Flames Mailbag: What’s next for Hanifin, Lindholm and Backlund?

Calgary Flames' Elias Lindholm, right, celebrates his goal against the New Jersey Devils with Noah Hanifin during second period NHL hockey action in Calgary, Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022. (Larry MacDougal/CP)

It’s the middle of August and what we thought was going to be a very busy summer for the Calgary Flames hasn’t necessarily played out as such, at least when it comes to player movement.

Yes, the Flames sent Tyler Toffoli to New Jersey and then swapped out a few players in free agency. But the high volume of significant movement expected by many has yet to transpire and may not before the start of training camp in a few weeks.

Noah Hanifin, Elias Lindholm, Mikael Backlund, and a number of others are all entering the final year of contracts and all remain unsigned and on Calgary’s roster. It’s no surprise that most of our latest Flames Mailbag is dominated by the futures of those players.

Let’s dive in.

From everything I’m led to believe, the delay on trading Hanifin is simple: strong offers just haven’t been there. That’s due in part to the NHL’s current flat cap economy, which is holding up player movement around the league. Too many teams are in tight cap situations right now.

Plus, the entire league knows the predicament faced by general manager Craig Conroy with so many key players less than a year away from unrestricted free agency. Other GM’s aren’t throwing life jackets Conroy’s way right now. But that doesn’t mean he should panic on a deal involving Hanifin.

Hanifin is arguably Calgary’s number one trade chip. We’re talking about a 26-year-old defenceman with almost 600 NHL games to his name here. Hanifin slots as a top pair D on most NHL teams and is a number three at worst; he plays 23 minutes a night, gets you 40 points a year, and skates at an elite level.

A player of Hanifin’s calibre should be netting multiple strong assets in a trade, whether we’re talking about high picks, prospects or young NHLers. The Flames have set their price and are willing to stick to it, even if that means entering the season with Hanifin on the roster.

A couple teams come to mind here. Detroit has been busy this summer with additions like Alex DeBrincat and more recently Jeff Petry. But the Red Wings are still looking at just under $6 million in cap space, according to Cap Friendly. It feels like Detroit is ready to start pushing for a playoff return, so I’m not convinced general manager Steve Yzerman is done yet.

In a very similar situation is Buffalo. The Sabres were in the playoff fight until the bitter end last season and with a playoff drought more than a decade long, finally getting back to the dance is a priority. This team feels ready to make noise and a player like Hanifin or Lindholm would make Buffalo instantly better. They also have around $6 million in cap space to make something happen.

I see things a little differently than Ryan on this one. Offers on Backlund have been soft, which is fine. But even at 34, Backlund is still an extremely effective two-way centre coming off the best season of his career. It would be silly of Calgary to trade him just for the sake of it.

Patience is a virtue in Backlund’s case more than anyone else in this conversation. If he’s having another season similar to his last one, Backlund will be very sought after leading up to the trade deadline. Backlund finished sixth in Selke Trophy voting last year and those are the types of players that can push Stanley Cup hopefuls over the top.

And if the offers don’t improve, that’s okay too. Backlund has spent more than 900 games in a Flames uniform and has been associated with the organization for more than 15 years since being drafted in 2007. If Backlund opts to walk away in free agency, the team can shake his hand and say thanks for the great career and benefit from an additional $5.35 million of cap space.

I love questions like this and I really want to focus on the Jonathan Huberdeau portion. There’s no question getting way more out of Huberdeau this year is a massive priority for Calgary. Huberdeau starts his eight-year, $84 million contract this season and the Flames just can’t have him under 60 points for a second straight year.

If Lindholm starts the season in Calgary, on a new deal or otherwise, I like the idea of trying him as Huberdeau’s centre again. Lindholm and Huberdeau spent the first month of last season on the same line before being broken apart and were never put back together. I know they didn’t develop great chemistry off the hop, but I think it’s worth giving it another try with the team’s best centre and most dangerous winger.

We all know the experiment to put Hubereau on the right side failed last year, so we’d be talking about him at his natural left wing position. And that opens the door for newly acquired Yegor Sherangovich at right wing, which intrigues me a lot. Left-handed Sherangovich has played his off wing before and would be on a line with Huberdeau, Calgary’s best distributor. With how well Sherangovich shoots it, I love the idea of high-end passes on his stick with a more direct path to the net.

Since it’s already mid August and the Flames haven’t made a move involving a goaltender, I think the possibility of Wolf starting in the American League is strong. But as the question suggests, it doesn’t have to be that way all season. There are a few different ways to open up room for the two-time defending AHL Goaltender of the Year.

The most obvious way to make that happen is by making a trade, most likely involving Dan Vladar. And with a very stagnant trade market across the league, that might have to wait until the season is underway. That would mean Wolf, who is waiver exempt this coming season, may have to start the season in the minors until a roster spot opens up.

There’s also a middle ground. Because Wolf is exempt from waivers, and because the AHL Wranglers also play out of Calgary, there’s a chance to pick and choose some additional NHL starts for Wolf. The Flames could pinpoint spots on the schedule where starting Wolf makes sense, recall him from the AHL, and then send him back. We’ve seen it done before and it would alleviate the frustrations that go along with carrying three goalies permanently.

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