We know by now what the Flames have in their forward ranks. They have one of the best 2-way lines in the entire NHL featuring Matthew Tkachuk, Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik. They have a pair of young, prolific scorers in Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau. They have Sam Bennett, who could be really good but has struggled throughout the season. They have a couple veterans who can be shuffled around the top-9, the versatile bargain Kris Versteeg and Troy “full of leadership but not that great at other things” Brouwer. Then there is a collection of 4th line forwards, featuring Matt Stajan, Micheal Ferland, Alex Chiasson, Lance Bouma, Garnet Hathaway and Freddie Hamilton. Add it all up, you have 8 top-9 forwards and 6 players that should not be playing much more than 4th line minutes.
The Flames are short one top-9 forward, meaning someone regularly has to play out of their depth. That guy is usually Alex Chiasson. Although he is an NHL player and has things to offer, his ceiling is rather limited. The Flames could really use one more top-9 guy, preferably someone who can play on the right-wing. As of right now, Troy Brouwer and Kris Versteeg are the only two right-shots in the top-9 and Versteeg prefers to be deployed on the left-side. Conversely, Frolik is a left-shot that prefers to play on the right-side. There is an opening on the right-wing and currently there is nobody within the organization that appears ready to step in and contribute offensively. An external acquisition is likely required.
All of this being considered, the Flames need to be smart here (and I am sure they will be). While they are very much in the mix for the playoffs, it could go either way at this point. Even if they do make the playoffs, it would take a run of upsets similar to 2004 for them to make serious noise in the playoffs. Therefore, a rental is not the right way to go about this. But, there are plenty of teams close to the cap, teams that are at risk of losing good players in the expansion draft and players that could use a change of scenery. There are opportunities for the Flames to improve their team at varying levels of cost and some of these players could be acquired before the trade deadline.
The Flames current situation at forward in regards to the expansion draft is really good. Monahan, Gaudreau, Bennett, Backlund and Frolik are locks to be protected. Tkachuk is exempt. The Flames can protect two more forwards. At this point, Troy Brouwer and Micheal Ferland seem the most likely candidates to be protected. However, if the Flames are able to upgrade their forward group, they would not be hurt by exposing one of those guys (preferably Brouwer) and be able to keep the new player for the long haul.
The Flames also have some tradable assets they could leverage to acquire help. Not from the forward ranks of course, but the Flames are loaded with some quality prospects and have a full slate of draft picks for the upcoming draft. For a significant upgrade they would likely need to include one of their top young defensemen from the organization, like Rasmus Andersson, Oliver Kylington, Brandon Hickey, Adam Fox or Brett Kulak. While it would sting to see one of those guys go (please, not Kylington) you have to give up something to get something. Other prospects the Flames could leverage would include Emile Poirier, Morgan Klimchuk and Hunter Shinkaruk, all with varying amounts of value.
All that being said, here are some possible targets that I have accumulated. Who knows if these guys are actually available, but I think that any of them could be possible. Some could come pretty cheap, others more costly. None of these guy are elite and are going to be singlehandedly lead the team into the playoffs, but they are attainable and could improve the situation as a whole. Here are some candidates, in no particular order, that I think could be a part of a solution to the forward group.
C Nick Bjugstad (Florida Panthers) 24 Years Old, $4.1 M per through 2020-21
25 GP, 1 G, 3 A, 12 PIM, -10, 49.7% CF
Nick Bjugstad has had a very bad season so far. 1 goal in 25 games is not inspiring at all. However, the guy has a solid track record of 34 to 43 points in each of the 3 previous seasons. Furthermore, the guy is a 6-foot-6 right shooting centre. If he could be shifted to the wing, that could be an interesting presence on a line with Monahan and Gaudreau.
Verdict: Lots to like, rough season could make him a cheaper acquisition. The 4 years left on his contract would be an anchor if he does not rebound.
C Ryan Strome (New York Islanders) 23 Years Old, $2.5 M per through 2017-18
49 GP, 8, 13 A, 31 PIM, -4, 44.7% Cf
Ryan Strome has had a pretty up and down career with the Islanders so far, so it is possible the Islander would be willing to move on from him, for the right price. In the 14-15 season, he had 50 points in 81 games, but last season he dropped to 28 in 71 games and was sent to the AHL for a couple of weeks. This season he has been a healthy scratch at times. While his offensive stats are decent, his possession numbers are terrible, although to be fair, many Islanders have similar numbers.
Why target Strome? Once again, he is a right-shot. He had a very good junior career and has produced at times in the NHL. He is only 23 so he would be an acquisition for the long-term. Plus he only has a cap hit of $2.5 M for this season and the next one, so he would be very affordable. A player with the skill to fit on the Monahan or Bennett lines.
Verdict: If the Islanders would be willing to move him, I think trading a second round pick and a prospect like Emile Poirier would be worth a shot.
Nail Yakupov (St. Louis Blues) 23 Years Old, $2.5 M this season, then RFA
31 GP, 3 G, 3 A, 10 PIM, -6, 52.3% CF
Haha I know right? Sounds crazy. But honestly, is it that much crazier than continuing to trot out Alex Chiasson with your high calibre scoring forwards? Yakupov has had flashes of brilliance, but has generally had a very disappointing career. The toxic environment in Edmonton likely had plenty to do with that, alongside his apparent inability to play in NHL systems.
But, he is a right-wing. St. Louis barely paid anything for him and hardly plays him, so he would not cost much at all. He is an RFA at the end of the year, so try him out and if it does not work, let him walk. The guy scored at an elite level in the OHL. He has scored at a 0.41 points per game pace in the NHL. That really is not bad at all. Definitely not first overall calibre, but absolutely NHL calibre. Plus, Gulutzan has proven to be a patient coach, similar to Ralph Krueger, the coach under whom Yakupov had his greatest success with. I would not mind giving him a tryout on a scoring line.
Verdict: If he could be had for a late pick or a fringe prospect, I don’t see what there is to lose.
Gustav Nyquist (Detroit Red Wings) 27 Years Old, $4.75 M per through 2018-19
54 GP, 7 G, 21 A, 10 PIM, -6, 48.4% CF
Like Bjugstad, Nyquist is another talented forward that is having a bit of a down year compared to previous seasons. While he is still going along at just over half a point a game, his goal totals have drastically dropped, where he is on pace for just over 10, when in previous seasons he has scored 28 (in 57 games!), 27 and 17. While he is not a right-shot, he does play right-wing and he is a skilled player. He is signed on for two more years at a fairly reasonable $4.75 M a season. He could definitely fit in with some of the talented forwards on the Flames at even-strength and could contribute on the powerplay. Detroit has fallen off this season and may look to begin retooling, so they may be willing to listen on Nyquist.
Verdict: It may cost the Flames and he has been trending downward the past couple of seasons, but he is worth checking in on. Same with his teammate, Tomas Tatar.
Marko Dano (Winnipeg Jets) 22 Years Old, On Final Year of ELC Deal
28 GP, 3 G, 7 A, 8 PIM, +2, 48.8 CF%
Marko Dano is a somewhat under the radar player, but I catch a good amount of Winnipeg games and I think he would be a great fit for the Flames. He is young and has not produced a ton in the NHL yet, so he would not have high salary demands going forward. He is a skilled player that plays the right-wing and he is willing to be physical and go to dirty areas.
He could be available too. As it stands, the Jets will likely protect 4 defensemen (Dustin Byfgulien, Toby Enstrom, Jacob Trouba and Tyler Myers). 3 forwards are guaranteed to be protected (Bryan Little, Blake Wheeler and Mark Schiefele). That leaves Dano, Matheiu Perrault (another player who could be a good trade target), Joel Armia, Adam Lowry as expansion eligible players and only one of those guys can be protected. If they are going to expose Dano, it would be smart for the Flames to look at picking him up from the Jets.
Verdict: If they could flip a prospect or pick for him, I think Dano would be a great pick up.
Anthony Duclair (Arizona Coyotes) 21 Years Old, Final Year of ELC Deal
41 GP, 3 G, 6 A, 14 PIM, -8, 46.9% CF
The Coyotes already offered this guy to the Flames in the past. The problem was, their ask was Dougie Hamilton. However, that was before this season, when Duclair was coming off a strong rookie season. This year has been terrible for Duclair. He has been sent to the AHL, he is not producing and apparently he may be getting shopped. He’s a young player that has shown he can produce in the past, so if Arizona is willing to be reasonable this time around, it could be worth a look.
Verdict: May not add a significant amount of value this year but an intriguing addition for the long-haul, at the right cost.
Tyler Johnson (Tampa Bay Lightning) 26 Years Old, $3.33 Million, RFA in July
54 GP, 16 G, 17 A, 28 PIM, -8, 48.8% CF
Tampa is in trouble with both their salary cap and expansion draft situations. They are likely going to lose one forward out of Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn and Ondrej Palat. I would be interested in any of those players if I were Brad Treliving, but Johnson may be the most likely to shake free. While he is not a big guy at 5-foot-8, he has produced at the NHL level, including a career high 72 points in 14-15. He is a right-shot, so while he may not be a great fit for playing with Johnny Gaudreau, he could be a solid add to Sam Bennett or Mikael Backlund’s lines.
His next contract will include a raise, but it is not likely to be unaffordable. He would provide a boost in skill to the top-9 and since Tampa has struggled this season, they may be willing to trade him before the deadline.
Verdict: Not the perfect fit due to his size, but adding his skill level would make it worth a shot. He has been great in the playoffs too.
Jordan Eberle (Edmonton Oilers) 26 Years Old, $6M per through 2018-19
55 GP, 11 G, 21 A, 12 PIM, -3, 51.3% CF
This will not happen, but it is an interesting thought. There are a lot of rumours flying about on how Jordan Eberle needs a change of scenery and that the Oilers would like to rid themselves of his salary for the upcoming Draisaitl and McDavid contracts. On the Flames’ end, Eberle could really help the team. He is a goal scoring right-winger. He would provide a massive upgrade to the Flames forward group and could easily fit in with the Monahan or Bennett lines.
It will not happen though. This trade would help out both Alberta teams too much for it to occur. I would hate to think of what prospects the Flames would send to Edmonton and if they ended up punishing the Flames for years to come. It is also unlikely the Oilers would trade a player like Eberle when they are on the verge of finally making the playoffs.
Verdict: Player would help, not worth trading with the Oilers for.
All salary information courtesy of CapFriendly.
All Possession numbers from CORSICA.