When it comes to the Trade Deadline, there’s buyers, there’s sellers, and then there’s the Calgary Flames who are floating around somewhere in Purgatory. While they may not have planned to be buyers at the deadline, of all teams in the league, they might actually be in the best position to do so.
Heading into the season, the Flames were supposed to be one of the frontrunners in the McEichel sweepstakes. A Norris-level performance from captain Mark Giordano coupled with some incredible goaltending and the Flames are suddenly sitting just two points out of the playoffs in the stacked Western Conference at the mid-point of the season.
That’s not all.
The Flames are in salary cap heaven. Despite handing out some ugly contracts to players like Matt Stajan and Mason Raymond (who boast a combined 12 points in 44 games this season), they have the most cap space available ($13.859 mil) of any team in the NHL to fool around with. On top of that, the Flames don’t have to worry about the contracts of any of their key players (Giordano, Monahan, Gaudreau, Hudler, Hiller) until the 2016/17 season, so they can easily take on some salary over the next two years.
So, where do the Flames stand? It’s kinda complicated.
First of all, they’re supposed to be a rebuilding team. They’ve got one of the best prospect pools in the league that features a good collection of top level talent up front and on the blue line compounded with a nice group potential depth/role players. This is also a really, really good draft. Building a team with McDavid-Bennett-Monahan down the middle is certainly enough to make any fan salivate.
Do they sell high on some of their assets like Jiri Hudler, who has 38 points in 39 games, or do they take a dip into their prospect pool and make some moves to compete in the present?
It’s going to take a lot of losing in the final 42 games on the season for the Flames to pull themselves into the McEichel sweepstakes, so if they want a shot at the prize, they’re going to have to make themselves a lot worse. If the Flames can learn anything, like anything at all from their cousins in Edmonton, piling high draft picks into a non-winning situation might not actually be the greatest recipe for success.
But before they go ahead and mortgage their promising future for a playoff run, they have to determine whether or not what they have going on is a mirage, or if it’s legitimate and sustainable. Looking at their stats, nothing really suggests that it isn’t. After a cold streak in December that saw them lose seven straight games in regulation, dropping them out of a playoff spot, the Flames have pulled themselves together, winning four of their last five games.
Currently, the Flames are sitting in the middle of the pack in both goals for (17th with 69) and goals against (16th with 69), which makes sense, because they’re currently a middle of the pack team (9th in the West). A huge reason for their success earlier on in the season was the superhuman play of Jonas Hiller and Karri Ramo. Both goalies have cooled off, as anybody would have expected, but the Flames as a team are still sitting 15th in the league with a 92.38 save percentage. It isn’t unreasonable to suggest they can keep up this level off success for the rest of the season.
The big question mark in terms of Calgary’s success comes from their offence. They currently sit second last in the NHL with a paltry 24.8 shots on goal per game, while putting up the seventh best shooting percentage in the league (8.65). This looks like something that could snap at any time. If the Flames’ shooting percentage dipped down to ~7.5 (which is roughly league average), and maintained their current amount of shots for per 60 minutes, their offence could slip well below league average.
It isn’t really realistic to assume that the Flames will continue scoring goals when they’re towards the top of the league in shooting percentage, but at the bottom in shots per 60 minutes.
So, in essence, the Flames have good goaltending and somewhat of an unsustainable offence. With a lower shooting percentage, the Flames could easily be down in the basement with Carolina (1.60), Buffalo (1.65), Edmonton (1.93) and Arizona (1.85) in terms of goals for per 60 minutes, but the difference is, they have the goaltending to compensate for it while those other bottom feeders don’t.
The team may not be perfect, but they’re probably good enough to warrant pushing for a playoff spot.
Judging by their current salary situation and their pool of prospects, the Flames are great candidates to buy at the deadline. With Curtis Glencross ($2.5 mil/UFA in 2015), Jiri Hudler ($4mil/UFA in 2017) and Mark Giordano ($4 mil/UFA in 2017) signed to really nice contracts and Johnny Hockey and Sean Monahan on ELCs, the Flames are in a better position now to buy than they will be down the road. Besides, isn’t it better to bring along young guys in a winning culture?
If the Flames decide they want to be active buyers at the deadline, they need to acquire some players who can help them get the puck on net. Whether they sustain their current shooting percentage or not can become a moot point if they can improve on the volume of shots they throw on net per game.
I’ve heard Phil Kessel and Brian Burke have a history together.