Sunday, June 24, 2018

Flames Get Younger and Different in Blockbuster Trade with Carolina

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There's an adage that you always overvalue your own.

It applies to fan bases and players on your favourite team. It also applies to those fantastic household items that never fetch what you were hoping for when you try to sell them at a garage sale.

Flames GM Brad Treliving pulled the trigger on a blockbuster trade on Saturday afternoon, shipping away two NHL players and a prospect to the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for two NHL players.

Gone are 25-year-old defenceman Dougie Hamilton, 26-year-old winger Micheal Ferland and 20-year-old blueline prospect Adam Fox. In return, Calgary receives 23-year-old right-shooting centre/right winger Elias Lindholm and 21-year-old left-shooting defenceman Noah Hanifin.

The reaction in some circles, to say the least, has been extreme and not very complimentary to the front office. Perusing comments online, there’s a lot of anger over what Calgary gave up. It comes as no surprise either given that’s the part of the trade Flames fans are closest to. With attachment comes feelings and emotion — and often intense emotion. In that regard, yesterday would have felt like a bad break-up for many fans. Pass the ice cream, and can I please get a hug.

Fans know Hamilton. They know last season he was tied with Victor Hedman and Ivan Provorov as the NHL’s top-scoring defenceman with 17 goals. Fans know the capabilities of Ferland, who had 19 goals in his first 42 games last year. Fans know the upside of Fox, who has starred with Team USA at the last two World Juniors.

When you look strictly at the upside of those pieces, then sure, that is a lot to give up. In fact, viewed through that lens, the price was too steep.

But that’s also over simplifying it.

Outgoing Pieces

Dougie Hamilton
As Hamilton, who just turned 25, moves onto his third NHL organization already, you have to wonder why. It’s not his analytics, which are good. It’s not his counting numbers, which are also good. But there is more to a player’s overall make-up. On the ice, there are other elements to one’s game like physicality and intensity/will-to-win (see Matthew Tkachuk) that aren’t as easily measured or quantified.

Then there’s the player off the ice. Was he the right fit in the room? I’m not implying anything because I don’t know anything and there’s no mud-slinging coming from Treliving, but I do know it’s highly unusual for ninth overall picks of his magnitude to be dealt multiple times this early in their career. So one does wonder what the negatives are with this particular player, because there does appear to be some.

Micheal Ferland
Ferland, at his best, is a tremendous talent. But how often he was at his best is certainly up for debate. Inconsistency haunted him his entire time in Calgary. Even last year. After that blazing start, he finished the year with two goals in his final 35 games. So did they trade away a first-line player? Or did they trade away a fourth line player?

Also a significant factor is Ferland is one year away from unrestricted free agency and may not have been in the future plans anyway. With a 20+ goal season on his resume now, his price on the open market may not have been commensurate with his projected usage. i.e. The Flames would not want to pay him top-six money to play in their bottom six.

Then there’s Fox. Prospects are always coveted by fans  because as they ascend towards the NHL, they are usually impressive everywhere they stop. Fox’s showings at the last two World Juniors, his time with the U.S. National Team Development Program before that, and his play in college, had fans giddy about the calibre of player the 2016 third rounder could one day become. But would he ever realize that potential in Calgary? Returning to Harvard for a third year as he has already committed to means he is also one year closer to being able to go the free agent route and sign with anyone, which becomes an option in the summer of 2020.

Relations between the player and the team were good, but Treliving spoke Saturday about the growing uncertainty about their ability to be able to sign the native of Jericho, New York. While Fox had huge upside to Calgary, the team who owned his rights, how much would another team be willing to spend to acquire him, knowing the uncertainty they’d be inheriting?

Incoming Pieces

Seemingly lost in all this, or at least under-stated, are the pieces acquired.

Both Lindholm and Hanifin were highly touted top-five draft picks not that long ago, who are relative unknowns thanks to the North Carolina market they're buried in.

Elias Lindholm
Lindholm was selected one pick ahead of Sean Monahan in 2013. He’s just 23. His offensive totals haven’t been nearly as gaudy as Monahan, but his numbers have been on the rise and the belief is that there’s great upside with the young Swede, who could very well end up operating on the same line as Monahan in October. With Johnny Gaudreau on the other wing, could he finally be the right wing fit the organization has been searching for?

Meanwhile, Hanifin is just 21 and already has three years of NHL experience on his resume. Last year he participated in the NHL All-Star Game. Selected fifth overall in 2015, the Boston native immediately steps into the club’s top four, likely in the spot of TJ Brodie on the second pairing with Brodie jumping up to the top pairing alongside Mark Giordano. Moving Brodie back to the right side is something new coach Bill Peters hinted at when he was hired and re-iterated again on Saturday from the draft in Dallas.

Noah Hanifin
It’s safe to say that Carolina Hurricanes games aren’t very high on most people’s lists when it comes to what NHL game to turn on in the winter. For that reason, Hanifin and Lindholm are very much unknown commodities still to many. That said, they’re not new to Calgary’s new head coach, who endorsed the acquisition of both of them.

It’s fitting that the trade happened at the draft as these were two coveted players in the draft not that long ago. While it’s too early too pass judgement that they are both superstars in the making, it’s also far too early to assume they’re not.

Final Word

In analyzing the trade, the age of the newly acquired Flames is the other very relevant piece to the discussion. Both will remain under team control for a long time. These are pieces acquired not just for the current, but for the future too.

With Giordano turning 35 prior to this upcoming season, one doesn’t have to squint very hard to envision Hanifin and 2017 first rounder Juuso Valimaki, turning 20 in October, as making up the left side of the club’s top four a few years down the road. With Rasmus Andersson, turning 22 in October, on the right side, Calgary’s got some real nice, young pieces on defence.

With the emergence of Matthew Tkachuk up front, the long-awaited arrival of Mark Jankowski, the hoped-for breakthrough of Andrew Mangiapane and Spencer Foo. With Dillon Dube and Glenn Gawdin in the pipeline. With Gaudreau and Monahan still south of age 25 also and now add in Lindholm, that’s a real nice youthful foundation up front as well. Plus, there’s still Sam Bennett if the club can ever get him on track.

The consensus this off-season after the coaching change is that Treliving was stapling his future to Peters. Perhaps instead, he’s pushing all his chips in on Carolina in general. Or, make that ex-Carolina.

The debate will continue to swirl until October, as will the venom as the die-hard Hamilton supporters are not a quiet bunch, but for those of the opinion that Calgary got fleeced in Saturday’s trade, my suggestion is try holding a garage sale. You’ll learn that some things just aren’t as valuable to others as they are to you. It sucks, but it’s true.