Early in the 2016-17 season, the Calgary Flames were in rough shape. The team’s stars were struggling to find their games. The games weren’t anything to write home about. The team lost many more games than they won. Fans were calling for changes and, with Glen Gulutzan newly inserted in the post of head coach, a trade was the most likely move to be made.
Unfortunately, there’s an old saying in the National Hockey League: rival general managers don’t throw their struggling counterparts life jackets, they throw them anvils. Just as players themselves are stocks that smart asset managers figure out ways to sell at their peak value, smart teams tend not to make moves when they’re losing because they won’t get good value for their players. Hall of Fame general manager Cliff Fletcher earned the moniker of “Trader Cliff” for making a ton of trades, but he also had a credo to never trade unless his team was playing well so that he avoided selling a player at a low valuation.
Since mid-November, the Flames have turned their on-ice performances around. With their struggles potentially behind them and the club suddenly in the playoff mix, thoughts have returned to the possibility of Flames general manager Brad Treliving making some moves to improve the team’s wing depth and defensive group beyond their top three.
But there are some obstacles to the Flames making moves.
Teams Are Calling About The Core
Who are the 30 other general managers probably calling the Flames about? Oh, the same players the Flames are relying upon: the Johnny Gaudreaus, the Sean Monahans, the Dougie Hamiltons. The precise players that Treliving is hoping to build around, not move on from. Unless he can awkwardly transition a phone call asking about T.J. Brodie’s availability into a discussion of a GM acquiring Dennis Wideman, it’s unlikely that these calls will result in moves.
Difficult to Move Costly Depth Players
Wideman has been an expensive – and occasionally very useful – depth player for the Flames for several seasons. But his status as a depth player has made him expendable. Why hasn’t he been moved then? The salary cap, primarily. Under a cap system, moving depth pieces with hefty cap hits is really difficult without taking a hefty cap hit back – which would likely defeat the purpose of making the move in the first place.
Hence, Wideman ($5.25 million), Deryk Engelland ($2.917 million), Matt Stajan ($3.125 million) and Lance Bouma ($2.2 million) remain with the Flames.
Need To Meet Expansion Draft Conditions
Under the rules of the upcoming expansion draft that will populate the Vegas Golden Knights’ roster, each NHL member club has to expose a goaltender that’s a restricted free agent (or signed for 2017-18), along with a defenseman and two forwards that are under contract for 2017-18 and have played a specific number of games.
Right now, the Flames have minor league goalie Tom McCollum to meet the goalie requirement, likely Jyrki Jokipakka to meet the defenseman requirement (if he’s re-signed prior to the draft), and Bouma and Stajan to meet the forward requirements. Unless the Flames acquire a player in the interim that satisfies their expansion draft exposure requirements, it seems unlikely that we’ll see any moves involving the NHL roster.
That Leaves Tinker Trades
In other words, while it’s extremely likely that Treliving will soon start to make moves to both upgrade the Flames for a potential playoff run and prepare them for the summer’s expansion shenanigans, any moves will likely be more minor trades involving minor leaguers and/or prospects. More specifically, two names to keep an eye on are Tyler Wotherspoon and Emile Poirier. Both have been in the organization for several seasons and haven’t quite cemented themselves into the NHL lineup as of yet. Neither is long enough in the tooth that teams will worry about their age yet, and both could probably benefit from a change of scenery and a fresh start in a new organization.