Connect with us

Calgary Flames

Do the Conditions Exist for a Win-Win Trade Between the Flames and Blue Jackets?



Craig Conroy Identity Miromanov

Calgary Flames General Manager Craig Conroy has decisions to make. 

Losses amass in December to a 1-5-1 tune heading into Saturday’s matchup against the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Scotiabank Saddledome. One bright spot out of what has been a brutal first half of the month has been the play of Yegor Sharangovich. The speedy Belarussian center’s eight points in seven games on the month has grown into a prominent talking point.

After all, acquiring the 25 year old from Minsk as well as a third round pick was Conroy’s first major acquisition.

June 27, 2023, marked the trading of 2022-2023 highest scoring Calgary Flame Tyler Toffoli to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for Sharangovich and a 2023 third round pick that was used to select Aydar Suniev.

Conroy had made it clear that day that the team was moving in a younger direction and didn’t want to miss out on retaining assets on several of their future unrestricted free agents. “Obviously, we can’t go into a season with seven UFAs. It just doesn’t make sense. We’ve got to make sure we do it right for the Calgary Flames,”  

Lessons had been learned the hard way after the departure of homegrown star Johnny Gaudreau, who signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets in the summer of 2022. “I don’t think I would let that happen again,” regarding Johnny Gaudreau’s free agent departure from Calgary. 

So, what can we take from Conroy’s words and actions so far? There is an emphasis on youth.

“What I’ve watched is you need young players on the team. You need that excitement they bring, day in and day out. You have to give them a chance. It might not be seamless, but we need to move forward, and we have a salary cap, and young players (to) definitely help with that.” 

Youth will indeed need to take on a more significant role. As of Dec 15. impending UFAs include two forwards, Elias Lindholm and AJ Greer, as well as a whopping five-of-eight roster defencemen: Noah Hanifin, Chris Tanev, Jordan Oesterle, Nick Desimone, and Dennis Gilbert. Make it six defencemen who could depart on July 1st, 2024, if you include recent signee Mark Pysyk, who could be called up any day now.  

If Conroy is looking for another Sharingovich-type deal, it only stands to reason that his next younger, under-utilized target would address the impending blueline exodus; preferably, the target would be a player with some NHL experience.  

Enter Nick Blankenburg of the Columbus Blue Jackets.  

The Target

Born on May 12. 1998, only 37 days before Sharangovich, both 25-year-olds fall into the category of burgeoning NHL regular. Nick is on the smaller side for NHL defencemen, five-foot-nine and 177-pounds. You wouldn’t guess that from watching him play. 


Equipped with a big right-handed shot, deceptively quick feet, and a 100-yard mean streak, Nick Blankenburg has everything needed to develop into a top four defenceman in the near future – except for opportunity. 

The Situation

After signing for two seasons as a free agent in July of 2022 following four years at the University of Michigan (his final season was as team captain), Blankenburg has found himself the odd man out on a blue line dripping with promise and plagued by underperformance.   

With the likes of Zach Werenski, Damon Severson, Ivan Provorov, Erik Gudbranson, Andrew Peeke, Adam Boqvist, and Jake Bean all earning $2,333,333 or more per season, the battle for even an eighth spot on the depth chart has been an arduous early-season journey for both David Jiricek and Blankenburg.  

Jiricek, a highly-coveted former sixth overall pick in 2022, played his tenth game of the season on Nov 4. That tenth game officially burned the first year of his entry level contract. Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen had already pulled the 20-year-old aside in early November to let him know he could start looking for a permanent address in Columbus. One week later, Kekalainen had to inform Jiricek that he had been assigned to Cleveland of the AHL to make room for Patrik Laine’s return.  

The madness had to end in order to keep the high-value asset content. The media had already turned the stove on below Kekalainen, bringing more questions each passing day. The Columbus blue chip defender ended up playing only one game in the AHL before returning and promptly cementing himself in the majors. Blankenburg, who produced at a nine goal, 31 point pace last season with the Blue Jackets, remained buried until Dec. 7 after both Damon Severson and Adam Boqvist went on IR. The diminutive defenceman has played four games since, averaging 18:12 of ice time.

The Blue Jackets have far too many well-paid defencemen and only six lineup spots to give out on any given night. As long as one or more defencemen were injured or unavailable, the problem was resolved. If they’re all healthy? Blankenburg has almost no chance of holding an NHL spot. The former Okotoks Oiler had this to say to The Athletic about his training camp situation.  

“At the end of the day, I can’t control an injury or whether they’re putting me in the lineup or not. I’m just trying to focus on the things that I can control … I’m not trying to put all my worth into hockey. Whether I’m in Cleveland or Columbus, I know what kind of person I am and what kind of player I am, so I feel like that’s the biggest thing for me.” 

After posting three goals and eight assists in 18 AHL games this season, Blankenburg finally found his way back into the Blue Jackets rotation – merely due to the fact that Adam Boqvist and Damon Severson are injured and sitting out games. When the two are cleared to play, more complex decisions lay ahead for Jarmo Kekalainen. 

The Trade

Enter Craig Conroy—the seeker of win-win trades and ultimate executive optimist.  

There is a decent chance that Conroy can identify that the Blue Jackets have a bit of an age problem. Columbus has the fourth youngest average age in the NHL at 26.1 years old. Their forwards are even younger at 24.4 years old without Boone Jenner and Adam Roslovic in the lineup.  

Suppose the Flames were to offer veteran Elias Lindholm in a sign-and-trade to impart wisdom on proper defensive habits on high-impact top-five draft pick forwards such as Adam Fantilli and Kent Johnson. What would that be worth to Kekalainen?

The Finnish executive must feel the heat after the Mike Babcock personal phone fiasco piled on to yet another miserable basement season. As of Dec. 15, the Blue Jackets have a 29th-place winning percentage (.403) and sit in 28th place in actual points accrued. Their prospect pantry sits packed to the brim, but without success, how will the team breed further success? 

In his recent autobiography, A Life in Two Worlds: A Coach’s Journey from the Reserve to the NHL and Back, former Jack Adams winner Ted Nolan had this to say about coaching a rebuilding team during his second stint in Buffalo (2013-2014 and 2014-2015): 

“Putting green players on a team that is floundering, that goes out on the ice, night after night, to suffer crushing losses, makes it impossible for those players to improve. They don’t get the confidence bump that allows them to push past at they perceive as their limits. They can’t take risks, tending to blow their mistakes out of proportion. With no one winning, they can’t see how it’s done or how they might make a contribution to the team’s success. And it’s just damn hard to play good hockey on a team that is struggling to maintain its morale and camaraderie.”  

The Blue Jackets need a core center to show the young guns how to succeed at playing a 200-foot game. The Calgary Flames need a nitrous oxide injection into the mix of their young core and aging veterans. Are the conditions for a win-win trade present? 

Say that the offer was a top-three protected 2024 first round draft pick (unprotected in 2025) and Nick Blankenburg for Elias Lindholm extended at $8,500,000 for eight years.

Would the Columbus Blue Jackets brain trust be frustrated enough with the perpetual negative feedback loop of high potential prospects floundering to take a risk like that?

Possibly. There is at least a case to be made that there is a win-win for Conroy and Kekalainen to consider as the 2022-2023 regular season marches toward a March 8, 2024, NHL Trade Deadline.