The Flames were barely clinging to a wild-card spot before GM Brad Treliving made his first move ahead of the deadline. Now they’re knocking on the door of the Pacific Division’s top three.
For the league’s top contenders, the trade deadline was important when it came to potentially putting their club over the top. In the Eastern Conference, the Capitals and Penguins engaged in a something resembling an arms race, with Kevin Shattenkirk heading to Washington and Pittsburgh responding by bolstering their defense with a few additions, including Mark Streit. Out West, the conference’s top two teams, Minnesota and Chicago, made acquisitions of their own. The Wild got bigger down the middle with Martin Hanzal, while the Blackhawks brought in a familiar face in defenseman Johnny Oduya.
But while the respective conference’s had their top few teams bulk up for a Stanley Cup run, bubble teams were making moves that could help them battle for a spot in the post-season and maybe even squeak out a couple rounds and make some noise come late-April. And of all the teams fighting for wild-card spots or attempting to claw their way into a divisional seed, it’s hard to see any team that did a better job than the Calgary Flames.
Sure, other teams made deals, but who on the cusp of a post-season berth did better than the Flames? In the West, Los Angeles brought in an aging Jarome Iginla and goaltender Ben Bishop to help the Kings’ run and the St. Louis Blues’ lone move was sending Shattenkirk packing. As for Eastern teams, one could argue the Maple Leafs pulled off quite the pair of moves in adding Brian Boyle and Eric Fehr, but the former swap was more about taking on a contract the Penguins were looking to offload. Meanwhile, the New York Islanders didn’t make a single move to improve and the Florida Panthers’ lone addition was Thomas Vanek.
It’s true that the deadline-day move the Flames made, acquiring Curtis Lazar from the Ottawa Senators, received mixed reviews, and it’s understandable why. Through 33 games this season, Lazar has a single point — an assist — and is averaging less than nine minutes of ice time per game. In order to nab Lazar from Ottawa, Calgary gave up a second-round pick and recently waived defender Jyrki Jokipakka, and it’s the second rounder that’s the sticking point for some. And while it’s all good and well to be concerned about what the second-round selection might yield, in a draft that has been dubbed relatively weak, it might not be an awful asset to give up.
Yes, Lazar struggled with the Senators, but the new scenery might do him a world of wonders. Lazar, the 17th-overall selection in 2013, hasn’t been quite the point producer he was during his junior days in the WHL, but he does possess the ability to play solid two-way hockey and do so at all three positions. While they’re not all-star calibre numbers, at all-strengths, Lazar has managed to produce .33 goals per 60 minutes, .63 assists per 60 and .77 points per 60 over the course of his career. None of his campaigns have been quite as good as his rookie year, but he’s little more than 100 games removed from that season. It’s troubling he’s fallen off in the way he has this season, but there’s no reason to believe he can’t get back to producing the way he was if he finds the right fit.
It’s not all about Lazar, however. He was the deadline-day acquisition, but Calgary GM Brad Treliving got to work a bit early.
Roughly a week and a half before the deadline, on Feb. 19, the Flames sat two points up on the Kings and were in a heated battle for one of the wild-card spots. They were 10 points back of the Anaheim Ducks and Edmonton Oilers, who sat second and third in the Pacific Division, and looked as though a post-season appearance was only coming if the team could piece together enough wins to qualify as a wild-card team. One of the glaring issues was on defense, where Dennis Wideman’s game was struggling mightily and the depth on the Flames blueline was looking shaky at the best of times. So, on Feb. 20, Treliving went out and added Michael Stone.
That has appeared to be an outstanding decision by Treliving. Stone started his tenure as a Flame skating in the middle of the lineup, but his ice time has increased with each passing outing. In the most recent Calgary victory, an ever-important 2-1 overtime victory over the very Kings who were nipping at the Flames’ heels, Stone skated nearly 22 minutes. In his five games, he’s also managed two assists, eight shots and, at 5-on-5, he’s been on ice for six goals for and only two against with Calgary generating nearly 60 percent of the scoring chances when he’s out there.
Already Calgary boasted a fearsome trio of top-end defense in Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton and T.J. Brodie, but the depth was significantly thin beyond that point. Wideman, Deryk Engelland or Matt Bartkowski were simply never going to get the job done on the back end for the long haul and needing to play one of that trio for significant second-pairing minutes wasn’t doing much to help the Flames’ cause. Stone takes that duty out of the hands of the bottom three defense, though, and hands it to someone much more capable. Plus, Stone isn’t without an offensive element to his game.
That was Calgary’s biggest win of the deadline, but, of course, the Flames’ current run isn’t all about one single addition. Brian Elliott is finally resembling the goaltender Calgary thought they were getting, Johnny Gaudreau, Mikael Backlund and Matthew Tkachuk have been on a solid run over the past two weeks and the top three rearguards, Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton and T.J. Brodie, continue to turn in strong performances. The result is the Flames riding a five-game winning streak that has seen them creep within striking distance of the Ducks and Oilers for a divisional seed.
So, while the Flames may have made some of the best addition(s) of any wild-card club, the impact Stone has had and Calgary’s play of late has gotten them to a point where it might no longer be fair to refer to them as a team sitting on the bubble.
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