30 Thoughts: Flames face deadline crossroads

Curtis Glencross has played seven seasons with the Calgary Flames, but could be traded out by the March 2 deadline. (Jason Franson/CP)

They had chances in the first period, plenty of them. The Rangers were a little loose.

But the Flames had two problems. One was Cam Talbot, playing his best 20 minutes since Henrik Lundqvist’s injury. The second was themselves. Several good chances were wasted by bad passes or poor choices. By the middle period, the Rangers were stingier and most of those opportunities were gone.

The result was a 1-0 shutout defeat that kept Calgary outside of a playoff position, one point back of Minnesota. The only good thing was the Wild coughed up a hairball, losing a game in Edmonton they needed to have.

“We can’t play ‘safe,’” captain Mark Giordano said in a very quiet post-game room. “When we have chances to make plays, we have to try and make them. Not chip it in.”

“You have to make a confident play.”

It’s easy to look at the Flames and Florida Panthers as this year’s “Little Trains that Could,” surprise teams writing a happy story. Players who should be content with an unexpected run, whether or not they actually make the playoffs. The problem is that fans may think that way, but players don’t.

Veterans like Giordano know they only have so many chances to take a shot at it. They’ve seen the 2006 Oilers, the 2010 Flyers, the 2012 Kings and know if they get in, they have a chance, no matter how long it seems.

That’s why it was so quiet in their room. They knew they’d missed a chance.

One of the quietest was Curtis Glencross, who shot wide on a glorious set-up in the final seconds. As the puck caromed around the boards in the Rangers’ zone, he looked up to the heavens in disbelief. Try as they might to insulate themselves, players know what is going on.

They know it will be a surprise if Glencross isn’t traded by Monday. And, they know they will not be as good a team if he is dealt for a draft pick and/or a prospect. GM Brad Treliving was 45 kms away from his group last night, watching Arizona/Islanders, but the Flames are travelling with a heavy organizational presence, so there were plenty of team executives at Madison Square Garden.

They were just as disappointed as the players.

You can see what this means. Calgary knows giving up the future doesn’t make sense. Not at this stage in their growth. But, what Treliving and his staff know is you have to reward your team when it deserves it. You have to show your young guys you’re there to win.

Whatever they get for Glencross (or think they are going to get), they’re going to invest it in this season. Maybe a bigger deal pops up for a good player with term, and the add really jolts the team. But, failing that, they’re going to try and bring in a little something, because they know this group deserves a legit chance.

30 Thoughts

1. Back to Glencross in a second, but with the Blackhawks expecting bad news on Patrick Kane’s shoulder/collarbone, Stan Bowman’s biggest decision will be assessing the true length of the Hart Trophy candidate’s absence and how far Chicago can go without him.

If Bowman wants, he will be able to use long-term injury relief, which will give him freedom to chase rentals. The Blackhawks have been linked to Curtis Glencross, Andrej Sekera and Antoine Vermette, but does it make any sense to give up the assets without Kane? That’s still a really good team, but he’s been their best player.

Two weeks ago, Corey Crawford used an equipment issue to stall for time after a shift for Kane, because a penalty was called against Pittsburgh. They wanted the forward to stay on the ice for the power-play, which he did for a total of 2:31. That’s how important he’s been to Chicago.

2. Even with long-term relief, it makes little sense for Chicago to chase anyone who could stay beyond this season.

How tight are they cap-wise? Scott Darling’s extension is a two-way deal in 2015-16 and a one-way in 2016-17. If Bowman keeps Darling instead of Antti Raanta, the team will save $175,000 next season. Every penny counts for them and Raanta’s not doing enough now to stay in the NHL with Darling making less.

3. Keep an eye on Washington. GM Brian MacLellan said last weekend he will not trade Mike Green for picks or prospects, so barring a blockbuster (which the GM doesn’t see coming), Green will finish the season in the American capital.

The Capitals are all-in.

MacLellan would not comment on anything else, but it’s believed they will try to add another defenceman and it’s well-known they are chasing a forward to play with Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Ovechkin. Ovechkin’s flexibility allows them to search for the best possible addition, whether a right- or left-handed shot.

4. Washington is not on Curtis Glencross’s original list of teams he’d like to go to (Anaheim, Chicago, Los Angeles, Nashville, and Tampa Bay), but the Capitals would be great for him if that first line spot is available.

The Los Angeles Times’ Lisa Dillman reported the Kings were not a fit. It is possible, probably likely, Glencross expands his group. St. Louis’s Doug Armstrong and Rob DiMaio attended Calgary/Rangers on Tuesday. It wouldn’t be a stunner if they were watching him closely, too.

5. I’m a Mats Zuccarello guy. Big fan of his game, and that did not change watching him lead everyone with five shots in Tuesday’s win.

He and the Rangers are not close on a new deal and he can walk this summer. The simple move for New York is to keep him, make a playoff run and take their chances later. But, there are rumours they will consider trading him, see what they can get and, if necessary, flip that for something else.

I can’t prove or disprove those rumblings, but they’re out there.

6. One GM said this week he is now planning on a $69M cap — if the players don’t vote for the escalator. Ouch.

7. The Islanders now have three of their top defencemen (Calvin de Haan, Travis Hamonic, Nick Leddy) under contract for two more seasons with a combined cap hit of $11.3M. (The latter two are locked-in even longer.) That’s a ton of flexibility, considering the young defenders potentially available to them.

The team and agent are tight-lipped on the Johnny Boychuk front, but it’s believed the Islanders have made at least one offer that would make him the highest-paid player on the roster. Don’t go too crazy, John Tavares was at the top — $5.5M — which is now Leddy’s average, too.

8. Other than Boychuk, Snow’s heaviest lifting is further down the radar. Anders Lee and Brock Nelson are restricted free agents, while Tavares cannot be extended until July 2017.

One possibility, though, is taking care of Kyle Okposo, another cornerstone, who can receive a new contract July 1. Okposo is Islander born-and-bred, a player Charles Wang stepped in and ordered drafted when hockey operations considered going in another direction. (Okposo was the next name on the list, and the owner wanted protocol followed.) He’s unrestricted in 2016, after a contract paying him an average of $2.8M.

9. For all the rumours about Ryan O’Reilly, there are some teams who believe Patrick Roy plans on doing everything he can to salvage the relationship and avoid a trade. That will not be easy, since the leverage shifts to the player as he approaches unrestricted free agency in July 2016.

“I can’t blame (Roy),” one GM said. “Hard to find centres like (O’Reilly), always on the right side of the puck.”

It would take a change in the way the Avalanche do business, but it sounds like Roy is going to try.

10. The press box was packed with scouts for Arizona/New Jersey on Monday, and Jordin Tootoo was noticed. The Devils have him with Mike Cammalleri and Travis Zajac.

Tootoo recorded a point in his third straight game, the first time he’s done that since Feb. 2012. He played 10 minutes in just one of his first 38 games. He’s been above 15 in four of his past six, with the lowest at 13:56. Tootoo may get a rental shot.

11. It looks like there will be a changing of the guard in goal for the Sharks.

Antti Niemi’s name is already out there, as it appears unlikely San Jose will re-sign him. Alex Stalock hasn’t grabbed the job, and Troy Grosenick is out of the lineup in AHL Worcester. That has led to all sorts of speculation GM Doug Wilson is interested in a goalie (with term) to stabilize the position. (He would not comment.)

12. Wilson’s said several times he won’t mortgage the future, but will he add scoring to push for the playoffs?

The Sharks average 2.77 goals per game, which at 16th in the NHL, doesn’t look terrible. But, if you really examine it, their bottom six forwards have had severe scoring droughts. What really hurts is Tomas Hertl has one goal in his last 17 games and Matt Nieto one in his last 26.

The Sharks have cap room and like their centre depth with Chris Tierney looking like he’ll be a player. If he doesn’t want to give up futures, can Wilson get help?

13. Florida GM Dale Tallon held on for the third-rounder he wanted before trading Sean Bergenheim to Minnesota. Sounds like a couple other teams (I would guess Winnipeg among them) were hoping to do it for a fourth, but the Wild stepped up. You would expect those who lost out to increase their pursuit of Glencross and Daniel Winnik.

14. Tallon’s biggest decision might be Tomas Fleischmann.

According to a couple of sources, Fleischmann’s agent was given permission to find trade options earlier this season. (The agent, Richard Evans, would not comment.) One of the reasons it didn’t happen? The cap hit ($4.5M) was too prohibitive for many teams until now.

As we wake up, the Panthers are two points out of the playoffs. He’s being used again in offensive situations and has eight points in 12 February games. They’re going to need him to get in. Odds are Tallon waits as long as possible to see where things stand. Detroit and Washington know him well.

15. As Toronto goes through its rebuilding, here’s a stat to know. In the 2011-15 OHL Drafts, the teams with the most selections were Sault Ste. Marie (with 69) and London (67). Those GMs? Kyle Dubas and Mark Hunter, now members of the Maple Leafs’ front office. You can expect both men will carry this philosophy with them to the NHL. Picks, picks, and more picks.

16. There was some weird Twitter path in my timeline indicating I’d said Boston, Montreal and Pittsburgh were in a three-way race for Joffrey Lupul. Don’t know where that came from, but it’s not correct.

I do believe those teams have had interest in him, but this isn’t like Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson charging down the stretch at Daytona. Lupul has three years left on his contract, which is not an easy fit for the Bruins and Penguins, in particular.

17. Was thinking about Tampa GM Steve Yzerman’s comments about not liking the rental market. If he prefers a defenceman with term, Roman Polak might be the fit.

Yzerman is tight with Armstrong, who traded Polak to Toronto, and would get an honest appraisal. The Blues did not trade Polak because they disliked him, they traded him because, in a cap world, you have to make choices. He is not a perfect copy of Radko Gudas, who may be out for the year, but is from the same mold.

18. One opposing coach on the Lightning: “Fastest three lines we’ve seen all year.”

19. With Zbynek Michalek’s suspected concussion gumming up his status, one of the possibilities is Arizona trying to drive up the price by packaging him with Antoine Vermette.

Could see an Anaheim or a St. Louis considering it (or Chicago if it chooses to make a run with rentals). Other GMs expected Don Maloney to wait as late as possible to trade, opening up the opportunity to teams in tighter cap positions. It might also be to clear Michalek’s situation.

20. One GM on the Red Wings: “They’ve got cap room and a good team. Dangerous combination.” Ken Holland said earlier in the season he wanted to wait and see what he had. Well, he’s got a team good enough to win the Eastern Conference.

21. This is me spitballing, but if you’re Detroit and Toronto, would you do Dion Phaneuf for Stephen Weiss and Jakub Kindl? The Red Wings gain on the money (but just a little bit, unless some of Phaneuf’s salary is held back), the Maple Leafs gain on term.

22. Hockey Canada and USA Hockey aren’t too far away from naming their management teams for the 2016 World Cup. It’s possible announcements come before the playoffs.

For the Americans, Dean Lombardi is the odds-on favourite, assuming he wants the opportunity. For the Canadians, it would be a surprise if Steve Yzerman is not replaced by a member of his Olympic braintrust.

As for the Under-23 Team, Canada and the USA got together last week and did some “ghost rosters.” Apparently, the breakdown was close enough to eliminate the need for quotas, so the two countries will just go with the best, regardless of birth location. Only concern? “The goaltending,” said one source.

23. Vancouver’s Jacob Markstrom resumes his NHL career after a dominant season for AHL Utica.

Just to make it clear, since he is an emergency call-up, he can stay on the Canucks’ roster longer than 30 days without fear of waivers, should the team desire to send him back. But, if he plays (not just dresses) in 10, he will need to clear upon going down.

Florida had high hopes for Markstrom, but was frustrated by him at the end. Vancouver’s Roland Melanson began moving him deeper in the net once he was traded there, then handed-off this season’s responsibilities to Dan Cloutier.

Cloutier, who develops the team’s goaltending prospects, is very complimentary of Markstrom. “My biggest concern was how he was going to handle being sent down. He handled it better than I would have,” Cloutier said with a laugh on Monday. “It’s not easy. We’re all proud. We all want to be the guy. His attitude was excellent.”

24. Cloutier said there were three additional areas Markstrom worked on.

First: proper tracking after the initial shot. “As soon as he makes the save, we want his head and eyes down finding the puck. If your head goes, your body follows.” The alternative is trying to position yourself first, but not really knowing where the puck is. “Carey Price is, to me, the gold standard. As soon as he makes the save, he’s tracking down all the time. Stay big and square an extra half-second to find it.”

Second: better reads of a shooter’s release. “Don’t just drop,” Cloutier said. “Don’t make the first move (if you can avoid it) unless you read the release of the shooter.”

Third: Use the stick to knock away the puck when you can. “There are shots where you can’t do that. But, if you can use your stick to put the puck in the corner instead of out front, you can help your defencemen.” Often, the opportunity exists on longer attempts.

25. Markstrom is second in the AHL in goals against, third in save percentage, just .002 behind the leader, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s Matt Murray.

“I certainly think he can make the jump,” Cloutier said. “But I haven’t had to deal with him going through hiccups this year. He’s been that good. Every game I’ve seen him, he’s a star.”

That will be the next test for the 25-year-old, how he handles his first adversity.

26. Ottawa has eight defensemen under contract for next season, and it will be interesting to see how Mikael Wikstrand figures into their plans. The Swedish defender, a seventh-round pick in 2012, developed well and plans to be in North America. He’ll be 22 in November, and should get a good look in training camp. It’s no secret the Senators have looked at moving a defenceman, and he’s another reason they wouldn’t mind doing so.

27. Before Andrew Hammond made his first NHL start, Senators goalie coach Rick Wamsley told him about his own maiden voyage.

His first start came with the Canadiens, as both Michel Larocque and Richard Sevigny were injured. Denis Herron had the previous game, but lost, and Wamsley said the late Claude Ruel had a superstition of changing a goalie after a defeat.

Hammond outdid Wamsley, beating Montreal in his opener, while the coach managed a 2-2 tie (remember those?) with 36 saves. Wamsley was younger (22 to 27), but was the start of a 13-year-year career. Hammond will happily take a good chunk of that.

28. Nathan Beaulieu set a personal high for minutes played in a game three times in his last four outings, culminating with 25:29 in St. Louis Tuesday night.

“We had to make him understand that creating two chances a game was not good, if he was giving up six,” AHL Hamilton coach Sylvain Lefebvre said. “He’s learned that.”

Lefebvre added that Beaulieu fighting David Clarkson after Clarkson knocked down Sergei Gonchar “showed how much (Beaulieu) wanted to stay, because it wasn’t something he’d normally do.”

29. Lefebvre also shared intel on Greg Pateryn and Jarred Tinordi, also getting their opportunities now.

Pateryn scored 15 goals last year as a power-play option. “He’s got a great shot, and we used his one-timer. But he wasn’t going to get that time in Montreal. So we asked him if he could make a contribution without the power-play.” He is doing that.

As for Tinordi, he’s got a bit of Tyler Myers in him, brutally hard on himself. “He’d make a mistake and stay down on himself. He’d be on the bench, upset at letting down his teammates.” Lefebvre wants him to let it go and get ready for the next play. In addition, Tinordi’s got to show effective physical play and an ability to complete quick breakout passes, something he’s done in the AHL but not yet in the NHL.

30. Could not stay for all of Steve Montador’s memorial service last Saturday, but what a beautiful, emotional tribute from former junior teammate Steve Valiquette.

Before he died, Montador said he was joining a lawsuit against the NHL, not for concussions, but for quality of medical care.

I don’t profess to know who is right and who is wrong on this issue. There are strong arguments and people of character on both sides. Listening to the stories last weekend and feeling the pain in the room, I just hope the NHL and NHLPA are asking themselves, “Are we doing everything we can for these players when they begin the extremely difficult transition out of the game?”