The Toronto Maple Leafs and Calgary Flames have a lot in common.
Both teams suffered painful first-round playoff exits last season after thinking it may have been their year to go deep. They each started the year off slow, before unexpected coaching changes gave the rosters a bolt of energy – pushing them into playoff spots. Now, both teams have cooled down a bit, with the Leafs losing five of their last six, and the Flames losing two of their last three. Going into the All-Star break, both teams sit at 57 points.
According to Sports Club Stats, both teams are right on the fringe of making the postseason. The Flames sit at a 55.5% chance, slightly higher than the Leafs at 54.7%. For either team, missing the postseason would be an enormous disappointment.
Flames and Leafs have Opposite Problems
The two teams could potentially help each other improve their postseason chances, as they have opposite problems. The Flames can’t score. They currently sit 25th in goals per game, a huge step back from last season, where they ranked second across the league. The Flames have switched up their lines several times but cannot seem to generate the same offense they saw last year. All of the Flames’ offensive threats, including Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Matthew Tkachuk, and Elias Lindholm, sit well under the point pace they achieved last year, and the Flames’ depth players have not stepped up to fill the gap.
The Leafs, who comfortably sit at third in goals per game, need help defensively. The team has allowed the fourth-most goals per game of any team in the league. With the injuries of Morgan Rielly and Jake Muzzin, and a starting goalie who has the highest workload in the league, this isn’t likely to improve without Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas acquiring some help.
The solution for each team? Flames’ defenseman Travis Hamonic being traded for Leafs’ right-winger Kasperi Kapanen.
Travis Hamonic Adds Defensive Depth
Travis Hamonic is a sought after commodity: a top-four right-handed defenseman. He is a “stay-at-home” defender who is positionally responsible and strong in puck battles. He doesn’t offer a lot offensively, but is a shut-down player who can comfortably handle a top-four role – something the Leafs certainly need. At 5-on-5 ice time this season, Hamonic has posted a 54.02% high-danger scoring chance share, largely due to how few high danger chances he allows while on the ice.
The Leafs have reportedly been interested in Hamonic since his days on the Islanders, where it is rumored the team was outbid by the Flames. General managers Brad Treliving and Dubas also were close on a trade involving a Flames defenseman (potentially Hamonic, but likely TJ Brodie), which would have sent Nazem Kadri the other way – only halted due to Kadri refusing to waive his no-trade clause. The two GMs are both familiar with large trades, and Luke Fox of Sportsnet believes the two may provide this year’s “real hockey deal”.
If the trade is being considered, it’s better for both teams to pursue it sooner rather than later. Hamonic would improve the Leafs defensive depth chart, filling in for Rielly and assisting the Leafs in their playoff push. While Justin Holl has stepped up for the Leafs, Hamonic is a certain upgrade. If the Leafs are able to make the playoffs, and their injured players return, Hamonic could slot in with Jake Muzzin as a shut-down pairing that can effectively stop opponents’ cycle – something the Leafs have struggled with this year.
Kasperi Kapanen gives Flames Offensive Options
The Flames have long needed a right-winger. While the Flames left-handed side is ripe with talent (Gaudreau, Tkachuk), the right-hand side lacks the same ability.
Mikael Backlund, a long term center, has recently been converted to the right-hand side to fill the void, and to be blunt: it hasn’t looked good. Kapanen, who had 44 points last season and is on pace for 47 this year, could fill the need for a true second-line right-winger.
With the addition of Kapanen, the Flames would have several options up front, including slotting him in with Tkachuk and Lindholm, or Gaudreau and Monahan, pushing Backlund to the third-center position in either scenario. Alternatively, last year’s top line of Gaudreau, Monahan, and Lindholm could be reunited, and Tkachuk, Backlund, and Kapanen could make a very capable second line (with Andrew Mangiapane dropping to the third line).
Kapanen could also replace Milan Lucic on the second power-play unit. Regardless of where he slides in, there is no doubt that his speed and creativity would be an asset for the Flames as they make a playoff push in a very tight Pacific division.
Flames Can Afford to Lose Hamonic
While losing a roster-player will always hurt, general managers must give something to get something.
The Flames recently committed to defenseman Rasmus Andersson for six years at an AAV of $4.55 million. Coveted prospect Juuso Valimaki is ahead of schedule on his injury timeline, meaning he likely could be back and conditioned for playoffs. Oliver Kylington also continues to improve and will likely be a long-term piece on the Flames’ blue line.
While many Flames fans expected this to be the last year of TJ Brodie in a Flames sweater, the veteran defenseman has played well and continues to be a valuable partner for Mark Giordano.
Both Brodie and Hamonic are upcoming unrestricted free agents (UFA), and the Flames will likely only re-sign one in order to save cap space and transition to their younger defenders. While Hamonic is likely the more valuable asset, the Flames may have an easier time signing Brodie. He has been with the team longer and will likely have less interest on the free agency market. Additionally, Hamonic has stated his camp will not discuss a contract signing this season, and it has long been rumored that Hamonic may want to return home to Manitoba and play for the Winnipeg Jets.
While Treliving would likely want to re-sign Hamonic, he simply may not be able to. It would make sense in this scenario to use the player as a trade tool, rather than potentially lose him for nothing in free agency.
Leafs Can Afford to Lose Kapanen
While losing a young player on a team-friendly contract hurts, the Leafs are not currently utilizing Kapanen to his full potential. On almost any other team, Kapanen is a top-six winger, but with Marner and Nylander ahead of him on Toronto’s depth chart, it is unlikely he will see top-six ice time in the foreseeable future.
Additionally, while Kapanen is on a team-friendly contract now, he will certainly expect to cash in on his next contract prior to the 2022-23 season. At this point, the Leafs will still have all of their “big four” forward contracts (representing almost 50% of current cap space), and they may struggle to re-sign Kapanen.
Instead, the Leafs could accept the loss of a young talented forward and reallocate the cap savings to where they really need it most: defense.
How the Trade Gets Done
A pure one-for-one trade would likely favor the Flames, as Kapanen is younger, on a team-friendly contract for two more years, and remains an RFA after his current contract, whereas Hamonic becomes a UFA at the end of the season. For the trade to happen, the Flames may need to sweeten the deal. A few scenarios could work.
One, Calgary could sweeten the deal by offering a draft pick, maybe multiple. Potentially a 2020 second and third-round pick that are only given if Hamonic does not re-sign in Toronto.
Two, Calgary could offer forward Mark Jankowski. Dubas reportedly was interested in Jankowski in the previously mentioned Kadri trade. While Jankowski has not produced many points this year (a remarkably low one goal and one assist in 39 games), his underlying numbers are strong and he is a capable penalty killer. Jankowski recorded 25 and 32 points in his previous two seasons, and as he is only 25, it is expected he should be able to bounce back to these point totals moving forward.
Three, if the Flames are able to resign Hamonic (which may be difficult for previously mentioned reasons), they could potentially do a sign-and-trade that would give the Leafs a long-term defenseman at a cap-friendly price. Hamonic will likely sign in the $4 to $5 million AAV range for three to six years. The Flames recently cleared up cap space by dumping Michael Frolik, meaning they could potentially retain salary in the trade, and ease the Leafs cap issues while giving them a core defenseman for years to come. In this scenario, the Leafs may have to offer more than Kapanen, and include draft picks or prospects.
Lastly, adding Cody Ceci to the trade could be a cap-dump play for the Leafs that would allow them to have additional flexibility at the trade deadline. Since the Flames have the cap space, and Ceci’s contract ends after the current year, it wouldn’t be too difficult for Treliving to take the contract off the Leafs books. This would also give the Flames a replacement level defenseman in case of injury.
Regardless of what sweeteners or additions are required to make the trade happen, the swap would aid both teams in patching holes in their roster and improving their chances of appearing in the postseason. Don’t be surprised to see Dubas and Treliving make a splash in the upcoming weeks.
Chemical Engineer with a life long passion for hockey. I primarily follow the Toronto Maple Leafs, Calgary Flames, and San Jose Sharks.