The Calgary Flames find themselves in the midst of an extremely tight Western Conference race that sees them currently clinging on to the final wild-card spot.
The Flames are just three points behind the second-place Arizona Coyotes in the Pacific Division and five points behind the division-leading Vegas Golden Knights, but they also have the Winnipeg Jets breathing down their neck, just one point back of the final wild-card spot. The Minnesota Wild are also just three points behind the Flames as well.
With the trade deadline creeping up, taking place on Feb. 24, the next 20-game stretch for the Flames will determine whether they buy or sell at the deadline.
Space to Work With
After dealing forward Michael Frolik to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for a fourth-round pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft on Jan. 2, the Flames now have $4.79 million in cap space to work with at the coming trade deadline.
Elliotte Friedman has reported the Flames are looking to utilize their recently freed-up cap space in hopes of acquiring a player with term. Flames forward Elias Lindholm has the ability to play both centre and right-wing. Where the Flames slot Lindholm long-term will determine the position they target, whether that’s a centre or right-winger.
Shaking Up the Defense
Both Travis Hamonic and TJ Brodie are set to become unrestricted free agents in the offseason. The Flames also have defensemen Rasmus Andersson and Oliver Kylington set to become restricted free agents, as well as Michael Stone who will be an unrestricted free agent. With just two of their seven active roster defensemen signed for the 2020-21 season, the Flames could be on the hunt for a defenseman with term at the trade deadline.
The Flames have been outscored 134-123 this season, and could be looking to shake things up defensively. With names like Kylington, Andersson, and Juuso Valimaki being mentioned in prior trade talks, the Flames will likely have to part with one of their defensemen if they’re still looking to acquire a top-six forward like they reportedly have in the past with Jason Zucker, Nazem Kadri, Mark Stone, and Taylor Hall.
Flames general manager Brad Treliving was unwilling to part with assets like Valimaki and Andersson when Mark Stone was available just a year ago. Assuming Treliving is still not looking to trade those two, along with other names like Kylington and Johnny Gaudreau, that still leaves Brodie, Mark Jankowski, and Sam Bennett as players who have been linked to previous trade talks.
With just over a month until the trade deadline, Treliving has time to assess the Flames cap situation, along with where they sit in the standings, and potentially make moves accordingly. Given how close the Flames are to the top spot in the division, and the fact that they’re currently hanging on to a wild-card spot by a thread, Treliving could look to bolster his club’s top-six forward group, which currently sees Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Mikael Backlund together on the top line along with Andrew Mangiapane, Lindholm, and Matthew Tkachuk on the second line.
An additional top-six weapon would allow the team to shift Mangiapane down to the bottom-six, making it even more enticing to move Jankowski or Bennett.
A Decisive Stretch
The next 20 games will be crucial for the Flames. They could find themselves at the top of the Pacific Division, or they could end up playing catch-up among teams like the Nashville Predators and the Chicago Blackhawks with fears of getting left behind in the playoff race. Despite winning their last two games, the Flames are 4-5-1 in their last 10 and have struggled to find consistency since their eight-game win streak ended on Dec. 14.
The Flames have allowed at least three goals against in eight of their last ten games, with opposing teams scoring at least four goals in six of those games.
Their upcoming schedule includes tough match-ups against the Toronto Maple Leafs, St. Louis Blues, two games against the Boston Bruins, and three games against the Edmonton Oilers. They also have a road trip with games against the Vancouver Canucks, San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings, and Anaheim Ducks during a six-day period.
The Flames play down the stretch will help determine the direction Treliving takes as the trade deadline gets nearer. Whether he’s buying or selling, Treliving will likely be busy making phone calls either way.