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Column: Buzzards Circle Calgary Flames as Trade Rumours Swirl

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Calgary Flames

Since when has the sound of buzzards ever been a bad thing? 

Think about it.  

If you’re hearing or seeing them, chances are solid that you’re starting to feel fairly welcome to change.  

With a 22-22-5 record on the season as of Feb. 1, the Calgary Flames 2023-2024 season falls right into that carrion sweet spot. The true killing blow came in July of 2022 when offensive stars Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk departed the organization via free agency and trade, respectively. Since then, the organization has limped through roughly a season and a half at around a .500 points percentage.  

Alive, but realistically, you get why there are metaphorical giant birds hanging out around. It’s difficult to hold their very presence against them. You can help them out, and they could even help you out in a darker sense.  

The first vulture to get bold this season struck last night in a trade that send All-Star center Elias Lindholm to the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for mercurial right winger Andrei Kuzmenko, OHL star defenceman Hunter Brzustewicz, 21-year-old Finnish Liiga defenceman Joni Jurmo, a 2024 first round pick, and a conditional 2024 fourth round pick.  

If the Canucks make the Western Conference Final this season, the conditions will be met for that fourth round pick to become a third round pick. Lindholm also must play at least half of their total playoff games 

Before we get into the other vultures in the pack, let’s just address this litmus test as a fan that the conditional fourth rounder presents.  

Are you willing to change banners and cheer for arguably Calgary’s second greatest rival for a minutely higher probability of a draft pick working out? 

A 2011 study by Michael Schuckers of St. Lawrence University and Statistical Sports Consulting compiled data on the probability of draft picks translating into a 200-game NHL player. Fourth round picks have a 9% chance of translating to 200 games in NHL. Things get a little iffy with the ratio of defencemen, forwards, and goalies, but that’s a number you can wrap your head around.  

With a third round pick teams, on average, have 13% chance of the player getting into 200 NHL games.  

Is a four percent increase in success really all it takes?  

Certainly a bit off topic, but it’s something funny to tell your friends or that loud guy at the bar to make them angry. After all, talking sports is about having fun with it.  

Where were we? Right, vultures. The impending demise of the late-2010’s to early-2020’s era of Calgary Flames hockey. Feathers, black as Hell. 

With an appetizer of Nikita Zadorov and seconds in Elias Lindholm, Vancouver has clearly had its fill, but what other teams await their turn in the pecking order?  

Buzzards Circling the Calgary Flames

 

(AP Photo/Erin Hooley)

Noah Hanifin 

Jimmy Murphy of Boston Hockey Now pointed out earlier today that the Bruins maintain a pursuit of Boston College graduate Noah Hanifin.

“One of the worst-kept secrets of Sweeney’s tenure as general manager of the Boston Bruins has been his pursuit of the Norwood, MA, native and former Boston College defenseman. It is well-known that Sweeney’s draft weekend trades at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft were part of a plan to acquire the fifth overall pick from the Carolina Hurricanes and draft Noah Hanifin.” 

Earlier in the season, Murphy got input from a source close to the situation.

“If I was a betting man, I’d be betting on the Bruins to eventually get Hanifin. I’d be shocked if Boston isn’t at the front of the line there,” the source said. 

Despite an immaculate 31-9-9 record this season, the Bruins have had lingering issues defending off the rush. Hanifin’s elite level speed and edgework would certainly help in that area.  

Per Elliotte Friedman, Arizona has also inquired about Noah Hanifin. 

“They have shown an interest in adding this year. You know the Hanifin thing, they (the Coyotes) kicked tires in Hanifin. More than kicked tires on Hanifin. They were interested.”  

Friedman was quoted on Nov. 8 that he had a notion that the Sharks had expressed interest in the 27-year-old defender.  “Kinda suspect the Sharks called Calgary about Noah Hanifin …” 

On Nov. 30, Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic confirmed reports that Hanifin had halted talks on an extension with the Calgary Flames. LeBrun also confirmed that the Flames were closing in on an eight-year, roughly $60 million deal, which would have carried an average annual value of around $7.5 million. Pierre would not rule out the concept of a sign-and-trade for the Flames.   

“I still expect, for example, Hanifin to get dealt at some point,” LeBrun said. “In his case, the idea from everyone involved is that he gets dealt as a signed player – that there’s an extension in place for him wherever he ends up.”   

 

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Chris Tanev 

Ah, Chris Tanev.

CHN has made a case already for the Calgary Flames holding on to the stalwart defender.

The fact of the matter is that the Toronto product is going to provide a far greater positive impact to an acquiring organization than any combination of late first round picks and once passed-over prospects.

Even veteran blue liners Rasmus Andersson and Noah Hanifin continue to learn from the fearless stay-at-home defenceman. He raises the advanced analytics of any defender he’s paired with, and he would make an economic duo with Oliver Kylington if the two were to re-sign.  Rasmus Andersson spoke on Tanev’s influence on his game to the media on Dec. 7.

“But his defensive zone work is not just blocking shots, but making the first pass, getting out with it, he’s first out on the penalty kill and is always in the right spot.”

“I look at him on the PK, and I’m like, ‘What do I need to do better?’ I just watch him.”

That’s a bit of a catch to rebuilding, retooling, or whatever you would like to call it; it usually starts with “re”.  

You need to maintain a winning culture and keep positive impact players around to help the next generation. General managers Steve Staios of the Ottawa Senators and Brad Treliving of the Toronto Maple Leafs certainly are aware of this concept. On Jan. 29, Frank Serravalli listed the Dallas Stars, Florida Panthers, New York Islanders, Pittsburgh Penguins, Tampa Bay Lightning and Vancouver Canucks as other organizations that would be deemed as potential suitors.

Understandably, teams really like Chris Tanev and the remaining cap hit of his $4,500,000 annual salary. Tanev is a free agent as of July 1, 2024. Per Friedman, both Toronto and Ottawa have expressed interest in having the 34-year-old around for longer than just a rental situation. 

 

(AP Photo/Erin Hooley)

Jacob Markstrom 

33-year-old Jacob Markstrom is in a tough spot in Calgary.  

If Craig Conroy is leaning into a roster reconfiguration, a higher (lower[better]) pick at the draft would be more ideal in suiting the organization’s long term plans.  

The Catch-22 facing Markstrom currently is that he’s playing exceptionally well – stealing games even. Some fans would prefer that he didn’t. If he doesn’t play well, then the fan base will more easily justify keeping his gig in Calgary going. 

The Calgary Flames last saw NHL action against the Chicago Blackhawks on Jan. 27. Markstrom stopped numerous Blackhawk breakaways to secure a 1-0 shutout over last-place Chicago.  

Conversely, Elias Lindholm scored Calgary’s only goal that night. While Jacob insists that Elias Lindholm didn’t receive any pressure from his countryman to sign with the Flames during the 2020 offseason, the two hail from Gavle, Sweden. A town of 75,451, and the pair go on fishing trips together during the summer.

Sportsnet insider Elliotte Friedman provided a cryptic Catch-22 of his own on Jan. 13 to a national audience during his weekly Saturday Headlines segment. 

“No. 1, I don’t believe they’ve gone to him with anything, as in any possibility of what could happen,” Friedman said. “No.2, he has a No-Move Clause. As Kelly Hrudey always argues, no one with a no-move clause should even be asked if they can be traded.  

“From what I understand, Calgary has a very high bar here in terms of they’re not going to bother Markstrom with just anything. It would have to be something massive for them, or somewhere they absolutely believe Markstrom would want to go before they would even consider going to him. I think that’s where things stand with Markstrom, the Flames, and anything right now.” 

Friedman’s update was that there was no update, but if there is going to be an update, then it will be a big update.  

Mind you, this was all unprompted. 

Despite the roadblock of a no movement clause forbidding Markstrom to be traded, Markstrom can be traded, but only if the team asks nicely. Of recent note, new Calgary Flame Andrei Kuzmenko needed to be asked nicely to waive his 12-team no trade clause to approve the deal sending Elias Lindholm to Vancouver.  

The future remains unclear for the Flames star goaltender. Unfortunately, Jacob is suffering the same process that the last big-name goaltender in Calgary, Mikka Kiprusoff, experienced; simply playing too well to match the current narrative of losing to win.  

In terms of potential fits, James Nichols of New Jersey Hockey Now pointed out a dire need for high quality goaltending on the New Jersey Devils on Jan. 14, although he also conceded that due to Friedman’s info, a deal with the Flames remains an unlikely purchase.

 

Moving Forward 

With the breaking of the Elias Lindholm deal on Jan. 31, it’s fair to assume that Craig Conroy’s work life is intensifying leading up to the NHL trade deadline on March 8.  

Things aren’t getting easier for rookie head coach Ryan Huska either.

Elias Lindholm led all Calgary forwards in ice time per game with an average of 20:45 in deployment per night. The next highest Flame forward is Mikael Backlund at 19:15.  

Huska now has massive holes on his penalty kill, power play, and first forward unit to address. Over the coming months, the former Kamloops Blazer will have a consistent laundry list of wrinkles to iron out as he assigns players new roles. Let alone addressing any roster curveballs that Conroy throws his way by the deadline.  

Despite the challenges on the horizon, the eventual formation of a new-look Calgary Flames core stands as a positive goal for the two Flames employees.

That’s the fun of venturing into the unknown. There may be surprises, twists, and turns, but when it’s all said and done, they’ll remember both the good and bad times, as well as the fun they had along the way.   

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Saabu

As a Flames fan I kind of like that our players are staying in Canada- gives the nation a better chance of going all the way and bringing the Cup home!