With the April 12 trade deadline inching up, there has been increased speculation on which teams will be buyers, which are likely to stand pat, and which are likely to be sellers. Given that the deadline is getting closer, it appeared less and less likely any of the Canadian teams would make many moves, given the 14-day quarantine that was required for players south of the border coming to Canada.
However, that has recently changed, as the federal government has approved a seven-day quarantine instead, meaning general managers won’t have to worry about any potential additions having to wait an entire two weeks before joining their team.
This is particularly interesting news for Brad Treliving and the Calgary Flames, given the spot they currently find themselves in. Just over a week ago, I personally was on board with them trying to add some talent and claw their way back into a playoff position. However, after dropping games both Monday and Wednesday to the lowly Ottawa Senators, who they have now lost to five times in seven contests, it is pretty clear this season just wasn’t meant to be for this Flames squad. As of now, they sit sixth in the North Division with 33 points in 34 games, trailing both the Montreal Canadiens, who have 37 points in 31 games, as well as the Vancouver Canucks, who have 35 points in 37 contests.
Sure, it is still possible the Flames are able to go on a run and get back into the thick of things, but given the fact that there are just 22 games remaining, it doesn’t seem likely. They simply haven’t shown any signs of turning things around. For that reason, Treliving may be best off to go into sell mode and acquire future assets, whether in the form of prospects or draft picks. Here are some players he could choose to move that other teams may be interested in as rentals.
Having goaltending depth for teams is extremely important this season, given the complications COVID-19 has provided. Teams have been interested in all sorts of goalies, many of whom lots of fans don’t even recognize the names of. For that reason, David Rittich could be an extremely intriguing option for teams looking to add stability to their crease.
While the 28-year-old Rittich hasn’t been able to prove he has what it takes to be a ‘1A’ goaltender in the league, he is certainly a capable ‘1B’ who tends to go on very hot streaks. The 2019-20 season was a great example, as his terrific first half was good enough to get him named to his first NHL All-Star Game.
Through 12 games played this season, he has been quite inconsistent and is currently sporting a 3-6-1 record with a 2.86 goals against average and a .908 save percentage. Given that the Flames signed Jacob Markstrom to a six-year, $36 million deal this past offseason, it is clear that if Rittich were to stick around, he would remain the backup.
With an expiring contract, he may want to test free agency this offseason to see if he can find a starting role, or at least more of a 50/50 split than he has gotten in Calgary this season. His expiring deal wouldn’t be overly difficult for most teams to add, as he has a cap hit of just $2.75 million. As for the Flames backup situation, if they were to move on from Rittich, they currently have both Garret Sparks and Louis Domingue, who have past NHL experience, playing in the AHL. While neither are a long-term solution for the backup role in Calgary, they are capable of playing out the rest of the season there, especially given the fact that Markstrom will receive the majority of the starts.
Despite the fact he went unclaimed on waivers to begin this season, there would likely be quite a few teams right now who would consider a move for Derek Ryan. The 34-year-old has proven throughout his career he can provide solid secondary offence. Perhaps even more importantly, he can kill penalties and is great on draws. He would be a terrific fit for many teams with playoff aspirations as a third or fourth-line center.
The one slight negative about Ryan, and likely the reason he didn’t get scooped up on waivers earlier this year, is his $3.125 million cap hit. However, given the flat cap teams had to deal with this season, many were unsure what their salary situation may look like throughout the season. Now that we are over halfway through, general managers have a much better idea and may either have the room or be able to make the room to bring in Ryan.
He is also on an expiring contract, and given his age, it doesn’t seem overly likely the Flames would bring him back into the fold next season. However, even if they did want to, they could trade him at the deadline for future assets and re-sign him in free agency this summer. That is just a hypothetical, of course, but something we have seen done in the past. Regardless, moving Ryan to a team looking to add some center depth would make sense for Treliving.
Safe to say, the 2020-21 season did not go as either Josh Leivo nor the Flames had hoped. When he signed his one-year deal with the Flames, most viewed it as a low-risk, high-reward contract given the offensive potential he had shown the prior season and a half in Vancouver. However, his season got off to a horrid start, as he was held goalless through his first 18 games.
Through 28 games, he sits with just three goals and five points, a far cry from the 18 in 36 he posted with Vancouver a season prior. While his play has been poor, a big reason for his struggles has also been poor puck luck. It is clear that his confidence is pretty shot at this point, and a change of scenery could help rejuvenate the secondary scoring he has proved in the past he is capable of providing.
For teams with little cap room looking to add to their bottom-six, Leivo makes a ton of sense. He is on an expiring contract with a cap hit of just $875,000 and would be extremely cheap to acquire given his struggles with the Flames. It is likely Treliving would take anything he could get for the 27-year-old, assuming, of course, he does decide to sell at the deadline.
After a first failed attempt in the NHL that resulted in returning to Russia for three seasons, defenceman Nikita Nesterov decided to give it another try this season, agreeing to a one-year deal with the Flames. Unfortunately for the 27-year-old, it hasn’t gone as hoped.
Nesterov has just three assists on the season and has found himself in and out of the lineup as of late. When he has played, he has not been trusted by the coaching staff much, averaging just 15:22 minutes of ice time per game. Still, it seems teams are always trying to shore up their defensive depth heading into the playoffs, and that will likely be the same this year.
Given that Nesterov is on an expiring deal with a cap hit of just $700,000, he would be an inexpensive depth option for many teams. Though he hasn’t looked great in Calgary, he has proven that he can get the job done in limited minutes for the most part. Much like Leivo, Treliving would likely take anything he could get for him.
The reason Sam Bennett is at the bottom of this list is due to the fact that he isn’t truly a rental. Though his contract does expire at season’s end, he will be a restricted free agent, meaning a team who were to trade for him would still have his rights moving forward. The 24-year-old made it clear earlier this season he wanted to be moved, and given his low point totals and lack of ice time, that likely hasn’t changed.
Bennett could be valuable for teams for multiple reasons. One is that even though he has yet to find his offence at the NHL level, he is a solid, physical bottom-six forward, a player that every team loves to have in the playoffs. He has also had personal playoff success in Calgary with 11 goals and 19 points in 30 career postseason games.
Bennett is on a relatively inexpensive contract, with a cap hit of $2.55 million. He has skill, as proven by the Flames choosing to take him fourth overall at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. There is still a chance he is able to figure out the offensive side of the game as he did in juniors, which could make him even more intriguing to teams. Unlike the two listed above, the Flames will not just give him away, but they would certainly entertain offers and consider moving him if the price is right. It feels like a split between these two parties is inevitable, and given the team’s current position in the standings, a move at the deadline may be possible.
Tough Decisions Looming for Treliving
This deadline will be extremely tough for Treliving. This is a general manager who has failed to bring his team playoff success despite putting together some pretty solid rosters over the years. Heading into this season, many expected them to be one of the four teams to qualify for the postseason, but that looks extremely unlikely at this point.
While the correct decision from the outside looking in would be to sell, it isn’t that easy for Treliving. With the teams struggles this season, paired with their lack of playoff success in the past, he may risk being fired at the end of this season, or at the very least be on the hot seat heading into the 2021-22 campaign. There is no denying that he is in a very tough spot right now.
Colton Pankiw is a former Jr. A hockey player who now provides his knowledge of the game through writing. He’s been a very active and reliable source for nearly two years at The Hockey Writers. He is a credentialed writer for the Calgary Flames but also does features on other teams throughout the league. Other writing contributions include: Oil On Whyte, NHLtradetalk.com, and Markerzone.com. Colton is also a co-host of both Oilers Overtime and Flames Faceoff podcasts. Any interview requests or content info can be made through him on Twitter. Take a look at his work here.