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Flames Looking To Add a Forward While Shipping Out Defencemen

Sportsnet’s Eric Francis has alluded that the Calgary Flames are not done adding to their forward group. The team has brought in Jonathan Huberdeau, Nazem Kadri, and Kevin Rooney, while Jakob Pelletier is likely to make the team as well. All this and general manager Brad Treliving may still believe that his offence isn’t where it should be just yet.

There are trade rumours surrounding Milan Lucic, and if they hold true, moving out his contract will free up a ton of cap space and a roster spot to upgrade further. Even without trading a forward, there is room for improvement, considering the Flames’ talent on the fourth line. Ideally, Lucic can be moved at almost no cost while Treliving deals with the problem of having too many defencemen signed to one-way deals this season.

Flames May Not Be Done Adding Forwards via Free Agency or Trade

Francis joined Tim and Friends the other day to discuss the Flames, and after everything Treliving has accomplished in masterfully re-tooling his team, “he might not be done yet.” There’s room to improve, as with almost any team, and the general manager wants the Flames to be equipped to face any challenge that comes their way in 2022-23.

Francis said, “He’s got 10 defensemen on one-way deals, and I don’t think that’s great business going into the season, and he’s alluded to it a couple of times when I’ve been talking to him that he could swing a trade of a defenseman or two to pick up maybe a winger. That’s where they are definitely the shortest in terms of depth.” Their goaltenders don’t need an upgrade after Jakob Markstrom finished second in Vezina Trophy voting last season, and Dan Vladar was a solid backup. They also have maybe the strongest defence core in the league.

That leaves a fourth line that can be made better. The team has Adam Ruzicka, but he remains unsigned. As it looks now, Lucic, Rooney, and Trevor Lewis make up that bottom line. Lewis may be reaching the point in his career where he is scratched more often, while Lucic could very well be dealt.

There are two options, pick at the remaining free agents or bring in a winger via trade. Phil Kessel has been brought up for some time now. It’s believed there was interest last season when the veteran was with the bottom-feeding Arizona Coyotes. With no move, likely due to his cap hit, Kessel can be signed for cheap and add much-needed scoring to the Flames’ forward group.

The two-time Stanley Cup winner brings the experience needed on any team. He has also scored at least 20 goals in 12 seasons and managed to quietly record 52 points last season for the Coyotes, who scored the fewest goals in the league.

Phil Kessel Arizona Coyotes
Phil Kessel, Arizona Coyotes (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

If not Kessel, the Flames may be able to bring in someone younger who might be better defensively when they (inevitably) move out one to two defensemen. A player like Blake Coleman would be a great fit under Darryl Sutter’s coaching, especially if they can find a player like that before he has gotten paid.

Flames Defencemen Who Could Be Traded Before the Season

To pull off a deal for an impactful forward, the Flames will have to move pieces on defence. As Francis mentioned, the team has 10 defencemen on one-way contracts. The last time I discussed trading a Flames defenceman, Oliver Kylington was the likely candidate considering he was unsigned. But with a new deal, interest will shift to fringe NHL defencemen, including Juuso Valimaki, Connor Mackey, and Nicolas Meloche.

Related: Flames’ Defensive Logjam Will Force Trade

I think Meloche is safe here as he was just brought in, and they won’t mind playing him as a seventh defenceman or even losing him through waivers. The 25-year-old defender may turn into something, but he had a tough rookie season on a San Jose Sharks team that struggled.

The Flames have five of their six top-six defencemen locked up for at least two seasons. The other being MacKenzie Weegar, who has openly stated he is willing to re-sign long-term. Where do Valimaki and Mackey fit in, if so? It would only hurt their development to have them sit on the sidelines as the seventh defenceman, but they have also spent enough time in the American Hockey League (AHL) and are ready to make the jump; their one-way contracts indicate as much.

Valimaki, the Flames’ 2017 first-round pick, has developed and taken the step the team had hoped for by now. He got a taste of the NHL in 2018-19, then didn’t appear in a game until 2020-21 (49 games). He seemed to be trending toward playing a full season before the Flames sent him down to the AHL for all but nine games last season. At a crossroads in his career, management will want to get something in return for him and not lose him for nothing if they have to send him through waivers. A team will surely take a chance on him.

Juuso Valimaki, Calgary Flames
Juuso Valimaki, Calgary Flames (Photo by Julian Avram/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

As for Mackey, the undrafted defenceman has taken great steps and proven he is ready for a chance in the NHL. With nine games under his belt and four points, other teams will surely have interest in him if the Flames decide to trade him.

What would be unexpected is if the Flames look into trading Christopher Tanev. He will be pushed down to the third pairing and is being paid $4.5 million for the next two seasons, but the team would surely be worse without his defensive impact. That much was evident when he missed games last postseason, and he has shown great chemistry with Kylington. Trading Tanev would clear up cap space, but for right now, the Flames want to be as good as they can, which includes him.

Considering Treliving’s remaining options, it is very likely he isn’t done making moves. As one of the busiest teams this offseason, it’s worth considering how much better the Flames can get.

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