Heading into February, the Calgary Flames were once again displaying a need for a top-six winger. Additional defensive depth was a secondary concern, but it has remained on the radar as the NHL Trade Deadline approached. But after two of the team’s top three defenders – Mark Giordano and Travis Hamonic – fell to injuries, defensive reinforcement has emerged as the team’s top priority ahead of the Feb. 24 deadline.
Since losing Giordano to a hamstring injury on Feb. 4, the team has treaded water with a 4-3 record. Hamonic’s injury followed just two games later, severely diminishing the Flames’ top-end defensive talent. A precise timeline is not yet known for either defender, but Giordano’s injury is still viewed as week-to-week at best.
Flames Should Target A Defenseman at Deadline
Despite these key injuries, the Flames remain in the tight race for the Pacific Division. As of Monday, they sit one point back of the third-place Vancouver Canucks, and they’re tied with the Arizona Coyotes for the Western Conference’s two wild-card spots. An offensive upswing in recent weeks has, fortunately, offset the Flames’ defensive injuries, but inconsistent efforts and defensive breakdowns have hindered the team’s chances to climb in the standings as the trade deadline nears.
It’s becoming clear that if the Flames want to have playoff hopes this season, general manager Brad Treliving needs to act fast to improve his team defense. But how should the GM, who seldom makes moves for rental players, navigate this deadline’s trade market?
Flames Defense Minus Giordano And Hamonic
Reigning Norris Trophy-winner Giordano’s nightly minutes were never replaceable after he went down with a hamstring injury in an ugly fall. But filling the void of his absence did seem possible. That was, until Hamonic also went down just two games later with an upper-body injury.
That’s left the D-corps with regulars Rasmus Andersson, Noah Hanifin, and T.J. Brodie. Oliver Kylington and Michael Stone, who normally shared time in the sixth spot, are both now in the lineup on a nightly basis. Veteran Brandon Davidson has filled in on the bottom-pairing since a recall from the American Hockey League. Rookie Alexander Yelesin has also seen action in place of Davidson for two games.
A defense core of Hanifin-Andersson, Brodie-Stone, and Kylington-Davidson/Yelesin is a far cry from the team’s usually solid group of established defenders. The crew did pull off an impressive 6-0 shutout of the Anaheim Ducks last week, but they preceded that game by looking overwhelmed against a last-place Los Angeles Kings team, and they followed it up with an embarrassing 8-4 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. Chicago’s forwards exposed them for what they are: three second-pair types logging heavy minutes (Hanifin, Andersson, and Brodie) and three overmatched bottom-pair types (Stone, Kylington, Davidson). Only another offensive outburst salvaged the early 3-1 deficit that became a 6-4 win over the Ducks on Monday.
Recent injuries have necessitated the need for defensive support. But breakdowns weren’t uncommon, even with Giordano and Hamonic in the lineup. The team was embarrassed 8-3 by the Oilers earlier this month. They also carry a troubling minus-11 goal differential on the season, despite holding onto a wild card spot. The Flames would benefit from a reliable bottom-four defender even with all their regulars healthy.
The Flames can’t hope that their current defensive core pulls them through until Giordano and Hamonic re-enter the lineup. Giordano is still out week-to-week and has yet to resume skating. Hamonic’s unspecified upper-body injury will also keep him out “a little time,” according to Brad Treliving. (from ‘Lowly Kings have Flames’ number,’ Toronto Sun, 02/13/2020)
Flames’ Trade Deadline Targets On Defense
The Feb. 24 trade deadline is fast approaching, and potential options are falling off the board. Veteran defender Andy Greene already went from the New Jersey Devils to the New York Islanders. But Treliving doesn’t favour this type of rental acquisition. With that in mind, there are attractive options available on the market that could meet the Flames’ immediate needs and solidify their long-term outlook on defense.
Names like Mathew Dumba, Alec Martinez, Jeff Petry, and Josh Manson should especially interest the Flames. Petry and Martinez each carry an additional year on their contracts. Manson is signed for two more years, while Dumba is locked in for three. One of these trade targets could also be a replacement looking ahead to next season. Both Brodie and Hamonic are on contracts that expire at season’s end, making their futures with the team uncertain. It’s believed that injured prospect Juuso Valimaki should also secure a regular role come next season.
The price on defenders with remaining term could be steep. But Treliving has trade pieces to work with. On Hockey Night In Canada this past Saturday, Sam Bennett showcased his offensive talents with a two-goal first period against the Blackhawks. He followed up this performance with another beautiful goal in Monday’s come-from-behind win against the Ducks.
Such performances have been few and far between for Bennett this season, but trade partners should value Bennett’s mix of skill, grit, and youth. Perhaps an offer of Bennett and a second or third-round pick could acquire the defender that would help the Flames today and moving forward.
Flames’ Impending Free Agent Trade Bait Options
If Treliving opts for an expiring unrestricted free agent contract player (which he usually doesn’t), veterans like Sami Vatanen, Brendan Dillon, Dylan DeMelo, and Marco Scandella could bolster the Flames defensive depth. Vatanen and Dillon are especially interesting, and if Treliving likes his chances of extending one of them, either could be a fit for the Flames. These players would be cheaper acquisitions that Treliving could get done possibly without surrendering a player like Bennett or centre Mark Jankowski – another possible trade chip.
With one week until the trade deadline, the Flames can continue their middling play, or Treliving can commit to a move that gives his team a boost on defense. Of late, the Flames have shown scoring depth up and down the lineup like at no other time this season. It’s unfortunate that this trend has coincided with key defensive injuries. The Flames aren’t positioned for a rebuild, so Treliving should make a move to help his defense before it spoils the offensive surge – or worse, forces the team out of playoff contention.