Man, do I love trade talk. Especially, of course, when it involves the Maple Leafs. I guess that would cover almost every rumored hockey deal in history. Toronto is always placed in the conversation as the potential landing spot for this guy or that guy, they just have to put together a “package”. Yes, the infamous package of players we would easily part with that no opposing GM’s would consider in order to land a piece we actually want. Then there are the sensibly tabled faux deals you don’t see happen because quite frankly, it is hard to pull the trigger and move your own acquired assets. Rarely does anyone appreciate players or their value more than the team holding the rights. In most cases these mock proposals never come to fruition and were never more than fictitious hopes of the tireless fan.
Myself, I am for certain one of the absolute worst when it comes to this stuff. Any faint whisper heard off in the hockey world distance and my thumbs are flying, texting friends and the few people I know in and around the game. I don’t just cry wolf, I take out a full page ad warning of the imminent rabid attacks, pleading to load up on wolf repellent. I doubt this repellent even exists, other than shotguns, and you’d think I would eventually learn not to get sucked into it all. Truth be told, I honestly can’t help it. Trade discussion is fun and good for our sport, it’s great fodder. And I know of at least one NHL executive who shares in this opinion. A big, blustery, one. So when Dougie Hamilton’s availability started to come up I said “Jude, fight it off. Put the pencil down and stop with the new pairings, you nut.” But every once in awhile, where there’s smoke…there’s Flames.
A young, gifted, right shot defenseman is on everyone in Leafs Nation’s Xmas wish list. If you were extra good this year maybe you dare ask for one born and raised in the GTA. For the grounded who don’t believe in Santa anymore, this would be a good time to use the term “pipe dream”. As we delve deeper into the possibility of a transaction, words like dream and wish begin to dissipate. Instead they are replaced with measured thoughts and sound reasoning as to why there is very real chance two teams, Calgary and Toronto, come together to make a move addressing each other’s glaring needs. Let’s begin with the smoke.
First, let’s look across the table at our possible trade partner. The Flames, an organization with a talented and youthful core, are by all accounts underachieving. Calgary predictably came back to earth in 2015/16, missing the playoffs and firing their coach Bob Hartley after a shocking and inspiring playoff berth in 2014/15. The step backwards could be overlooked by the fan base so long as they got back on the saddle (had to). Such has not been the case. This group is young, yes. They also are at a point where they need to take a step in the right, competitive, direction and that’s not what has transpired. The team sits 10-13-1, obviously on the outside looking in when it comes to the postseason, while their provincial rivals look to have turned the corner with no plans on coming back. If you don’t think the Edmonton Oilers success is a factor you need to spend some time in Alberta. I don’t believe this is a throw away year for Cowtown, not for one second. If that’s the case and immediate improvement is the declared mandate, that’s step one. Recognition. Then it’s step two of the process, serious roster assessment. Once completed, it’s step three. Where is the market? Who has what the club lacks.
Calgary is well aware in this game of high priced trading, they must give to get. Let’s say step one (a commitment to fixing things in quick fashion) is complete. Step two involves an internal look at who they could live without and still has the marquee to bring them what they desperately need. Enter Dougie Hamilton.
With Troy Brodie and Mark Giordano carrying the bulk of the workload, combined with Calgary’s up and comers in their blueline depth ranks, this is an area of perceived organizational strength. Hamilton has seen his recent struggles, making his availability coming up totally comprehensible and not a difficult summation to justify. Still, even through his stumbles this season, the 6’ 6”, 210 pounder is on pace for 41 points, a total he’s reached each of the last two seasons. I’m not the right guy to delve into it, but his analytics are also a strong suit. Although his ice time had been lower than expected many nights early on, he played 24:28 and had 2 assists in his last game vs Philly on November 27th. Can you spell showcase? The 23 year old defenseman may not have been playing his best and it’s troubling to hear his name in talks yet again, the pedigree and age involved should allow for his stock to remain unphased. Conversely, he would be a playable chip that could get Calgary what they are looking for. What would that be exactly?
The Flames have scored 55 goals in 24 games. You do the math. It sucks. While more goals won’t solve all their problems (they’ve allowed 74) you won’t survive in the West if you can’t counterpunch. Not only do they lack scoring but may also lack size up front. From there we inch towards step three. Whose digits ya gonna dial?
Is there truly team out there who has not only an abundance of offense, but who could possibly make some of it available in a goal starved NHL? The majority of the league is eliminated from discussion right out of the gate. Nobody is trading goal scorers, and most certainly won’t if they consider themselves in a playoff race. Which at this point is mostly everyone. What the Flames would have to seek out is a team with extenuating circumstances. An organization with an eye to the future. An organization with their own glaring hole to fill. You don’t need a helmet lamp to see through the smoke leading us straight to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
It’s common practice for regional scouts to watch a lot of games, that’s how it works. So seeing a Flames scout on an attendance list from the press box means next to nothing. When it’s heavily consistent, then possibly you take minor notice. Other times, well other times you get belted over the head. On Saturday while covering the Toronto Marlies game, an observation was made by LeafsHub.com’s Corey Connolly that certainly grabbed our attention and should yours as well. There was someone watching who was not on the list. We won’t go as far as to say he was in stealth mode, but taking in the game was Calgary Flames GM, Brad Treliving. Is this unheard of? No, and this alone is still just more smoke. But now it’s billowing and the heat is building. Kyle Dubas has had his eye on the Flames here and there this season, and the latest to observe Calgary and possibly the play of one Douglas Hamilton, was director of pro scouting
Dave Morrison. My co-host on the BNWT podcast Mike Augello tweeted the following.
GM Brad Treliving was in Toronto to watch #Leafs – Caps, now TOR Dir. of Pro Scouting Dave Morrison is watching Calgary in Philly tonight.
— Michael Augello (@MikeInBuffalo) November 28, 2016
This brings us to the fourth and final step, the step not often reached. The consummation of a hockey trade. Examining the sum of all parts and assuming we have concluded Hamilton is the target as well as the bargaining chip, let’s make a deal.
It’s appears the leg work has been or is in the process of being done. The parties have evaluated the pieces, set their prices, now comes the hard negotiations. I asked yesterday for Leafs fans to send me their offers for Hamilton and many names were tossed around. William Nylander’s late scratch due to injury acted as some accelerant to the trade fires, but would Toronto actually part with such a talent? Or are we being short sighted here and his involvement would trigger a much bigger deal, not a one for one. Personally I don’t believe Nylander would be involved, but can’t say the same for a Kasperi Kapanen, or a Jeremy Bracco, or even a Travis Dermott. How about this, could it be Jake Gardiner who the Flames covet? The fact is, any and all names mentioned are purely speculatory. However, the one player’s name who came up in the imaginary trades sent my way more than any other was that of James van Riemsdyk. Reason being, his makes a large degree of sense.
Van Riemsdyk has come to life as of late on a line with Tyler Bozak and Mitchell Marner, proving again that JVR can produce big with talented mates. Mates that Calgary can provide (see Gaudreau, John). While the left winger may have a limited no trade clause, it is believed by many he would be open to a move. Is Calgary a suitable destination for him? I’m not so sure. But do not underestimate history and it was Brian Burke who traded Luke Schenn for JVR in what was and is still considered likely his finest moves while GM of the Maple Leafs (few and far between, sorry Burkie). Maybe a call from his former boss selling him on the city and the plan is all it takes, who knows.
Regardless of who is involved, the framework for a beneficial trade for both clubs is there. With Burke’s intimate knowledge of the Leafs and their staff the two teams will engage in honest dialogue, both trying to help the other. Add Treliving being under pressure to turn things around, taking into account the difficult odds of leapfrogging teams after the quarter mark, the chances spike. Now take into consideration Toronto’s roster situation and stall tactics as far as getting down to a 23 man roster, are things coming to a head? With Hamilton heading out, who better to take a chance on as part of the return than Frank Corrado. Burke would relish swiping a gem his old team wouldn’t play, am I right? Furthermore, Toronto has Josh Leivo’s “injury” situation to sort out. Another possible piece, and if not him than what about Peter Holland who is publicly being shopped? Maybe there’s a reason the Leafs have put off waiving one of these players, a very clear and distinct one. They have been earmarked for trade.
Toronto heads West this week, and after their first two games of the road trip they have two days off. Two days before they play, you guessed it, the Calgary Flames. Could negotiations intensify during that timeframe? Are we seeing two teams headed to “step four” of the trade process? We won’t have to wait much longer to find out whether this is all the usual smoke, or if there is a flicker of fire ready to inflame into a blockbuster.