The Flames couldn’t have been expected to make blockbusters necessarily, having already made the two biggest trades of the year a month earlier. However, it was fair to at least expect some additional tinkering by Darryl Sutter. He had a large surplus of forwards (albeit, mostly mediocre ones). The team itself was facing a very tight playoff race, with a sense of urgency still remaining not only to make the playoffs but make a significant run. What Darryl did, however, was simply three incomprehensible moves that appear to me to be, at best, lateral moves that won’t really improve the team. At worst, they could actually damage them, both in the short and long term.
The first trade, Curtis McElhinney for Vesa Toskala, I see as a pure lateral move which, worst case scenario, could cause the Flames to miss the playoffs. I will admit that, of the three trades, this trade is the only one which really makes any kind of twisted “sense”. Miikka Kiprusoff’s chronic burnout due to the lack of a good backup goalie has been an issue for the last three years, and remains the single most likely thing to kill the Flames’ season. And McElhinney clearly was not a viable backup goaltender. They traded McElhinney, with a year remaining on his contract, for Toskala, a $4M pending UFA who has been maybe the worst goaltender of the last two years who started a significant number of games. I have never been a Toskala fan. Darryl Sutter, in his post-deadline press conference, said that Toskala was “a player [he] was familiar with.” But clearly, the Toskala Darryl had in San Jose is nowhere close to the player he just acquired.
I really think he only trades for a rental goalie that expensive if he intends to play him significantly down the stretch to attempt to take pressure off Kiprusoff. Kipper is on pace for 73 starts, which is about 10 too many. But as I noted in my pre-deadline preview blog, even if the Flames acquired a decent backup (which Toskala is highly questionable as, even) how many times could you realistically play him in March and April, while taking significant enough pressure off Kiprusoff? Looking at the schedule, the Flames only have one back-to-back left: March 14th and 15th at Vancouver and at home against Detroit. They also only play two teams – two – currently more than four points out of a playoff spot (Minnesota three times – including tonight’s home game, and a road game against the Islanders). With 20 games remaining, Kiprusoff essentially has to split starts with Toskala in order to reach a more reasonable workload for the season (Kipper has played in 55 games so far and starts tonight against the Wild). But looking at the schedule, I only see these games as potential Toskala starts: the final game of the season at Vancouver (but only if the Flames have already clinched a playoff spot), March 25th against the Islanders, March 21st against the Wild, MAYBE March 14th against the Canucks (only because it is the first half of a back-to-back, with the second game against Detroit, sure to be a four-point game for the Flames.) That’s only four games, max, less than half of what it would take to give Kiprusoff a reasonable workload. In my opinion, putting Toskala in any other games could prove fatal to the Flames’ playoff chances, and it’s dangerous enough starting him in most of the games I listed. Maybe I’d be more optimistic about this trade if the Flames had done it earlier in the year, when there were more opportunities to actually play a backup goalie, but that doesn’t appear to be the case now.
The second deal, Dustin Boyd to Nashville for a 4th rounder, is one I can’t say makes any sense. The Flames did have an excess of forwards, but they were under no obligation to move bodies, because after the trade deadline teams are allowed to exceed the 23-man roster limit as long as they’re under the cap. (I learned this via Andy Strickland and Pat Steinberg on Twitter last night.) Boyd may not have met the Flames’ expectations so far, but he was a pending RFA who the Flames could have dealt later if they really felt like it. Right now, though, I don’t think should have been the time to give up on him, especially for a piddling 4th rounder.
By far the trade I was most outraged at, however, was Sutter’s final deal, acquiring Steve freaking Staios from the Oilers for Aaron Johnson and a 3rd round pick. Even if the Flames weren’t fulfilling an apocalyptic scenario by trading with the Oilers, this would be an absolutely terrible and nonsensical deal. The acquisition of Staios continues Sutter’s long tradition of trading 3rd round picks for terrible depth defenseman (David Hale in 2007 followed by Jim Vandermeer in 2008). By trading the 3rd (the Flames’ choice of 2010 or 2011, I’m guessing it will be 2011) the Flames now only have three top-90 picks the next two years. This year, they do not have a pick until the third round, and in 2011 they do not have a 2nd or 3rd round pick. In addition, I don’t know how Staios is preferable to Johnson. By far the most troubling aspect of adding Staios, though, is the fact that the Flames are now adding his $2.7M cap hit to next year’s payroll. It’s essentially the equivalent of re-adding Jim Vandermeer’s old nightmarish $2.3M hit, only even more expensive. And I doubt Sutter can pull off a miraculous salary dump of Staios like he did with Vandermeer.
Ever since Darryl Sutter bulked up on defense last summer at the clear expense of his offense, I have wondered what exactly his long term plan is. With the Dion Phaneuf and Olli Jokinen deals, it appeared he was trying to shake things up while still somewhat trying to win now, but the team as it looks on paper was still highly questionable going into the deadline. Now, it really does not look much different. It almost sometimes seems as if Sutter does not actually have a plan, instead he just aims to make the playoffs and see what happens, regardless of how good the team actually looks. The trade for Vesa Toskala looks like at best a lateral move, and at worst something that could cost them a playoff spot. The Boyd and Staios trades, however, just look like something that could actually be more harmful than anything.
(More trade deadline thoughts: I loved all of the Capitals’ moves. It seems to me like maybe the only thing that could stop them is if their goaltending falters, just like the Blackhawks….Oilers fans should be quite happy with the return for Staios, but I did not like their Vishnovsky-for-Whitney trade. Lateral move at best, big downgrade at worst…can someone explain the Wolski trade from the Avs’ perspective? That one kind of came out of nowhere and I don’t get that one for them…quite bizarre to see the Coyotes being so aggressive. I’m sure Gary Bettman was smiling and nodding as they made their moves…the Ducks trading for Joey Macdonald could be seen as a mark of how little faith they have in Curtis McElhinney. Poor Curtis, the Flames never should have put him in a backup position…finally, I did not even know Andy Delmore was still a professional hockey player, but the Flames capped off the day by trading Riley Armstrong for him.)