Of the seven Canadian NHL teams, none has been mentioned more often in trade rumors this season than the Calgary Flames.
After 13 games, they had a 6-6-1 record and were perched 12th overall in the Western Conference.
Prior to the start of this season, GM Jay Feaster said he didn’t want to “blow up” his roster, but as the Flames lurched to a 2-4-1 start, he made it clear he wouldn’t make the same mistake his predecessor did and wait for his roster to play its way out of an early-season funk.
It was around that time left winger Rene Bourque’s name first appeared in the rumor mill and his offensive inconsistency (only five points – all goals – in 13 games) has solidified his place as a frequent subject in Flames trade talk.
By late October, reports claimed Feaster had contacted the Phoenix Coyotes to express interest in holdout center Kyle Turris. Feaster confirmed as much this past weekend.
The Flames trade speculation came to a head on Nov. 1, following a 5-1 drubbing at the hands of the younger, swifter, more talented Vancouver Canucks. Pundits used that beat down as a justification to call upon Feaster to get cracking on a long-overdue roster overhaul.
Heading into this past weekend, the “Turris to Calgary” speculation continued to brew, with the Flames considered by some observers to be amongst the frontrunners. That led to proposed scenarios of how to get Turris out of Phoenix that usually involved Bourque and a draft pick.
Turris, however, appears an unlikely option for the Flames this season, as Coyotes GM Don Maloney stated in an interview last Saturday on Hockey Night in Canada that under no circumstances would he trade the young center.
Feaster acknowledged Maloney’s unwillingness to part with Turris and added he would continue to explore every available option to improve the Flames.
He also suggested the Flames’ sputtering start had attracted trade interest from other clubs, telling the Calgary Herald he didn’t need to generate a lot of calls because “the vultures circle” in a time like this.
That means those calling Feaster aren’t offering deals to improve the Flames efforts this season.
While Feaster has sent the message to his players he’s not going to wait forever for improvement, there might not be much he can presently do to add talent to Calgary’s lineup.
Just a month into the season, only one team – the Columbus Blue Jackets – could be considered desperate, but what they have to offer – Derick Brassard? Steve Mason? Antoine Vermette? – wouldn’t be a definite upgrade for Calgary.
So, do the Flames have any other potential trading partners?
Entering this past weekend, the Boston Bruins sat last in the Eastern Conference, looking up at the Winnipeg Jets. However, Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli appeared unwilling to break up his championship roster, while Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff dismissed talk of swinging an early-season deal. Both appear to be patient with their current rosters, hoping they’ll rally without the need for a shakeup.
The New York Islanders have tumbled down the Eastern Conference standings and left winger Blake Comeau has been in coach Jack Capuano’s doghouse. That’s led to suggestions of a Comeau-for-Bourque swap in hopes both players would benefit from a change of scenery. However, Bourque’s $3.33-million cap hit might be a turn off for a budget team such as the Isles, who have the lowest payroll in the league
The struggling St. Louis Blues have plenty of young talent, but their hiring of coach Ken Hitchcock suggests they’re not keen to shake up the roster at this time.
A problem for Feaster is he lacks sufficient depth in trade bait. He’s made it clear he’s not interested in throwing up a fire sale for prospects or draft picks, but the parts he does have that are considered moveable likely wouldn’t attract much more than that kind of return.
Iginla, Kiprusoff and defenseman Mark Giordano would be Feaster’s best chips, but he doesn’t want to move them right now, if at all this season. Left winger Curtis Glencross is another player Feaster supposedly doesn’t want to trade.
Left winger Lee Stempniak is, like Bourque, a streaky scorer. Jay Bouwmeester carries an expensive contract that would be tough to move during the season.
Alex Tanguay and Olli Jokinen are the Flames’ leading scorers, but these aging forwards would have more value closer to the trade deadline.
The salaries and recent performance of left winger Niklas Hagman, defenseman Anton Babchuk and center Matt Stajan make them untradeable. Center Brendan Morrison has value as a faceoff man, but only at the trade deadline. Morrison is also at the stage in his career when he won’t attract much of a return.
Feaster won’t move young Flames such as goalie Henrik Karlsson, defenseman Chris Butler, or centers Roman Horak and Mikael Backlund, as those are the very players he needs to keep as part of the rebuilding process.
It could take until close to the Christmas trade freeze for Feaster to find what he’s looking for. By that point, it will be too late to save the Flames’ season if they continue to slide in the standings.
For now, the best Feaster can expect is for his Flames to remain as close to playoff contention as possible in the coming weeks and hope more teams become desperate enough that he can swing a deal in his favor.
Rumor Focus appears Tuesdays and Thursdays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and Kukla’s Korner.