year’s Flames are a rare exception. Incumbent starter Mike Smith has struggled all year long and has a sub-.900 save percentage and a goals against average up over 3.00 in 25 appearances. Young David Rittich has take over as the go-to option and has performed admirably in 30 appearances, but has faded since his hot start to the season. Most likely, Calgary’s Cup hopes live and die by what they do in net. Doing nothing at all will likely cost them their chance barring a heroic return to form from Smith. Adding a third goalie to at least compete for starts will let them continue their current trajectory. Carolina Hurricanes’ keepers Petr Mrazek or Curtis McElhinney could fall into this group, as could Cam Talbot from the rival Edmonton Oilers or old friend Brian Elliott, if healthy. If the Flames instead opt to upgrade the position with one of the three main goalies on the market – Sergei Bobrovksy, Jimmy Howard, and Semyon Varlamov – one would have to think that their title chances would improve significantly. The trick will be adding one of these three at a reasonable price while also keeping enough cap space open to add in other areas. Moving Smith in another deal could be an option.
2) Top-Nine Winger: Michael Frolik, Sam Bennett, James Neal, and Austin Czarnik simply haven’t panned out as expected this season. As dominant as the Flames’ top line and two-thirds of their second line has been, they have needed help on the wing in the middle six for much of the year. If they can add a forward that can also help out their 21st-ranked penalty kill, that would be even better. If they can add two such capable two-way wingers? That would be ideal. Again, the Flames lack of cap space and bigger need in net make this a likely result, but Calgary has a serious need for depth on the wing and it could be exposed in the postseason if not addressed. Some of the more cap-friendly outside options are likely to be targets, such as Jakob Silfverberg, Richard Panik, Ryan Dzingel, or Patrick Maroon. However, the possibility of a return to Calgary for Micheal Ferland remains one of the most intriguing possibilities at the deadline. Ferland seemingly would be a great fix for what ails the Flames.
3) Veteran Depth Defenseman: Even though depth on defense has been identified as a strength for the Flames moving forward, there are some concerns at present. Michael Stone is currently sidelined with a blood clot issue and there is no definitive timeline for his return. Meanwhile, rookies Rasmus Andersson, Oliver Kylington, and Juuso Valimaki have played a little over 100 career NHL games combined and the other young options in the AHL aren’t instilling any confidence. Calgary has an impressive top four that they will no doubt lean on in the playoffs, but just one injury could leave Dalton Prout as the team’s top replacement option and that is a problem. The Flames need to add another experienced veteran to the blue line and, even if the right-handed Stone returns to health, could use an extra body on the left side preferably. Treliving would have to get creative, but Detroit’s Niklas Kronwall would be a great fit. More affordable options include Jordie Benn and Brandon Davidson among others.