Quick Shifts: Calgary Flames at centre of trade noise in Nashville

A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep. Now boarding Zone 2 for Nashville!

1. Craig Conroy showed up for the first day of school and the teacher slapped a pile of final exams on his desk. Go!

Taking their cues from Matthew Tkachuk, who took control of his own fate one summer before free agency, so many of the best players on a mediocre hockey team want clarity on their future now.

Calgary Flames top-four defenceman Noah Hanifin has requested a trade. Top centre Elias Lindholm is on the fence. Top-six winger Tyler Toffoli would like a change of scenery too, please. All become UFAs in 2024.

Only Hanifin (eight-team no-trade list) has any sort of trade protection, but as was the case with Tkachuk, it serves all parties best to orchestrate a trade to a desired location. That way, the player can sign an extension with his new team, which is likelier to surrender better assets if it’s acquiring something more than a one-year rental.

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How do Calgary’s other members of the 2024 UFA class — hopeful captain Mikael Backlund and rugged D-men Chris Tanev and Nikita Zadorov — feel about a potential mass exodus away from the newly appointed rookie GM and a rookie head coach?

All of this stress falls into the hands of Conroy, mere days before his first time running the draft table and rubber-stamping the organization’s free-agency decisions.

How Conroy navigates these troubled waters — filled with sharks licking their chops at a chance to net one of the best centres, wingers and defencemen on the market — could define his career as a manager.

He’s coming off the bench cold and needs to save the game.

We know Conroy is scarred from the great Johnny Gaudreau fiasco of 2022, but patience is imperative here. The GM still has leverage here.

Yes, most significant trade business will be conducted in Nashville, but Hanifin, Lindholm and Toffoli don’t need to be dealt by week’s end. They’ll hold value until the 2024 trade deadline and should be inspired to perform well in their contract years.

It falls upon Conroy — who may have suddenly supplanted Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff as the most popular man in Music City — to strike the right deal(s) here. Not the quick one.

For his decisions with these three players could shape how, and how fast, the Flames get back on the track to contention.

2. More people clicked on headlines about the few NHLers who refused to wear Pride sweaters in warmups than tales of the (vast majority) of hockey players who do believe in inclusion.

As a result, commissioner Gary Bettman has done away with all specialty sweaters to avoid a p.r. headache.

Feels like step backward for a league that loves to claim “hockey is for everyone.” (As well as a step backward for creativity. Plenty of the specialty sweaters looked slick.)

Optimistically, jerseys are not the only way to raise awareness. Work can still be done. The players have a voice.

“With issues like that, with movements like that, I’ll support them, no matter what, whether we wear jerseys or not,” Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly told reporters Thursday. “That support is not going to go away.”

3. Word is Matvei Michkov won’t drift past the Washington Capitals, who hold the eighth-overall selection in the draft. Does the talented Russian go as early as fifth overall to Montreal? Even higher?

St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong has three first-rounders in the draft, but none earlier than 10th.

“I wouldn’t run scared of drafting Russians,” Armstrong said on a call with reporters this week.

“Three years is a fast track, quite honestly, for anybody outside of the top 15 to be an impact player.”

Minnesota’s Kirill Kaprizov waited five years after his draft to play on this side of the Atlantic. The Wild believe he was worth the wait.

4. Kyle Dubas’s approach to July 1 in Pittsburgh sounds a lot like his approach to July 1 in Toronto:

“I don’t think they’re going to be the big, splashy type of UFAs,” Dubas said Friday of his targets.

“They’ll probably be more subtle bets. We’ll need to hit on them in order to have success. But I don’t think you’ll see us in the market for the long-term, highly expensive forwards, especially in free agency.”

5. Quote of the Week:

“They had their conversation, and then at the end of the call, Patrice said, ‘Holy smokes, Vegas is going to hire Bruce Cassidy, and they’re going to win the Stanley Cup next year.’ ” —Golden Knights president George McPhee, explaining how he asked Mark Stone to phone Patrice Bergeron for a Bruce Cassidy scouting report before the coach’s hiring.

6. Jonathan Marchessault took a break from watching William Karlsson shirtless and braggadocios to give an excellent interview on Spittin’ Chiclets.

The Conn Smythe champ supplies plenty of golden nuggets on the podcast, including healthy scratch Phil Kessel’s inspirational pre-game speech ahead of the clincher: If you guys make me get on a plane and fly all the way back to Florida …

Marchessault also makes it clear that the Golden Knights’ second-round series against the Edmonton Oilers was their toughest obstacle (aggregate score: 22-19). He says the Knights were “lucky” Darnell Nurse got suspended in addition to Alex Pietrangelo for Game 5.

“It has to be the hardest matchup we had. Like, you had a two-goal lead, and you were never safe. That was just an elite team. The thing is, we had to be disciplined. I’ve never seen anything like it,” Marchessault said.

“Even 4-on-4 was not good for our team. So, that was a big factor. The 5-on-5 game, we know we were better than them, so that’s where we got them a little bit.”

Marchessault admitted that Vegas was so fortunate with its health during the tournament that they could’ve played a fifth series if necessary.

And then there was this response to the idea of Paul Bissonnette’s beloved Maple Leafs inching toward a Stanley Cup of their own:

“It’s hard for me to see it. I just don’t know. Like, they get past the first round, and they lose in five to a team (Florida) that I think was — they were hot at the right time, obviously — but I mean, I don’t know,” Marchessault said of the Leafs.

“It’s hard for me to see. There’s a lot of things that need to change if they want to win.”

7. With the salary cap set to rise to only $83.5 million for 2023-24 and the lower limit projected at $61.7 million, six teams are under the floor: New Jersey, Carolina, Detroit, Arizona, Chicago and Anaheim.

The Devils will have no issue making it, with seven RFAs headlined by an expected whopper deal for Timo Meier.

Once the Hurricanes sign a second goalie and/or Jesper Fast and/or Jordan Staal, they’ll be set.

The Red Wings are fascinating because they’re loaded with picks (five in the first two rounds) and cap space and could make a splash in free agency and/or trade should Steve Yzerman choose. It’s why the Alex DeBrincat rumours persist.

The Ducks have a host of RFAs to satisfy — Trevor Zegras, Troy Terry, Jamie Drysdale, Simon Benoit — but will still have room to take on a decent contract if they wish, especially if they can find a new home for goalie John Gibson.

Rebuilding Chicago ($15.7 million below the floor) and Arizona ($10.1 million below) are wild cards. They can weaponize their cap space or simply save money for a brighter day.

How many salary-dump trade calls have Kyle Davidson and Bill Armstrong been fielding these days?

8. The Washington Capitals have whipped a U-turn when it comes to their coaching staff.

Previously, they brought in the experienced Peter Laviolette, who leaned heavily on an aging veteran core — “perhaps at expense of developing kids and letting them make mistakes,” said a D.C. source.

Laviolette was known to short-leash Washington’s younger skaters. An example: Scratching first-rounder Alexander Alexeyev in favour of 35-year-old Matt Irwin.

He also had little patience for talented first-rounder Jakub Vrana, who — two trades later — might have gained traction in St. Louis (10 goals, 14 points in 20 games for the Blues).

Now the Capitals bench will be run by the youngest head coach in the NHL, Spencer Carbery, and assisted by 39-year-old Mitch Love, both relatively fresh out of the AHL and lauded for their development skills.

The Capitals’ farm team, the Hershey Bears, just won the Calder Cup, and prospects Connor McMichael and Hendrix Lapierre will be eager for a legitimate shot in the show.

Finally, it’s all about the youth in Washington.

The dance now becomes: How does rookie Carbery command a dressing room run by championship veterans Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstom, T.J. Oshie and John Carlson?

9. Todd Nelson, 56, guided that Bears squad to a dramatic Game 7 overtime Cup win.

Way back in 2014-15, Nelson got his lone NHL head coaching taste as an interim for the Edmonton Oilers and missed the playoffs. He was an assistant for the Atlanta Thrashers from 2008-10 and the Dallas Stars from 2018-22.

In effort to get back into the top league, would Nelson take another NHL assistant gig? (Toronto has an opening.) Or now that he’s won a second Calder Cup (Grand Rapids Griffins, 2017, was the other), does Nelson hold out for a head job?

He has certainly earned another shot.

10. Laviolette was surely hired by the Rangers to win now.

Neither Kaapo Kakko nor Alexis Lafreniere reached their (too?) lofty expectations under previous coaches David Quinn or Gerard Gallant.

Curious to see if the high-pick forwards can make their step under Laviolette, who arrives prioritizing a high standard of work ethic.

11. We get it.

The Hockey Hall of Fame selection committee is playing the makeup game with goaltenders, inviting O-Pee-Chee legends Tom Barrasso and Mike Vernon to join Henrik Lundqvist at the November gala.

But maybe it’s time to make up the deficiency and discrepancy of women in the Hall. The doors have been opened to women only since 2010. Caroline Ouellette will be just the 10th female inductee.

The Hall is dragging behind history and still averaging fewer than one woman inductee per year.

Catch up faster.

12. An under-the-radar UFA is Group 6 forward Matthew Phillips.

The late-blooming centre is hot off a 36-goal, 76-point season for the Calgary Wranglers.

Cap-tight teams would love to find themselves the next Michael Bunting, and the 25-year-old Phillips is hinting at that kind of potential.

Of course, Conroy would be familiar. So, too, would be the Leafs’ Brad Treliving, who drafted and signed him. And Washington’s Love, who coached him.

Perhaps a diamond in the rough.