Entering 2019-20, experts considered the Calgary Flames and Toronto Maple Leafs to be Stanley Cup contenders. The Flames finished 2018-19 atop the Western Conference while the Leafs were among the Eastern Conference's top-five clubs in back-to-back campaigns.
A quarter of the way through this season, however, both teams find themselves outside the playoff picture in their respective conferences. That's sparked rumors suggesting coaching changes or trades could be on the horizon.
The Flames have dropped five straight games following Tuesday's 3-2 loss to the Colorado Avalanche. On Saturday, Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman said the front office was getting restless, adding he wouldn't be surprised if they did something to shake things up a bit. Two days later, Friedman's colleague Eric Francis reported Flames GM Brad Treliving was looking long and hard at potential moves. TSN's Darren Dreger reported ongoing speculation over the availability of Mark Jankowski, Oliver Kylington and Michael Frolik. Dreger also felt pending free-agent defenseman Travis Hamonic could be moved as the trade deadline approaches.
Francis also said some Flames fans were calling for Johnny Gaudreau to be traded. He doubted Treliving would make such a monumental move during the season. Should the Flames miss the playoffs or fail to advance past the opening round, however, Francis thinks the 26-year-old left winger could be shopped. Trading Gaudreau would be a major overreaction to the Flames' sputtering start. While he has only has five goals, he's tied for second with Sean Monahan (18 points) among Calgary’s leading scorers. Gaudreau's also not the only member of the team having difficulty finding the back of the net lately.
Perhaps the Flames' problem is a sense of complacency following last season's strong performance. The roster that finished first in the conference remains largely intact and plenty of time remains in the schedule to reverse their fortunes. Treliving's patience will be tested, however, if they don't snap out of their funk soon.
Meanwhile, Leafs coach Mike Babcock is facing plenty of speculation over his future. During Saturday's 6-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman and Chris Johnston agreed all options, including a shakeup behind the bench, could be on the table. Colleague Brian Burke felt the clock was ticking for Babcock, indicating the club already replaced his assistant coaches. He suggested Babcock's replacement was waiting in the wings, referring to Toronto Marlies bench boss Sheldon Keefe.
Babcock appeared unconcerned over the chatter. “I'm going to do it as hard as I can for as long as I can,” he told media Monday. “I have always bet on Mike Babcock, I'll continue to bet on him.”
Time will tell if the Leafs front office will do the same. If they do, a trade could be their only other recourse.
Friedman reported the Leafs received inquiries into Tyson Barrie's availability. A skilled puck-moving defenseman, the 28-year-old had four seasons with 49 or more points with the Colorado Avalanche. Since being acquired by the Leafs last summer, he's managed just seven points in 23 games. Barrie is also in his contract year and the decline in his stats hurts his value in next summer's free-agent market.
While the Leafs have so far rebuffed trade inquiries, Friedman said they'll see how things go over the next month. Chris Johnston believes this isn't the right time to move Barrie, pointing out his trade value is very low right now. The cap-strapped Leafs are carrying only $2.75 million of his $5.5-million salary-cap hit. Johnston doubts moving him will free up sufficient space to bring in a suitable replacement.
The Toronto Star's Rosie DiManno felt the Leafs would be better served shopping William Nylander than dumping Babcock. That's unlikely to appeal to GM Kyle Dubas, whose negotiations with the 23-year-old winger went down to the wire last season before re-signing him to a long-term deal.
Like the Flames, the Leafs have the talent and sufficient time to snap out of their current slump and climb back up the tightly packed standings. Should the losses continue piling up, however, Dubas will have little choice but to act, either by firing Babcock or swinging a big trade.
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