While all signs pointed to the Calgary Flames potentially being a major player on NHL trade deadline day, in the end general manager Brad Treliving made only a minor depth move and failed to land any of the big fish that were out there. Calgary’s lone transaction was the acquisition of defenceman Oscar Fantenberg from the Los Angeles Kings in return for a conditional fourth-round draft pick in 2020.
The 27-year-old native of Sweden has appeared in 46 games with the Kings this season and has recorded two goals and an assist. Fantenberg is a minus-two on the campaign, which is actually a pretty solid figure when you take into account how bad the Kings have been this season.
The Flames had eyed a left-shot, depth defenceman, and Fantenberg fits that bill at a relatively cheap price. He’s in the latter stages of a one-year contract worth $650,000. As we know, you can never have too many options available on defense when it comes to the grind of a long playoff run, which is certainly something the Flames and their fans are hoping to see this season.
Flames Resist Temptation to Overpay
Speaking to the assembled media in New York after the deadline had passed, Treliving laid out the reasoning behind the team’s ultimate decision not to make a major splash. Among the most noteworthy items from Treliving was that they had laid out the parameters on what they were comfortable giving up in any transaction, and weren’t going to deviate from that plan. He also added that he has a great deal of faith in this team as it’s currently built.
The price for Ottawa Senators forward Mark Stone, who was the top name on the trade boards, was rather steep and it’s understandable why Calgary had no desire to include one of their talented prospects or current young blueliners on the parent club such as Juuso Valimaki, Rasmus Andersson or Oliver Kylington in any transaction. All three of those 22-and-under defencemen have proven themselves more than ready to compete at the NHL level with Andersson and Kylington in particular receiving significant playing time.
With the blue line spearheaded by captain and Norris Trophy candidate Mark Giordano, along with T.J. Brodie, the team’s first pairing is in good hands. Noah Hanifin, who was acquired in a major offseason deal with the Carolina Hurricanes, seems more comfortable as the season has progressed, and has been a solid fit with rugged veteran Travis Hamonic.
It’s the third pairing that has been quite a story this season as the future core looks immensely bright with the likes of Andersson, Kylington and Valimaki. Having Fantenberg and, hopefully, Michael Stone finally available down the road, would make for an ideal situation should the youngsters run into postseason struggles.
Flames’ Secondary Scoring Behind Latest Roll
The Flames have reeled off five consecutive victories after going through a rare slump earlier this month. That recent surge would undoubtedly also be a key factor as to why Treliving was unwilling to change the current chemistry in a major way. While the top unit of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Elias Lindholm has tapered off after a remarkable run for a good chunk of the 2018-19 season, there have been others who’ve stepped-up to help keep the team atop the Western Conference standings.
Calgary’s depth has certainly figured prominently during the latest streak with Austin Czarnik leading the charge. Czarnik was a healthy scratch for nine consecutive games from Jan.15 through Feb. 16 until finally getting an opportunity to return to action after a lower-body injury sustained by veteran James Neal. All Czarnik’s done since getting back into the lineup is register four goals in five contests, including three game-winners.
His goal with just 41 seconds left against the Senators was the deciding factor in a 2-1 victory. Czarnik is part of a bottom-six that has raised the bar in recent weeks, including spark plug Sam Bennett, veteran Derek Ryan and penalty kill specialists Mark Jankowski and Garnet Hathaway, who’ve also contributed offensively.
Flames Will Ride Goaltending Duo of Smith, Rittich
There had been plenty of speculation prior to the deadline that the Flames would need to shore up their goaltending situation, but the recent stellar play of veteran Mike Smith definitely helped to ease those fears. Smith is displaying the all-star form he possessed last season and his confidence level appears as high as it’s been all season in going 4-0-1 in his last five starts.
David Rittich had been a major revelation for a considerable portion of the this season until some adversity finally hit with a three-game personal losing skid. He rebounded with a solid, yet unspectacular performance, in the victory over the lowly Sens that kicked off this current three-game road trip. In analyzing what they had, Treliving didn’t feel the need to pull the trigger on a deal for someone like Jimmy Howard of the Detroit Red Wings. His name had been one of the many that had been raised as a possible trade target.
Could Neal Be Post-Season X-Factor?
While the Flames did add an extra piece on defense, they already have someone who potentially could be a difference-maker when it matters most. Neal has had a highly frustrating first season in Calgary after inking a lucrative free-agent deal in the offseason. He has just five goals on the campaign and is currently sidelined with a lower-body injury. Neal’s pedigree would provide at least some confidence that maybe ‘The Real Deal’ could rise to the occasion at playoff time to gain some redemption.
If Neal can indeed find his form in the postseason, it would definitely cure the disappointment of how things has gone thus far. He’s been a veteran of many playoff wars during his career and has amassed 31 goals in 100 playoff appearances that includes competing in multiple Stanley Cup Finals.
Flames’ Major Conference Foes Load Up
Other teams that will present formidable challenges to the Flames in the playoffs definitely made their marks. The Vegas Golden Knights made the biggest splash in acquiring Stone from the Senators and ultimately agreeing on a lucrative contract extension, the Nashville Predators picked up rugged forward Wayne Simmonds and the the San Jose Sharks, who are battling Calgary for top spot in the Pacific Division, added Gustav Nyquist to the fold from the Red Wings. The Winnipeg Jets also were active in acquiring Kevin Hayes from the New York Rangers.
With a record of 39-16-7 on the season and leading both the Western Conference and Pacific Division, there’s definitely a lot to like about the 2018-19 Flames. Obviously that’s something that Treliving and the brain trust took into account in electing to do only minor tinkering on deadline day.
This current group deserves the shot to pursue a Stanley Cup together and the chemistry they’ve shown is reason to provide them with that opportunity. Only time will tell if this current Flames squad is up to the significant challenges that will lie ahead, but they appear to have all the necessary ingredients. They didn’t go through a major lineup shakeup, and most importantly, didn’t need to part ways with any of the young talent that could play a big role in the organization’s future.
Have loved sports since an early age as both a fan and a participant and eventually was fortunate enough to get into the Sports Radio business. The highlight of my career was being part of Calgary Flames broadcasts at Sportsnet 960 The Fan during their run to the 2004 Stanley Cup Final. I was an on-air personality from 2001 to 2012 at the station and had the pleasure of covering many a game at the Saddledome over that period. In the last few years I’ve transitioned to sports writing and have been an NHL contributor for RantSports.com and most recently a UFC writer for Today’sKnockout.com.