Monday, June 17, 2024

Could the Senators and Flames be trade partners this summer?

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At the beginning of the 2023-24 season, the Calgary Flames and the Ottawa Senators envisioned themselves as playoff teams.

For different reasons, it didn’t happen.

The veteran-laden Flames began their retooling by selling pending unrestricted free agents when it became evident a playoff run was unlikely. Calgary finished with four more points in the NHL standings than Ottawa, whose core wasn’t ready to escape the rebuild phase yet.

Both teams want to return to playoff competitiveness in 2024-25, but it can’t happen with their rosters as currently constructed. It might mean a significant trade is plausible for either team.

Both general managers Craig Conroy and Steve Staios are relatively new on the job and want to put their stamp on the roster. And when you consider that Staios and Conroy were teammates in Calgary, perhaps there’s an easy line of communication for a pair of GMs hoping to elicit change in their respective organizations.

So, could the Flames and Senators work as trade partners?

The Athletic’s Julian McKenzie and Ian Mendes answered a few questions below to determine the viability of a trade between both sides. And they came up with a half dozen trade proposals for readers to consider.

How much pressure is on the GM to shake up the roster this summer?

McKenzie: Flames players made their voices heard during their exit meetings. They want to make the playoffs next season. You can’t blame them for thinking that way considering the age and stage of their core pieces (think guys like Nazem Kadri, Blake Coleman, MacKenzie Weegar, Jonathan Huberdeau, etc.).

The fans would rather the team continue retooling — as an alternative to rebuilding. Especially if it means giving younger players like Connor Zary, Martin Pospisil and Matthew Coronato more opportunities up and down the lineup.

What is clear is that Conroy needs younger talent up and down the roster. The pressure is on Conroy to get those talents to make the retool worthwhile.

Mendes: There is a significant amount of pressure — both internally and externally — on Staios to elevate this program in Ottawa. Claude Giroux is heading into the final year of his three-year contract and he certainly envisioned a situation where this team would be competitive by now. Brady Tkachuk, meanwhile, is entering his seventh season in Ottawa without so much as a taste of meaningful hockey. If Ottawa has another flat season, it’s going to be difficult to convince those players this team is headed in the right direction. Even though this will be Staios’ first full season at the helm, it feels like this group is at a crossroads. Win and everybody is happy. Lose and all bets are off the table.

As for the outside pressure, this fan base has endured a seven-year playoff drought, exhibiting a significant amount of patience and loyalty in the process. And they’re certainly not demanding a Stanley Cup contender next season. All they want is to not repeat the same script where the Senators trip out of the gate and take themselves out of playoff contention before Christmas. In order to accomplish that goal, Staios is going to have to tinker with the chemistry and composition of his roster this summer.

What’s the salary cap situation heading into this offseason? Is there much flexibility to make a significant trade or two?

McKenzie: The Flames will have almost $20 million in cap space, according to CapFriendly. If they want to keep A.J. Greer and Oliver Kylington, neither player should be overly expensive to re-sign. The Flames have a handful of young restricted free agents to deal with as well including Dustin Wolf and Jakob Pelletier. That should leave enough space for the Flames to sign a free agent or two and/or facilitate a trade.

Mendes: The good news is that Ottawa shouldn’t be repeating their predicament from last season, where they were up against the salary cap ceiling — without having Shane Pinto signed. Dead money for players like Bobby Ryan, Matt Murray and Michael Del Zotto are coming off the books this summer. Ottawa should have roughly $12 million in cap space, according to CapFriendly, but it still needs to fill some important spots.

Pinto once again needs a new contract and depending on the term and dollar amount, he could eat into a large chunk of that $12 million. The Senators need to re-sign Erik Brannstrom or fill his role on the third pairing. And if the Senators want to go down the road of a contract buyout, that’s going to further eat into that available cap space. Staios certainly has a bit more wiggle room than his predecessor Pierre Dorion gave himself last summer, but it’s not as if he’s got a ton of flexibility either.

Thomas Chabot has four years left on his contract and a modified no-trade clause. (Sergei Belski / USA Today)

Which players are the most likely candidates to be moved?

McKenzie: Jacob Markstrom is at the top of the list. He was a trade possibility ahead of the deadline and with Wolf emerging as an NHLer, Markstrom could be the odd one out if he decides to waive his no-movement clause. Other candidates could include 2025 pending UFAs Andrew Mangiapane and Andrei Kuzmenko. Yegor Sharangovich seems like a player the Flames may want to keep, but he’s also in that group.

If the Flames are interested in making a bigger splash, that would mean thinking long and hard about moving players like Weegar (coming off a career season) and Rasmus Andersson (26-year-old right shot who’s a pending UFA in 2026 and has a six-team no-trade list that kicks in on July 1). But we won’t rate them highly in the above category, for now.

Mendes: The Senators must decide whether they are keeping Jakob Chychrun or Thomas Chabot. It feels like there’s a redundancy issue on Ottawa’s left side of the blue line and one of these players will likely get moved in the months ahead. The biggest issue for Ottawa last season, however, was goaltending. And if there is a way to shake up Ottawa’s crease, it would likely come in the form of moving one of Joonas Korpisalo or Anton Forsberg. Finding a landing spot for Korpisalo might be tricky, considering he has four years left on his contract that carries a $4 million AAV. Could Ottawa eat some of that contract to make it more palatable for a team to take Korpisalo at $2.5 million per season? Maybe. But again, those types of manoeuvres end up eating up precious cap space when you’re forced to retain $1.5 or $2 million dollars on a contract.

Which available player from Ottawa would appeal the most to the Flames?

McKenzie: The Flames need capable young prospects and talent. The Sens’ prospect cupboard seems a bit barren compared to the rest of the league. So, what about a young player on the Sens roster? Pinto, a 23-year-old right-shot centre, would check off some boxes for the Flames. But he’d leave a big hole in the Senators’ centre depth if they moved him, meaning the Flames would have to make it worth their while. Players like Pinto are the type of players the Flames should be targeting if they give Staios a call.

Chychrun could be a possibility and would provide an upgrade on defence. He’d probably be more enticing if he was a right shot. If the Flames landed him, however, that would mean one less spot available for a young player like Jérémie Poirier, Ilya Solovyov or Hunter Brzustewicz (if he turns heads at training camp) to make the team. It would clash with the Flames’ current intentions of giving young players every opportunity to play. But Chychrun could make the defence a bit better and/or be a trade piece that could fetch the Flames more assets by the deadline for their retool.

Which available player from Calgary would appeal the most to the Senators?

Mendes: If we’re being honest, Weegar checks all the boxes for the Senators. Right-shot defenceman, can play in all situations and he’s from Ottawa as a bonus. But the asking price would likely be astronomical and as Julian stated above, it’s unlikely the Flames would be considering moving on from him at this juncture.

In a more realistic manner, Markstrom is a curious target. His best three-year stretch came under Travis Green in Vancouver. Markstrom is 34 and only has two years left on his deal. If he can provide Ottawa consistent goaltending — something around his career .909 save percentage — he might be the perfect fit to come in and stabilize the Senators’ chaotic crease in the short term. Given that Markstrom’s future is cloudy in Calgary and he’s due a $2.5 million signing bonus on July 1, there might be a touch of urgency to get something done in the next few weeks. If Markstrom is in play, Staios should at least consider exploring that option — especially if a player like Chychrun might be of interest to the Flames.

What might a hypothetical trade look like?

McKenzie: If the Senators are into having Markstrom, I think the Flames would need a young player and a high draft pick as part of the return. I can see the Senators trying to offload Korpisalo, but the Flames need to create space for Wolf to play — unless they’ve made room already by trading Dan Vladar in another deal.

If a player like Pinto isn’t available (I don’t expect it without the Flames sweetening the pot somehow), that might hurt their chances for a trade. I don’t see an obvious prospect who would interest the Flames.

It’s worth asking questions about some roster players while exerting caution. Is Josh Norris worth the risk as a 25-year-old who hasn’t played more than 66 games in a season? Maybe if he wasn’t making $7.95 million through 2030. I’m not convinced the Flames would want Chabot either unless he was part of a deal that brought in draft picks and a younger asset. He’s a 27-year-old defender whose biggest flaws are his age and contract status ($8 million AAV through 2031).

I like the idea of the Flames acquiring Chychrun for a pending UFA like Mangiapane.

Mendes: I’m not sure if Chychrun qualifies as the young player at 26, but he could certainly be part of a return package to Calgary if Markstrom is the target. Pinto would be a non-starter for most Ottawa fans, as he’s a popular centre who plays a two-way game and is a right shot. As Julian states, Norris is a very intriguing candidate. But coming off a third shoulder surgery, it’s going to be hard for Ottawa to get full value on a trade, especially since he’s making close to $8 million for six more seasons.

The goalie trade market is notoriously fickle and weak, so I’m not sure Ottawa would need to staple an additional first-round pick if it’s handing over a player of Chychrun’s calibre in this type of deal. Maybe the Senators could attach their second-round pick — No. 39 — in this year’s draft. Or another intriguing possibility: Ottawa agrees to flip spots with Calgary in the first round of this year’s draft, allowing the Flames to pick seventh and the Senators to move back to the ninth spot. The issue for Ottawa is they would have to unload Korpisalo’s contract in some fashion to bring in Markstrom. And that would be a lot easier to facilitate with a third party team.

Brannstrom might also be an interesting name to consider in this conversation. He’s still only 24 and has probably hit his ceiling in Ottawa with the likes of Jake Sanderson and Chabot ahead of him on the depth chart. If the Flames are looking for someone to help run their second power-play unit, Brannstrom — who is an RFA this summer — is someone who should garner interest.

If the Flames are really keen on Chychrun and a deal for Markstrom falls through, maybe there is a path to a one-for-one deal involving someone like Mangiapane or Kuzmenko. They could both be nice fits as wingers inside Ottawa’s middle six and fill the void left by Vladimir Tarasenko and Alex DeBrincat. I don’t think Ottawa is going to recoup the value it gave up to acquire Chychrun in the first place. So maybe a swap for another pending UFA in the summer of 2025 could make sense for both sides. Mangiapane ($5.8 million) and Kuzmenko ($5.5 million) make a touch more than Chychrun’s $4.6 million next season. That doesn’t seem like too much of a discrepancy where it should get in the way of ironing out something if both sides feel like a change of scenery is best.

Trade proposals

Readers can weigh in on these six trade proposals in the comment section below, to give their opinion if any of these could make sense from a Calgary or Ottawa perspective.

Proposal No.1: 

Ottawa receives: Jacob Markstrom

Calgary receives: Jakob Chychrun, Ottawa’s 2024 second-round selection (No. 39)

Proposal No. 2:

Ottawa receives: Jacob Markstrom

Calgary receives: Jacob Chychrun and the teams agree to swap first-round picks in 2024 — Calgary would have the No. 7 selection, while Ottawa moves back to ninth

Proposal No. 3:

Ottawa receives: Jacob Markstrom

Calgary receives: Shane Pinto and Joonas Korpisalo

Proposal No. 4:

Ottawa receives: Jacob Markstrom

Calgary receives: Josh Norris, Erik Brannstrom and Ottawa’s second first-round selection in 2024 (obtained from Detroit via Boston)

Proposal No. 5:

Ottawa receives: Andrew Mangiapane

Calgary receives: Jakob Chychrun

Proposal No. 6:

Ottawa receives: Andrei Kuzmenko

Calgary receives: Jakob Chychrun

(Photo of Shane Pinto and MacKenzie Weegar: Chris Tanouye / Freestyle Photography / Getty Images)

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