When Brad Treliving became the general manager of the Calgary Flames in 2014, the team had a handful of good, young assets and a lot of question marks. Five years later, the organization is in a very interesting place heading into the 2019 National Hockey League trade deadline.
Perched atop the Western Conference with 20 games remaining, the Flames have a chance to win their division for the first time since 2005-06. The big question is whether the Flames have a deep enough team to go on a long playoff run, or if they need to add to their group. It’s a crucial time for a team poised to potentially take a big step forward.
Salary Cap Constraints
The Flames have good news and bad news when it comes to their salary cap situation heading into the trade deadline.
The good news is that basically every important player is signed for awhile, with the notable exception of pending restricted free agents Matthew Tkachuk, Sam Bennett and David Rittich. The team’s key trio of captain Mark Giordano ($6.75 million AAV), Johnny Gaudreau ($6.75 million) and Sean Monahan ($6.375 million) are signed for three, three and four more seasons respectively. Their secondary core trio of Mikael Backlund ($5.35 million), Elias Lindholm ($4.85 million) and Noah Hanifin ($4.95 million) are signed for another five seasons.
The bad news is the Flames don’t have a ton of cap flexibility this season. They can add $5.77 million in cap hits at the deadline and remain under the $79.5 million cap ceiling, but they’re likely to owe a decent amount in performance bonuses to Tkachuk and a few other young players and so they probably want to leave themselves a bit of wiggle room to avoid eating into 2019-20’s cap space.
Unless the team divests itself of some key pieces, it’s extremely unlikely they would be able to do anything but add players with expiring contracts. Tkachuk, Bennett and Rittich are likely to get significant raises and netminder Mike Smith will either need to be re-upped or replaced. Filling those four roster spots are likely to make the Flames tight enough against the 2019-20 salary cap without adding any additional commitments for that season.
A Handful of Attractive Assets
Opposition GMs are probably calling the Flames about a handful of key young prospects that have spent time in the NHL this season:
- Right shot defenseman Rasmus Andersson (21)
- Left shot defenseman Oliver Kylington (21)
- Left shot defenseman Juuso Valimaki (20)
- Left shot forward Dillon Dube (20)
- Left shot forward Andrew Mangiapane (22)
In addition to those five youngsters, other teams probably covet the Flames’ first round picks in 2019 or 2020 or their second round pick in 2020 – their 2019 second round pick belongs to the New York Islanders due to the Travis Hamonic trade.
Valimaki and Dube are likely close to untouchables in terms of prospects – Valimaki could be the heir apparent to Giordano’s left perch on the top pairing while Dube has an impressive mix of speed, skill and smarts on the ice. Andersson has been a revelation this season, to the point where he’s stepped in to play with Giordano on the top pairing and not looked out of place. The Flames aren’t flush with high-end assets in their farm system – most of them have forced them way into the NHL roster – so it would take an impressive return to pry Kylington, Mangiapane or the draft picks out of Treliving, but it could be done.
Deadline Needs and Wants
It’s been established that the Flames are likely going to have to balance their present and future needs at the deadline. Presuming they decide to “go for it” this season and take a big swing with a significant move, there are a couple players that could fit their needs, playing style and slide into their locker room without much disruption.
In an ideal world, the Flames would nab Mark Stone from the Ottawa Senators. A pending unrestricted free agent, Stone plays a gritty, energetic game with plenty of skill, and he could fit in impressively on the right side of either the top two Flames lines. He’s also a known quantity to the Flames’ decision-makers; Treliving and head coach Bill Peters had him on Team Canada at the 2016 World Championship and older brother Michael is on the Flames roster. The challenge for the Flames would be fitting Stone’s $7.35 million under the cap – they’d have to move money out in the trade – and justifying what’s likely to be a hefty price tag for a potential short-term rental.
So, Kevin Hayes, Mats Zuccarello and Adam McQuaid have most likely already played their last game as Rangers. All three won't play today and I can't imagine they'll play tomorrow either if they're still on the roster. It's the right thing to do.
— Dan Rosen (@drosennhl) February 23, 2019
Arguably the best of the remaining forward rental options could be the big-bodied Kevin Hayes of the New York Rangers. An imposing 6-foot-5, 215 pound center that can also play on the right side, Hayes would add some size and physicality to a Flames group that already has oodles of speed and skill. He’s also familiar with many of the Flames; he was linemates with Gaudreau at Boston College, played briefly with Austin Czarnik in junior and with Hanifin at the World Juniors, and is cousins with Tkachuk. Fitting him into the group likely wouldn’t be an issue, and they could squeeze his $5.175 million under the cap ceiling without making other moves.
Adding Without Disrupting their Success
Aside from a lull coming out of the All-Star Break, the Flames have been rolling along smoothly since about mid-November. They’ve survived injuries to a few key players, a brief suspension to Giordano, and rotating in a handful of rookies and call-ups. Simply put, the Flames have found ways to make their team work in 2018-19. While it would be beneficial to add some forward depth for the stretch drive and playoffs – their defensive group is probably deep enough – the challenge will be to add the right types of players and people to avoid disrupting their chemistry.
In terms of performance on the ice and in the standings, the current edition of the Flames are easily the best in several decades. With no presumptive playoff front-runner in the Western Conference, they could be on the verge of achieving something special if they can supplement their current group with the right trade deadline additions.