[Breaking down the plausibility of the week's biggest rumor.]
The Calgary Flames, sitting eight points out of a playoff spot in the Pacific after Tuesday night's games, are almost certainly not going to make the postseason this year. They join the Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers as the only two teams in the West that are well and truly out of it barring some sort of miracle late-season run. As a result, and like those other teams, people are now starting to think about what Calgary GM Brad Treliving will reasonably have to do with the crop of pending UFAs the team has on the roster.
On Insider Trading this week, Bob McKenzie reported that the Flames are starting to get calls from other clubs about the availability of Jiri Hudler, who's in a down year, just turned 32, and will be looking for a new contract from somebody this summer.
Likewise, on Sportsnet 960 Monday morning, Elliotte Friedman imparted that he imagines other teams would kick the tires on trading for Hudler or defenseman Kris Russell.
It's worth noting that other pending UFAs for the Flames include David Jones, who is not very good, and both of their current goalies: Jonas Hiller and Kari Ramo. The question is whether Treliving and the Flames organization value having these players around long-term — in that if you keep them past the deadline you damn sure better re-sign them — more than they value the pieces they would get back by selling them off.
Who's Going Where?
These trades, if they happen, would likely come closer to the deadline, because Friedman, in the same interview, said only really sees the Jets as a team that could sell in the more immediate future. The deadline is still more than a month away, but no one on earth thinks the Jets pull it together and make a push for a Central Division playoff slot; they're eight points out of the Wild Card, albeit with two games in hand on Colorado, and would have to leapfrog the Nashville Predators and hard-charging Anaheim Ducks.
Which probably won't happen no matter how well Connor Hellebuyck plays (and he's at a fantastic .927 in 22 appearances, a number which has singlehandedly gotten the Jets two extra points in the standings relative to the league average, but still only 12-9-1).
So if the Jets are looking to move players — and the current rumors have them perhaps shopping Andrew Ladd instead of Dustin Byfuglien — that would necessarily eat into the market for Hudler, because one team would have a difference-making forward added to the lineup ahead of a Hudler trade. But it might also make the market for Hudler a little livelier in some respects, if offense-starved teams feel as though they missed out on something they desperately need.
Hudler, of course, hasn't done the Flames any favors with his no-good season, but you'd imagine he'd still be worth a decent prospect or pick (or combination thereof) if Calgary got the urge to sell.
As for Kris Russell, he's inexplicably viewed as being valuable in Calgary, getting more 5-on-5 ice time per game than Mark Giordano (really!) because of his affinity for blocking shots. Otherwise, the Flames get pounded when he's on the ice, and it's another in the long line of ridiculous coaching decisions Bob Hartley has stuck with for the last two seasons despite the fact that they're getting his team bullied every single night.
As I've often said before: Blocking shots is a useful skill to have in much the same way as being able to plug a hole in the hull of a ship. But if you're only good at plugging the holes because you're the ones drilling them, that's a major problem. About two weeks ago, Friedman said other GMs had gotten the message that Calgary was trying to re-sign Russell. So let's assume he wants a raise from his current cap hit of $2.6 million — a gross overpayment — and wonder if Calgary has the willingness. If they're still trying to hammer out a deal, it's tough to see them making any hard and fast decisions on shopping him any time soon.
If they're smart, though, the Flames trade both without a second thought, and see if someone will take one of the goalies and David Jones off their hands as well. They won't need any of them where they're going.
A few years ago, the Flames learned the hard way that hoping to re-sign veterans as they approach UFA, and therefore holding onto them past the trade deadline, was not a good idea for a team that had little chance of making the playoffs.
Mike Cammalleri was turning UFA on July 1 back in 2014, and a week before the trade deadline, the Flames were 15 points out of a playoff spot. But they held onto him in hopes of re-signing him, rather than trading him for some sort of asset they could use in what was, at that point, broadly acknowledged as the start of the rebuild.
This was not the “Going For It” era in Calgary. Treliving had not yet been hired, but while Cammalleri wasn't likely to fetch a ton on the open market, he closed the year with 45 points in 63 games and a huge relative possession number that would have made him valuable to a contender. This team was also supposed to be “smarter” about managing a hockey team than Jay Feaster by a factor of at least two, just by his exclusion.
But the Flames kept the player, made an offer, and lost him to New Jersey when free agency opened. They did not make that mistake last year, offloading the now-retired winger Curtis Glencross for a second- and third-round pick from Washington (and Sven Baertschi to Vancouver for another second, but he wasn't in their plans and was only an RFA). This happened when they were in the midst of that delusion-inducing run toward a playoff spot.
Now, with the Flames well outside the playoffs and also not performing anywhere near a decent quality at this point, the path forward is pretty clear. Or at least it ought to be.
This Is So Huge, If True: Is It True?
On a B.S. detector scale of 1-5, with one being the most reasonable and 5 being the least:
Because of the Cammalleri thing, you'd have to think that the club has learned its lesson about keeping players past their sell-by dates.
When it comes to Hudler specifically, I'd think he's more likely to get shipped than Russell (though again, Russell is awful and should be jettisoned at the earliest convenience). I would also think that Treliving won't move either goalie, though he should in both cases. And if he can find a taker for David Jones, that's a very lucky day indeed.
So as to the Flames moving their pending UFAs:
It probably won't come to pass for all of them, but you can bet they'll be active sellers at the deadline. This year has so far made it painfully obvious that this team wasn't remotely as far along in the rebuild process as anyone thought. And now they know better.
(All statistics via War On Ice unless otherwise noted.)
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