After a 7-1 victory over the Arizona Coyotes on Jan. 13, the Calgary Flames won their 30th game of the season — seven short of their win total from a season ago — and stretching their record to 30-13-4 through 47 games. They are in the top spot of the Pacific Division as well as the Western Conference and rank second in the NHL behind the Tampa Bay Lightning.
People thought the Flames would improve over their 37-35-10 record from 2017-18 and many would have said they’d be a playoff team as well. This was due to the addition of players such as Elias Lindholm, James Neal, Noah Hanifin and Derek Ryan. However, who would have seen them as the first-place team just past halfway into this season? The Flames have had a lot of opportunity and growth since their 5-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks…If you had Calgary as one of the league’s top teams this season, bravo.
The Feb. 25 NHL trade deadline is just over a month away, so assuming the Flames continue their dominance and make the playoffs, what could they possibly add either before or at the deadline to round out their team and stay atop the division and conference? Here are a few possibilities.
It would be old news if I carried on yet again about how good David Rittich has been so far this season for the Flames. He has all but solidified himself as the team’s number one goaltender and has shown no signs of slowing down in the second half of the season. What is concerning for Flames’ brass is that Mike Smith has still not found his game.
In the 24 games Smith has played this season, his record is 13-9-1. However, his 3.00 goals-against average (GAA) is high and his save percentage is well below the league’s average. This has cost Calgary multiple games due to soft goals and if Smith continues to struggle in the back stretch of the season, Flames’ management should start to consider their options.
There are a few cheaper options that would work more as a stop gap than long-term solution such as former Flame Chad Johnson, Carolina Hurricanes goaltenders Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney or maybe even Cam Ward with the Chicago Blackhawks. The less-likely option is Calgary going after a goaltender like Jonathan Quick or Sergei Bobrovsky.
The Los Angeles Kings will be sellers at the deadline while it’s looking more and more like Bobrovsky is on his way out of the Columbus Blue Jackets organization thanks, in part, to an incident with the team that caused him to miss a game. Depending on the asking price, the Flames could be in the running for any of the six goaltenders listed. They could also go a different route or stay the course and hope Smith figures out his struggles in the next month.
Depth on Defence
With the emergence of Juuso Valimaki, Rasmus Andersson and Oliver Kylington to go along with the likes of Mark Giordano, TJ Brodie, Travis Hamonic and Hanifin, you could argue the Flames have some of the best defensive depth in the league. On the other hand, going into the playoffs, you can never have too much depth on the back end, and with the health concerns surrounding Michael Stone and his blood clot, the team may look to add a piece or two as an insurance policy.
The Flames have nine solid NHL-calibre defencemen, including Dalton Prout, but they don’t have any players in the system who could step up in a pinch should the injury bug hit. According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman’s 31 Thoughts blog, the Flames are in the market for a left-shot defenceman.
A few pending unrestricted free agents that come to mind who could be on the block are Ben Lovejoy from the New Jersey Devils, Jordie Benn with the Montreal Canadiens and Jordan Oesterle of the Arizona Coyotes. Calgary making a move hinges on whether Stone and Valimaki can get up to speed after spending a long stint on injured reserve.
Help on the Wings
While the team is scoring at a very high rate, you can never have too much depth at the forward position. The additions of Lindholm, Neal, Ryan and Austin Czarnik in the offseason have given the Flames more to work with while allowing the team to slot their lines with better positioning. In a perfect world, Michael Frolik would slide into the team’s bottom six with the ability to reunite him with Matthew Tkachuk and Mikael Backlund on the 3M line while also having the option of putting a scoring winger on that right side.
The Flames could go a couple of different ways with this. The most-likely option for the team is to trade for a rental player like Mats Zuccarello, Gustav Nyquist, Jakob Silverberg, Wayne Simmonds or a possible reunion with former Flame Micheal Ferland. The Flames could also potentially add a player with term on his contract.
Nino Niederreiter is someone that comes to mind in that situation as he has three years left on his contract with the Minnesota Wild at just over $5 million per season, but with the Flames close to the cap ceiling and needing to free up money in order to sign Tkachuk, general manager Brad Treliving would need to work some magic in order to make a deal like that happen.The Flames are in a good position heading down the stretch, but if they can add a high-calibre piece or two, they’ll all-but cement their playoff status while also becoming a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.