More than five weeks before the NHL’s trade deadline, it appears unlikely the Calgary Flames will be significant players in the annual swap meet.
Their top two forward lines have long been solidified and productive, their top five defencemen form one of the league’s best groups and their goaltending has been their backbone all season.
Mark Jankowski’s arrival has turned an abysmal third line into a force by moving Sam Bennett to the wing, opposite Garnet Hathaway.
Sure, they could use a Max Pacioretty or Mike Hoffman to bolster their top nine.
But at what cost?
Perhaps the much better question revolves around a possibility that came to light Thursday in the nation’s capital.
Ottawa Senators GM Pierre Dorion said that while signing Erik Karlsson to an extension past next season is his priority, he’ll listen to offers as the Swedish defenceman has made it clear he’ll chase the biggest dollars in the summer of 2019.
Lloyd Christmas and fans around the league were heard saying, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance.”
Flames GM Brad Treliving works the phones as much as anyone in the league and, like half the NHL’s GMs, has probably asked himself, “What if…”
What if the Flames kept with their ongoing desire to build from the back end by acquiring the two-time Norris Trophy winner?
On a blue line stacked with Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton, T.J. Brodie, Travis Hamonic and Michael Stone, the obvious question is, how would he fit in?
The answer: you’d find a way.
There’s always room for a defenceman capable of posting a point a game, as he has most of his career.
Again, at what cost?
The Flames have built a war chest of solid young prospects, not just on the farm but in junior and the NCAA where Harvard rearguard Adam Fox is one of the very best in college hockey.
Although devoid of significant draft picks for the next few years, what if the Flames offered up a package that included Fox, a top goalie prospect (former NCAA champ Jon Gillies or former Memorial Cup/world junior champ Tyler Parsons) and another stud defensive prospect in either Rasmus Andersson or Oliver Kylington?
Would you do it then if you were in the Flames camp?
Would the Senators bite?
Would the Flames have to include a roster player as well?
Or is that too high a price for a year-and-a-half rental of arguably the NHL’s best defenceman over the last seven years?
Keep in mind, as good as Fox has been at the world juniors for the U.S. the last two years, he represents a potential flight risk should the sophomore play four years at Harvard and then choose to avoid Calgary’s crowded blue line and sign elsewhere.
Make no mistake, the bidding would be highly competitive.
This wouldn’t be a fire sale, so the asking price will be enormous, and there would be competition.
But this could be a rare chance to snag a 27-year-old Norris Trophy winner in his prime.
As Flames fans saw in the team’s 2004 run to the Stanley Cup Final, the post-season war of attrition can require upwards of nine defencemen to complete the journey.
Perhaps none would be more important than the lead dog, like Karlsson, who could do wonders to help the Flames’ ho-hum power play.
The Flames are one of the few teams that has the cap space to absorb Karlsson’s $6.5-million salary this year and next (according to CapFriendly the Flames have $5.8 million in cap space this year – a huge asset).
Or would his addition jeopardize the re-signing of unrestricted free agent Mikael Backlund, who is in line for somewhere around $6 million annually next year?
The Flames can afford to give up a goalie prospect, as they have several options, including a stellar duo with Mike Smith and David Rittich.
Likewise on the blue line, where first round pick Juuso Valimaki may start pushing for NHL employment next year despite the fact the big club has five spots sewn up by veterans.
None of this is designed to start rumours, but to start an interesting debate on whether it’s possible to have too many cooks in the kitchen with regards to the blue line.
Or whether the Flames are good enough to be pushing their chips into the middle this year.
Perhaps the focus should instead be on adding a depth forward, which is much easier.
The Flames are a good team on a roll right now, capable of being one of many squads fighting for those final playoff spots in the West.
How can they become great?
A Hall of Fame defenceman would help.
It would be a bold move, the likes of which Treliving has made before as he’s given up huge futures for Hamilton and Hamonic, and to a lesser extent Smith.
Are the Flames truly talented and deep enough to challenge for the Stanley Cup just yet?
That’s up to management to decide.
If so, Karlsson represents an opportunity too rare to turn a blind eye to.
Let the debate begin, as you can bet it has already begun internally.