On a trade deadline in which almost every other Western Conference contender made significant moves, the conference-leading Calgary Flames only added a depth defenseman. Flames general manager Brad Treliving was apparently reluctant to mess with team chemistry and/or give up futures for rental players. In doing so, he seems confident his team can make a deep playoff run exactly as is, which goes against the instincts of most of his counterparts.
The team’s only move was adding defenseman Oscar Fantenberg from the Los Angeles Kings for a conditional 2020 fourth-round pick. They did not add any forwards, nor did they shake up their goaltending, a question mark all season. By all accounts, they were heavily involved in bidding for the deadline’s biggest prize, Ottawa Senators forward Mark Stone. Early in the day, Flames executive Don Maloney told media they had been close to something big, but that the deal fell apart late Sunday night. Reporters quickly suggested he was talking about Stone.
Flames fans pining for Stone got even worse news when the star forward ended up a divisional rival, landing with the Vegas Golden Knights and quickly signing an eight-year extension at a $9.5 million cap hit. The Flames easily could have topped the packages for Stone and other deadline additions. Only time will tell if Treliving’s faith will pay off.
No Mark Stone: Risk a 1st-Round Pick or 1st-Round Exit?
Per multiple reports, the Flames were deeply interested in Stone, but an extension was essential to the deal. The reasons why may have more to do with their specific trade history than anything. Under Treliving, they have traded high picks in blockbuster trades for long-term assets twice: Dougie Hamilton in 2015 and then Travis Hamonic in 2017.
Because of the Hamonic trade, they do not own a second-round pick in 2019. The team was apparently reluctant to trade another high pick, despite the fact that contenders routinely trade their late first-rounders for rentals, knowing the low value of such picks.
2/2 "… we were’t prepared to go deep into first round picks and those were the acquisition costs for a lot of people out there." Treliving went on to remind us that the #Flames got to where they are today (1st in West) because of the group they currently have.
— Jermain Franklin (@TSNJFranklin) February 25, 2019
Speaking to the Fan 960 after the deadline, Treliving hinted that the team deemed certain assets as untouchable. At the same time, he reiterated that he had been open to a rental at the right price. An educated guess, based on Erik Brannstrom being the main asset for Stone, is that the Senators wanted Juuso Valimaki. Brannstrom and Valimaki were taken one pick apart in the first round of the 2017 Draft, and Valimaki was having an impressive rookie season before an ankle injury. If the Flames see Valimaki as a future cornerstone of their blue line, it is entirely reasonable they would not trade him for a rental.
We can only speculate on if the Flames would have traded Valimaki for a signed Stone, or even if they could have. Because there is no state income tax in Nevada, Stone’s $9.5 million cap hit on his extension is a discount. Calgary would have likely been looking at over $10 million per season. That would have made Stone the Flames’ highest-paid player, likely even topping Matthew Tkachuk’s next contract.
To make the money fit, the Flames would have had to move James Neal or Michael Frolik, but the Senators, with a projected $35 million in cap space next season, will likely be taking on some bad contracts anyway. In all, it is hard to believe Calgary could not outbid the Knights.
The team’s play since the All-Star break has demonstrated why an impact addition at forward might have been what they needed. Their big-four forward group of Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm and Tkachuk has dried up of late, with the team relying on secondary scoring. Stone would have given the Flames two matchup-nightmare lines. They will have to continue to roll four lines and hope for a late surge from the disappointing Neal.
Stone Alternatives Were Also Doable for Calgary
Stone was not the only top forward the Flames missed out on. Kevin Hayes, who seemed like a logical fit for his college connection with Gaudreau and being Tkachuk’s cousin, went to the Jets for a package that included a first-round pick. Treliving’s reluctance to move firsts has already been noted, but it is still a trade the team could have done. However, while Hayes had been linked to the Jets in the rumor mill for weeks, Calgary never was.
They were linked to Mats Zuccarello, however, who cost the Stars a mere second and third-round pick. (The fact that Zuccarello suffered a broken arm in his first game with Dallas was pure bad luck; it doesn’t mean the trade wasn’t worth making.)
The Zuccarello price was the standard price for a top-nine rental forward: Gustav Nyquist went to San Jose for the same price and Marcus Johannson to Boston for a second and fourth. (Nyquist had to waive his no-trade clause for San Jose.) The Flames had a 2019 third and a 2020 second; it is worth noting, though, that each of the three above trades included 2019 second-rounders.
The Wayne Simmonds and Mikael Granlund trades included notable roster players going the other way (Ryan Hartman and Kevin Fiala, respectively). Of these players, Calgary was only linked to Simmonds. The Carolina Hurricanes, now red-hot, opted to keep pending unrestricted free agent Micheal Ferland who the Flames also reportedly inquired about re-acquiring.
Those still nervous about the Flames’ goaltending were not reassured by this deadline. Despite much speculation, the only goalie traded on deadline day was the Devils’ Keith Kinkaid who went for essentially nothing (a 2022 fifth-round pick.) The Detroit Red Wings refused to move Jimmy Howard for anything other than a first-round pick.
Sticking with Mike Smith is perhaps the greatest signal of Treliving’s faith in his group, and the biggest gamble. After a horrendous first half caused him to lose his job to David Rittich, the pendulum has swung the other way in 2019, with Rittich’s numbers regressing. Smith has won a season-high five straight games in February. He still, however, has just an .895 save percentage. Fans can debate whether a forward would have put the Flames over the top, but a goaltending collapse remains their most likely flaw, and the lack of action on that front may prove a more decisive what-if.
Fantenberg: Another Seventh Defenceman?
Fantenberg should not totally be an afterthought. As the saying goes, you can never have too many defencemen, and the price was right – a fourth-rounder in 2020 that becomes a third-rounder if the Flames make the conference finals and Fantenberg plays in over 50 percent of the games. At the very least, Fantenberg might be a third-pairing upgrade, where Dalton Prout has subbed in for the injured Michael Stone and Valimaki.
In 46 games with the Kings this season, the defensive defenceman averaged 16:03 a night. In a Kings’ double-overtime loss to Vegas in last season’s playoffs, he played 41:10. He also has familiarity with Mikael Backlund, playing with him on Team Sweden at the 2016 World Championship.
More Essential Than Ever for Calgary to Win Pacific Division
A first-round matchup against the Golden Knights was always dreaded. Simply put, with the Knights and Sharks adding significant players today and the Flames not doing so, it is easier than ever to see yet another first-round disappointment for Calgary should the Sharks – currently three points behind – grab the division title from them.
The argument to go all-in at the deadline was that it remains unknown how big the Flames window is. At 35, Mark Giordano is putting together a Norris-caliber season, and it is tough to see him doing that again. Tkachuk’s extension will eat up much of their cap space next season. The Western Conference appeared wide-open, particularly if the team wins the division. Every other Western team considered a contender made moves recognizing this, yet the Flames – in their first season of real contention in over a decade – did not.
It is often said that the most important trade is the one you don’t make, a maxim used to defend conservative general managers. For Calgary, only time will tell if this is true. Going all-in presents a significant risk, but for a team that has reached the second round of the playoffs just twice since 1989, the inverse may also apply.