Flames’ Markstrom trade signals outright rebuild

Sportsnet's Ryan Leslie joins The Jeff Marek Show to discuss the Calgary Flames' motivation for trading star goaltender Jacob Markstrom to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for defenceman Kevin Bahl and a top-10 protected 2025 pick.

The retool has officially become a rebuild in Calgary.

That’s not a criticism.  

That’s the reality of trading Jacob Markstrom — the Flames’ most valuable player, at the most important position, for a 2025 first-round pick and a young defenceman.

On the heels of swapping out five significant veterans over the last handful of months, a significantly younger squad will now start the season with a pair of netminders who have combined for just 82 NHL starts under their belt.

No longer can they rely on 34-year-old Markstrom to keep them in games like he did the first three quarters of last season.

That job will now be in the hands of 23-year-old Dustin Wolf and 26-year-old Dan Vladar, who is coming off major hip surgery.

Despite having several pillars and plenty of leadership on the roster, the road ahead for the Flames is now bound to be even rockier than it was last season, when the team stayed on the periphery of the playoff race until the trade deadline.

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But it’s the right road to take.

After all, Markstrom wanted out after seeing several of his closest pals exit last year.

Short of making an official trade demand, he let it be known he wasn’t keen on the departures and the way things unfolded last year.

He wants to win, which is what he originally signed up to do in Calgary, when things were moving in a far different direction.

He wasn’t interested in spending the last two years of his contract on a team destined to finish outside of the playoff picture for the foreseeable future.

As a person close to Markstrom told Sportsnet earlier this week, the goalie wasn’t really contemplating the possibility of returning to Calgary in the fall.

The Flames want and need to begin the Wolf era, and with time running out on Markstrom’s career, the towering Swede couldn’t have fathomed splitting time with the AHL star.

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A trade was inevitable.

The allure of joining the up-and-coming Devils was strong — something he wished the Flames would have made happen at the trade deadline.

In a league in which very few potential Cup contenders have both the ability and desire to spend resources on upgrading to a goalie of his calibre, it was the Devils or bust for him, complicating the Flames’ predicament.

Holding all the cards with a full no-movement clause, Markstrom wasn’t very interested in approving a move anywhere else. 

He denied it was a one-team ultimatum Wednesday, but only recently was Markstrom amenable to allowing the Flames to gauge his market value elsewhere, with an eye on coming back to the Devils.

And now it’s done, ending what everyone knew would be the organization’s biggest drama of the summer. 

Conroy had vowed since Day 1 to rid the team of anyone who didn’t want to be in Calgary, making the trade a matter of time.

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On Wednesday the Flames cashed out, retaining 31.25 per cent of Markstrom’s $6 million salary and acquiring 23-year-old defenceman Kevin Bahl, as well as the 2025 first rounder, which is top-10 draft protected.

Should the Devils somehow falter next season, even after addressing their biggest need, the Flames would get New Jersey’s first rounder in 2026, without parameters.

Yes, with timelines like that, it’s getting clearer the goal in Calgary is finally to try coinciding the opening of its new building in 2027 with a team on the upswing.

They have to pay lip service to the contrary, but the reality is clear — there are significant growing pains ahead.

“Today’s trade demonstrates our focus on the infusion of young talented players into our roster as well as acquiring important draft capital, while maintaining our commitment as a playoff competitive team,” said Conroy, who has no choice but to continue suggesting the playoffs are a possibility.

“We thank Jacob for his professionalism and understanding of our decision to make this trade now and at this stage in his career.”

We’re pretty sure he’ll understand.

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“For quite some time, we had identified Kevin Bahl as a priority player,” said Conroy of the second-rounder who has 25 points in the 148 games he’s played over the last four years.  

“He is a strong defender with size who plays an assertive game with tremendous presence. While his six-foot-six, 230-lb. frame is an imposing asset, he uses his body intelligently, has good mobility and makes smart puck decisions. Kevin fits our identity, and we are excited to acquire him now as he can continue to grow with our group.”

A quick survey of scouts tout Bahl as a big, tough, solid No. 4 or 5 shutdown defenceman who is not going to wow anyone with his offence. A kid who improved immensely last year over 82 games.

Growing is the key word you’ll hear plenty of in Calgary moving forward.

That’s all they can do, making a top-tier goalie like Markstrom an asset best to be dealt.

Instead of the win-now mantra the Flames have forever rode into four decades of being in the mushy-middle, actions like these demonstrate a changing approach.

Even if they won’t outright say it. 

Debate all you want over whether Conroy should have received more for the former Vezina finalist, the reality is his options were limited.

The return was destined to be underwhelming.

It’s best for all that the Band-Aid has been ripped off.

But the pain of it is bound to linger.

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