Before the recent goal recession, it had already become pretty clear that the Flames were in need of more offense. They've been amongst the very worst teams in the league by most offensive measures ever since the initial SH% outburst petered out. They're not good at drawing penalties, they rarely score on the PP and they're bottom of the barrel in the league in terms of getting shots on net.
In addition, pretty much everyone in Calgary's top 6 is on par for a below average offensive season, with the possible exception of Rene Bourque. I say "top 6" even though it's a misnomer for this club: as many as seven different players (Moss, Nystrom, Sjostrom, Boyd, Lundmark, Glencross and Conroy) have auditioned with Iginla with varying degrees of success (ranging from a bit to none at all). On this team, everyone is a potential top 6 player because, excepting a few notables, no one is.
The cold snap has brought these issues into sharper focus. Jarome Iginla, with one goal in his last 13 games, looks like he's swimming against the tide with a boat in his teeth most nights. His underlying stats are some of the worst of his career. He's the very face of franchise, precisely because he looks frustrated to the point of distraction. Once upon a time, perhaps he could have carried lesser line mates against the big boys singlehanded, but those days have passed. He needs some help. This team, one with aspirations towards some measure of post-season success, needs to help him.
The trade deadline is still some forty days away, but for the Flames the impetus is to ramp up the goal scoring ASAP. Sutter hasn't shied from pre-empting the March frenzy in the past (Conroy, Stuart come to mind) so anything's possible I guess.
There are an almost limitless number of hypothetical trade targets for Calgary, but let's the cull field with some educated assumptions:
1.) Play-off bound clubs won't be dealing top 6 players.
2.) The Flames only have a strictly limited amount of trade chips (few draft picks, prospects).
With those parameters in mind, let's take a look at who might be available.
1.) Paul Kariya
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Formerly one of the best wingers in the league, time and injuries have rendered Kariya a shadow of his former self. Both his counting stats and underlying numbers are unimpressive and he's an injury risk on top of all that. He's still a step up from certain options on the Flames (say, Nystrom, Lundmark, Sjostrom etc.) but he's hardly ideal.
2.) Keith Tkachuk
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Similar to Kariya, Tkachuk is an aging ex-star who has drifted away from his dominant days. He has an even worse relative corsi rating than Kariya does on the same team and he faces marginally weaker competition. He also only averages about two shots on net per game. I'd pass on the big guy unless he was available for next to free.
3.) Ray Whitney
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Probably the most oft cited trade target for the Flames is the similarly old, but still effective former Shark. Whitney has scored 60+ points in each of his last three seasons and is one of Carolina's offensive leaders again this year. He faces decent competition for the Hurricanes but is amongst the top 10 in terms of corsi for the club. His underlying numbers are strong and he's capable on the power play.
Overall, Whitney would be a relatively attractive rental. He's 37, so there would be little chance of the club retaining him next year, plus he has a lot of experience which some consider important. Of course, with the 'Canes well out of the race, there's likely to be a number of play-off bound clubs sniffing around after Whitney come the deadline.
4.) Colby Armstrong
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While Kovalchuk will be getting all the attention in March, the Thrashers may also be shopping Colby Armstrong if they find they can't re-sign him either. The pending free agent doesn't have attractive counting stats, but has been a key contributor for Atlanta for several years. Essentially, Armstrong is the 'anti-Ilya': he starts out in his own zone a lot, faces the other teams best players much of the time, but still ends up moving the puck in the right direction.
Armstrong isn't your prototypical scorer. He's an effective hockey player, but the Flames immediate needs probably extend beyond his abilities: Calgary doesn't simply need someone who can get the puck into the good end of the ice, but someone who can do something with it when it gets there. That said, I wouldn't complain if they acquired him (or signed him this summer).
5.) Alexei Ponikarovsky
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"Poni" is to the Maple Leafs what Rene Bourque is to the Flames - a top-notch all around forward. Ponikarovsky faces a decent level of competition, has the second best corsi rate on the team (+19/60!), the best ESP/60 rate on the club (2.27) and he can play on both the PP and PK. He's also a 6'4", 223 pound guy who can skate.
I consider Ponikarovsky the ideal candidate for the Flames to target. He's managed sterling underlying numbers for the last few seasons, is just 29 years old and is the type of guy the team could try to retain next year. In fact, he's so good it would stun me if Burke didn't have his name on a new contract come March.
6.) Alex Tanguay
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Darryl Sutter once called Alex Tanguay one of the best left wingers in the league. At the time, he was right: Tanguay was one of the most efficient producers of even strength points in the NHL. He was routinely the Flames second best forward at ES when he was here in town behind only Jarome Iginla as well. That said, things have gone poorly for Alex since he left the Flames - he spent most of the season with the Canadiens nursing a shoulder injury. This year, he's felt the wrath of Rick Tocchet in Tampa. His stats are mediocre across the board, but he has the advantage of history with Jarome. In addition, his skill set matches Calgary's needs almost exactly: a sublime passer and effective puck distributor who has a knack for opening up defensive coverage.
I emailed Raw Charge's John MClellan about Tanguay recently and this was his response:
The entire situation in Tampa is crappy for offense with thanks to what Rich Tocchet preaches and the skill-set of the offensive players that are on the club. Where Tanguay is a pure passer, where St. Louis and Lecavalier are more finesse and speed...Tocchet wants grit, "dog the puck".. He seems to value tip in shots, deflections and junk goals more than actually using skills.
Would Tampa Bay trade Alex? If you ask any casual fan who sees Tanguay's production and compares it to Vaclav Prospal's production in New York, they'll give you a frustrated "Yes, he's worthless!"
For someone like me who sees a bigger issue in Tampa, I'd sooner hold on to him and change other things with the Lightning. But the fact is, right now, the Lightning are a lower-middle club and moving pieces to acquire more assets will be more likely than re-signing free agents to be. So Alex likely will be available by the deadline (if Tocchet isn't replaced by then).
Now what would the Lightning want in return? That's subjective. They are rebuilding the club in an image that is their own. While Brian Lawton has already rebuilt the defense in part, he will be looking to acquire more guys on the other side of the blue line to thicken things out.
While Poni might be the best player available, Tanguay might be the most ideal in terms of circumstances. He's not valued by the coach, so even if the Bolts think they have a shot at the post-season, there's little chance they'll keep him around. John asserts above that the Lightning may want a defender in return (the one thing the Flames have plenty of at every level of the organization) and they may want to get rid of him sooner rather than later considering their on-going financial issues.
The Flames don't have the assets to go big game hunting this trade deadline, so the group above is likely as good as it'll get for Sutter. He 's got no first or second rounder next season and no Matthew Lombardi to dangle as a trade chip. He'll have to find a pretty friendly trading partner to make a deal, which may very well take any or all of these targets out of the picture, depending on how much demand ramps up post-Olympics. I'm imagine he's already begun to work the phones in earnest.