Considering their rough start to the season, it’s a bit shocking that the Calgary Flames approach the National Hockey League’s trade deadline in the midst of a playoff push. Despite winning just five of their first 16 games and sitting near the conference’s basement in mid-November, the Flames have buckled down and improved. As a result, they may be in a position to strategically buy at the trade deadline within a few critical constraints but the constraints are such that you should expect a quiet March 1.
The Salary Cap
The Flames have most of their big pieces signed long-term, with the exception of Sam Bennett (a restricted free agent this summer) and both of their goaltenders. Those big pieces include forwards Sean Monahan ($6.375 million), Johnny Gaudreau ($6.75 million), Mikael Backlund ($3.575 million), Troy Brouwer ($4.5 million) and Michael Frolik ($4.3 million), along with defensemen Mark Giordano ($6.75 million), T.J. Brodie ($4.65 million) and Dougie Hamilton ($5.75 million). Expensive contracts to Deryk Engelland ($2.917 million) and Dennis Wideman ($5.25 million) expire this offseason, which frees up some cap space for the Flames to improve some areas of their roster.
The club is technically already over the $73 million cap ceiling, by virtue of the long-term injury cap relief afforded to them due to Ladislav Smid’s season-long injury. The Flames have $2.849 million worth of additional cap space available to them at the deadline. They have the ability to add cap commitments, as they already have by taking on half of Michael Stone’s remaining cap commitment through the end of the season.
The Expansion Draft
The Vegas Golden Knights will draft their expansion roster on June 21. Like the other 29 existing franchises, the Flames will have to make decisions regarding player protection and player exposure for the expansion draft.
Most likely, they will be protecting:
- A goaltender
- Three defensemen (most likely Giordano, Brodie and Hamilton)
- Seven forwards (most likely Gaudreau, Monahan, Bennett, Backlund, Frolik, Brouwer and one of Alex Chiasson or Micheal Ferland)
In terms of player exposure, their requirements are met by goalie Tom McCollum, defenseman Matt Bartkowski and forwards Lance Bouma and Matt Stajan. All of them have enough experience to meet the league’s requirements and all are under contract for 2017-18.
Barring a potential trade that nets them a seventh forward that’s an upgrade over Chiasson and/or Ferland, their expansion tinkering is likely done.
The Flames are ninth in the West in terms of goals per game and eighth in terms of goals against per game. Their offensive totals have been a bit lean this season, but that’s with the majority of their offense coming from the Backlund line (with Frolik and Matthew Tkachuk). The hope in the coaches’ room is that they’ll get more scoring from Gaudreau, Monahan and Bennett down the stretch. However, adding another offensive weapon to the team’s top nine would help alleviate the burden on that top group and help spread the scoring around a bit more.
The club is also probably curious if they can add a goaltender in the trade market for the right price, particularly since neither of Brian Elliott or Chad Johnson have cemented themselves as their permanent top gun going forward.
Who Can They Move?
The problem for the Flames is as follows: the players they’d like to trade are probably players other teams don’t really want, while the players other teams would want are players they want to keep for the stretch drive. Want an example? The Flames would probably be thrilled to clear cap space by trading Wideman, but his hefty cap hit and no-move contract make that tough. The Flames would also probably be happy to find new homes for fringe bodies like Tyler Wotherspoon, Jyrki Jokipakka, Linden Vey and Emile Poirier. But every NHL club has similar fringe bodies, so barring a “broken toy for broken toy” swap to give players a fresh start it’s unlikely they’ll be able to be moved.
Based on these factors, it seems likely that any further moves by the Flames will be additions similar to Stone’s acquisition that send draft picks or prospects the other way to give the club additional roster depth.
Ryan Pike has covered the Calgary Flames and the NHL Draft extensively since 2010 as a Senior Writer for The Hockey Writers and Senior Contributing Editor of FlamesNation.ca. A member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, he lives in Calgary.