The Calgary Flames will be buyers leading up to the NHL trade deadline next month. The big question is will they be in the one-item express checkout or will they have to line up with the rest of the scrambling Cup contending teams and pay big bucks for questionable return.
The Flames have played themselves solidly into a group of four or five teams in the second tier of Stanley Cup favorites. If the Detroit Red Wings, San Jose Sharks and Boston Bruins are at the head of the class, the Flames might well head up the second chase group of teams that includes the New Jersey Devils, Philadelphia Flyers, Washington Capitals and Chicago Blackhawks.
Even though Calgary GM Darryl Sutter isn't about to tip his hand about if or when the Flames might execute a deal to add a top two-line forward or defensive depth or goaltending security, there's a good chance he'll attempt to fill at least two of those three gaps in the roster.
Here's what I think the Flames should do.
Even with goalie Miikka Kiprusoff playing exceptionally well lately, an injury to him would spell doom for a long spring run. Backup Curtis McElhinney is well-liked by coach Mike Keenan and has been told he'll play more games through the next stretch. That's not enough.
Even though deposed Ottawa goalie Martin Gerber has been an easy target for criticism the past few seasons, he at least has experience as a No. 1 man and could be counted upon to keep the Flames competitive should something happen to Kiprusoff.
The Flames could claim Gerber off waivers from the Senators and his inflated and expiring salary would be cut in half, then segmented again because we're three quarters of the way through the season. He would easily fall within Calgary's salary cap. Gerber on the roster would allow the Flames to rest Kiprusoff once every four or five games down the stretch and still keep Calgary competitive enough to maintain the division lead.
For the Flames to become competitive with Detroit or San Jose in a long series, they need another solid citizen on the top two lines, ideally a center. With Calgary running close to the salary cap, it's unlikely it could pry a Keith Tkachuk from St. Louis or Nik Antropov from Toronto or Jason Arnott from Nashville. But maybe a lesser name such as Todd White or Steve Reinprecht could be had.
As bait, Calgary could offer Dustin Boyd and a high draft pick and middling prospect.
The defense looks set with Jim Vandermeer capable as the No. 7 man and Rhett Warrener getting close to being ready later on in March or April. But a cheap reserve defenseman might make the best sense for Sutter on trading day.
Count on Calgary making one or two of these personnel moves going forward.
This column also appears in the Calgary Metro Newspaper.
Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior special editions editor and a regular contributor to THN.com. You can find his blog each weekend.
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