Team dynamics and competitiveness shift quickly in the NHL. At the end of the 2021-22 season, the Calgary Flames were reaping the rewards of the Matthew Tkachuck and Johnny Gaudreau era. However, that offseason, Gaudreau departed via free agency, and Tkachuck demanded a trade.
The Flames’ brass deserves credit for making the most of their precarious situation. Calgary found a trade partner in the Florida Panthers, acquiring foundational pieces in return for their former superstar. Just like that, the Flames were back in business and expected to compete last season.
Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. The Flames were extinguished last season, failing to compete in the ultra-tough Pacific Division. After another underachieving campaign, General Manager Brad Treliving was let go, replaced by Craig Conroy.
The newly minted GM is off to a slow start, but these three moves could expedite the Flames’ re-tooling.
Maximize the Return for Elias Lindholm
Over the past couple of seasons, nobody on the Flames has more points than Elias Lindholm. The former fifth-overall selection has totaled 146 points while missing only two games. But Lindholm’s time with the Flames is coming to an end after the center requested a trade at the start of the offseason.
Although the Flames remain intent on trying to re-sign Lindholm, their best path forward is moving on from the impending free agent. Conroy’s biggest challenge will be maximizing the return for a player who has demanded out.
The San Jose Sharks have recently been rumored to be potential trade partners with the Flames. Logan Couture and highly-touted prospect William Eklund are earmarked as movable pieces coming back the other way.
Calgary would be giving up an elite talent in the prime of his career for an aging forward and a promising up-and-comer. Effectively, they would be waving the white flag on this iteration of the franchise, looking toward the future.
Find a Landing Spot for Noah Hanifin
Of course, Lindholm isn’t the only elite talent who requested a change of scenery. Defenseman Noah Hanifin has been a staple on the backend, but he’s likely donned a Flames jersey for the last time.
Hanifin’s metrics put him in the upper echelon of NHL rearguards. The 26-year-old posted a 53.6% Corsi rating and a 54.9% expected goals-for rating despite starting most of his shifts in the defending zone. Moreover, his contract makes him an attractive candidate for any contender looking to improve immediately. Hanifin only has one year left at $4.95 million, making him a top bargain.
Extracting a stable of young prospects and high draft picks is crucial in any Hanifin trade. The New Jersey Devils are the most recent team to express interest in the Flames’ defender. New Jersey spent years re-stocking their farm system and could offer a lucrative package, including a first-round pick for Hanifin.
Trade Experience for Youth
In an attempt to keep their current window open, Calgary signed Nazem Kadri and Jonathan Huberdeau to long-term deals. Likewise, 33-year-old goaltender Jacob Markstrom has three years remaining at $6 million per season. Moving on from all three could expedite their rebuild.
Some positions have already been filled internally. Netminder Dustin Wolf was a revelation for the AHL Calgary Wranglers and has earned his shot in the show. That allows the Flames to target the best players available if they want to move on from any of the aforementioned veterans.
Kadri, Huberdeau, and Markstrom have plenty left in the tank, but their trade value only goes down the longer the Flames hang onto them. Gleaning the next generation of NHLers best serves the Flames as they look toward the future. Competing for next year’s Stanley Cup is out of the question.
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