The Calgary Flames needed to effect significant change this summer and they started that process Saturday with a trade that made sense on several levels.
In whopper of a five-player deal that addressed both team’s summer goals, the Flames shipped Dougie Hamilton, Micheal Ferland and the rights to Harvard hotshot Adam Fox to Carolina for Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm.
The Flames got faster, younger and more versatile with the move, which could have the effect of not only shoring up their top line but reinvigorating the team’s top defensive pairing.
Coach Bill Peters, who had heavy influence on the move as he’d coached in Carolina the last four years, said he’s pencilling in the playmaking Lindholm alongside Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan.
He’s also planning to return T.J. Brodie to the right side with Mark Giordano where the slumping defenceman had previously played his best hockey.
Noah Hanifin, 21, has similar size and posted the exact same number of points Hamilton did his first three years (83) and is considered an elite skater who was drafted fifth overall in 2015 for a reason. With Travis Hamonic by his side they’ll form a far more formidable second defensive unit than the Flames had last year with Hamonic and Brodie.
Lindholm is a 23-year-old right-handed centre who has also played plenty on the right side. His 16 goals and 44 points are similar to Ferland’s numbers (21 goals, 41 points) and has played on both special teams, giving the Flames plenty of options as they continue adding players through free agency.
Yet, the knee-jerk reaction in Calgary Saturday revolved around the notion the Flames lost the deal because the 20th-place club parted ways with the best of the five players.
On paper, sure, Hamilton was a stud, with a league-leading 17 goals as a defenceman.
However, the reality is, Hamilton was the player the Flames most wanted to part with, as he was the poster boy for a squad that had far too many players who seemed all too content with the shocking number of losses that mounted down the stretch.
Despite having most of the tools and stats a player could possibly possess, the 6-foot-6, 210-pound offensive blueliner has now been traded twice in four seasons – a rarity for a player with his numbers and stature.
A red flag for most teams, making him harder to trade than casual observers would think. Thus, the Flames had to sweeten the pot.
After the Flames waived his brother, Freddie in January, several things Hamilton did in the latter stages of this season indicated he wasn’t happy here.
Read between the lines on Brad Treliving’s rationale behind moving Hamilton and it’s clear problems existed.
“Dougie is a terrific talent on the ice,” said the Flames GM.
“I think I have a good and open relationship with players and so there’s things I’m not going to share. We take everything on and off the ice into consideration here. I’m going to keep that stuff internal.”
Treliving explained the addition of Fox in the mix was essentially out of necessity. He wasn’t coming to Calgary. Ever.
“We obviously felt, and got to a conclusion, that after talking to his representative it was clear there was a potential for a signing issue,” said Treliving, who has made a splash at the draft three of the last four years.
The GM tried hard to convince Harvard’s top defenceman to join the pro ranks next spring, but the 20-year-old U.S. world junior star committed instead to a third year in college. After his fourth year he’s free to shop himself around the league, which is exactly what the Flames fear he’ll do. So they used him as (diminished) currency.
The most painful throw-in was Ferland, whose size, physicality and 21 goals this year demonstrated an upside that will land the 26-year-old significant money on the open market next summer.
The Flames would have lost him then, without compensation.
“It hurt trading Micheal Ferland,” said Treliving of the 6-foot-2, 210-pound wrecking ball who frustrated many with his inconsistency.
“I love this kid. Sometimes the business part of the game gets in the way. He’s a UFA at the end of the year and he’s a good player and they make money.”
Lindholm and Hanifin, both drafted fifth overall, are in need of contracts as restricted free agents.
The Hurricanes were reportedly $700,000 apart annually on a deal for Lindholm, making it easier for new owner Tom Dundon to include the 23-year-old Swede in any of the deals needed to show his fan base change is afoot.
By virtue of their age and restricted free agent status, both Lindholm and Hanifin will be Flames for many years, which couldn’t be said about any of the three Flames traded Saturday.
Both spoke excitedly about the opportunity to play in a city where hockey matters. The Boston-based Hanifin knows Matthew Tkachuk and Gaudreau well.
Lindholm has connections with Mikael Backlund and received news of the trade while attending Sweden’s World Cup match in Russia.
Peters said Saturday Hanifin would likely be the lone defenceman on the team’s second power-play unit, as he was in Carolina.
“Noah has already talked to Chucky (Tkachuk) and Johnny and are excited for the opportunity,” said Peters.
“They’re elite players and elite people and I know they want to win. We’ve got a real nice young core here of players under 23 and 24 who are exciting.”
The Hurricanes can sell Hamilton’s scoring prowess to a casual hockey market, can use Ferland’s size and physicality on a smaller team and can dream big about the outside chance Fox will sign there.
The Flames, well, they just upped the all-important character in their room by addition and subtraction.
“We’ve given up some pieces here but as the season ended and the summer progressed we wanted to look at changing the mix here,” said Treliving, who is now expected to weigh in heavily on the free agent market.
“We did some things here that addressed some issues. We love the players coming in – we think they’re young, smart, they’ve got skill. Good players left us, but you have to give to get.
“Now we continue trying to keep getting better.”