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Flames Must Tread Lightly in Stamkos Trade Talk

Amid a fairly dismal start to the 2015-16 season–which has seen them win only one of six games so far–the Calgary Flames are fast approaching the panic button. So much so that the team could be looking at bringing in a star like Steven Stamkos.

The injury bug has struck early for the Flames, taking out star defender T.J. Brodie. But even past this loss, the Flames seem to be out of sync and spiralling further downwards with each passing game.

After the club’s most recent loss, a 6–2 drubbing at the hands of the Washington Capitals, Flames general manager Brad Treliving decided changes were in order. First came the demotion of netminder Karri Ramo, who was relegated to the AHL, making Joni Ortio the club’s top backup option behind starter Jonas Hiller (though that starting status is most definitely in flux). Then came the arrival of former KHLer Jakub Nakladal, who was recalled from the AHL to help bolster the team’s struggling blue line.

But it seems Treliving is far from finished making moves.

According to Sportsnet’s Mark Spector, the Flames’ manager is working the phones in an effort to pull off a blockbuster deal that will help his club avoid bottoming out just two seasons into their resurgent rise. From his post:

“We even heard that his conversation with Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman was all about the Lightning’s obvious issues with signing soon-to-be unrestricted free agent Steven Stamkos. The Flames would be willing to deal a top young player, perhaps Sam Bennett, to acquire Stamkos at this point.”

That is a stunning turn in a saga that was decidedly unexpected for the Flames faithful. While talk of regression and an overhyped playoff run loomed large all summer, many expected the team’s addition of Dougie Hamilton to help them at least make noise in the West, if not challenge for a top spot. And yet, six games into the season, the Flames look far from a contender, sitting at the bottom of the Pacific Division standings.

The most shocking bit of Spector’s piece was the mention of one Steven Stamkos as part of Calgary’s hopeful trade discussions. Is it surprising that the Flames want Stamkos to don the flaming ‘C’? Obviously not, as every single team in the league would want the Lightning captain on their roster. But it is surprising to hear that Trevliving is talking to Lightning GM Steve Yzerman about the two-time Rocket Richard Trophy-winner, given the undoubtedly high price that would come with such a move.

Putting aside the fact that it is beyond extremely unlikely that Stamkos leaves the Lightning via trade–players of his ilk are very rarely shipped between different clubs, especially this early in their careers–Treliving must know that for Tampa Bay to part with their franchise cornerstone, they’re going to need a veritable smorgasbord of young talent to offset such a loss. And Sam Bennett isn’t going to cut it.

Spector suggested Sean Monahan as a possible starting point, and this would most definitely be the case. Stamkos isn’t simply a gifted scorer. He’s the second-best pure goalscorer in the sport at this point in time, and he’s only 25 years old. That means dealing Stamkos doesn’t just entail the loss of a key offensive piece. It means a significant decline in the offense for the next decade. Not to mention the fact that the Lightning are fresh off a Stanley Cup Final appearance, and probably not looking to take any such steps backwards.

A Stamkos trade would likely begin with Sean Monahan, but he would just be the start.

What this all amounts to is the fact that any deal for the Lightning’s captain would require the loss of Monahan and at least one more of the Flames’ top young stars, whether that be Johnny Gaudreau, Bennett, or Brodie. With plenty of other add-ons sure to get thrown in as well, it’s clear that any such deal would be a complete game-changer for the Flames organization.

Sure, they would land one of the game’s premier talents and could very well take a step forward because of it, but it would immediately dismantle all that the club has worked towards over the past few seasons. The Flames already seem like a club only barely on the cusp of playoff greatness, which suggests that removing three or four strong pieces in exchange for one very strong player could cause enough of an imbalance to send the club back to the league’s basement.

Calgary already had their time of suiting up one marquee star alongside a cast of mediocre peripheral players when they housed former Rocket Richard Trophy-winner Jarome Iginla, and the result was one season of playoff glory and plenty of disappointment. Stamkos would be a significant upgrade in this regard, but the results would be similar, as the organization doesn’t have the overall depth to remain competitive if their top prospects were to be shipped off in such a trade.

Landing Stamkos would gut the Flames’ depth significantly.

While this may seem an unnecessary exercise given the fact that Yzerman is unlikely to part with Stamkos, the key factor here is that Treliving has become desperate enough to reach out to the Lightning with such a proposition. He may not land Stamkos, but he could land a different marquee star elsewhere in the league, and if such a deal were to similarly require losing one or more of the club’s top players, then these previously mentioned issues would hold true.

It must be remembered that Treliving’s track record so far has been exceptional.

From signing Mark Giordano and Brodie to very reasonable deals, to surprising all by bringing in Hamilton for a trio of draft picks (and subsequently signing him to a reasonable deal as well), Treliving has established himself as a manager that isn’t prone to making knee-jerk moves. He’s been methodical in his treatment of the organization so far, and we can assume he’ll continue to do so at this critical point as well.

Thus, it seems Treliving would be unlikely to rush into selling off key pieces like Monahan, Gaudreau or Bennett for a quick fix, and that a deal for Stamkos–or any other such star near his level–likely won’t come to be. But the Flames could very well make some more changes to the organization, and they have some room to do so given their roster.

Spector suggested Dennis Wideman and Kris Russell as possible trading chips, and that’s a good place to start. The problem is that neither will net the Flames what they truly need. Wideman broke out with a career year last season, but at 32, no team is going to give up prime assets to attain him. Russell was exceptional for the Flames last season as well, but he remains a somewhat under-the-radar player and won’t command a monster return either.

More likely would be the Flames putting together a package that included a collection of their arguably ‘extra’ pieces. Wideman would be in that group, given the Flames’ newfound defensive depth. Markus Granlund could be included as well, as the talented Finn seemingly has NHL-calibre skill but has simply been ousted from the Flames’ lineup due to the presence of the club’s other talented pivots.

Mason Raymond could be included as well, as the Alberta native’s style hasn’t meshed well with the Flames so far, but could be quite useful for a team with a different offensive system. Raymond’s $3.15 million annual salary will likely be a roadblock, however.

The Flames’ top trade chip at this point remains veteran scorer Jiri Hudler. Fresh off a career year that saw him post 31 goals and 76 points, Hudler has established himself as a bona fide top-line option, and could be a huge boost to many an NHL club. He also carries a modest $4 million cap hit, which is more than reasonable for the offense he brings.

It was previously thought that a Hudler trade was off the table given his chemistry with Monahan and Gaudreau was a game-changer for the Flames last season. The club’s recent struggles have led to Hudler playing on the second line with Mikael Backund and Sam Bennett recently, suggesting the team feels this chemistry may not be as potent as originally thought. With four points in six games, Hudler has shown no signs of slowing down this season, and would net a decent return should Treliving seek a game-changing deal.

Treliving will have to weigh all of these decisions over the coming weeks, but he doesn’t have much time. Though the season is still young, the gap between the Flames and the final Western Conference playoff spot is growing each week, and a continued run of mediocrity could prove to be the difference once that race heats up later in the season.

With Brodie slated to return in just a couple weeks–should he continue to recover without any setbacks–the Flames manager may elect to wait just a bit longer before he tests the waters, as Brodie’s return could in fact be the cure for Calgary’s transition game issues. However, if reuniting the team’s top defensive pairing doesn’t do the trick, it seems the Flames may have quite a different look by the time 2015 comes to a close.

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