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On Tuesday morning, Flames fans were greeted by the news that captain Mark Giordano, who had missed the previous game against the Washington Capitals with an unspecified lower body injury, had suffered a broken foot and would miss six to eight weeks. This was coupled with announcement that arguably one of their best forwards so far this season and last season’s co-leading scorer Lee Stempniak had suffered a broken ankle and is currently listed as week to week. Oh and Chris Breen is day to day as well.
So where does that leave the Flames roster which is already scraping and clawing for every point possible? Well, on the back end at least, it leaves things looking pretty thin. Thin enough to perhaps galvanize Feaster and Co. to make a deal.
The speculation that John-Michael Liles could, or should, be headed to Calgary has been non-stop since the summer time. The rationale being simple; the Flames have oceans of cap space and the Leafs had to trade Joe Colborne for a song just to squeeze under the cap to start the season. JML currently has two more years left on a head scratcher of a contract that pays him an average of 3.87 million per season and, to the dismay of many leafs fans, was not bought out this summer.
At this point in the season acquiring JML might make a lot of sense for the Flames. They currently are approaching a desperate need for defenceman and weren’t looking all that great even with a full slate of healthy d-men. If Mr. Liles could provide replacement-level NHL minutes for the duration of the season, the hockey side of the deal makes sense as currently they are not getting that quality from the likes of Chris Breen, Shane O’Brien or (shudder) Chris Butler.
Some of those opposed to making such a deal say that it goes against the mandate of the Flames’ season so far which has been to have a look into the future and see what they’ve got. Trading for Liles would deny a player like John Ramage. Tyler Wotherspoon, or even Pat Sieloff a chance to gain some NHL experience. My response to this is that I am unsure about throwing Wotherspoon or Sieloff into the NHL at this age and I believe the Flames would much rather they spend the vast majority of the season getting acclimated with the professional game in Abbotsford. Perhaps they each get a few games as spot-duty but to say that Wotherspoon should take a full-time roster spot seems irresponsible and short-sighted. Developing NHL defenceman takes patience and time (see: Tyler Myers) unless of course you are Jonas Brodin who is apparently from another planet.
There is a way for the Flames to call up a body long-term and still make the deal for Liles. If, as Pat Steinberg had suggested earlier, the Flames were to include a replacement-level defenceman (i.e. Derek Smith or Shane O’Brien) as part of the deal for Liles, they could effectively call up a body and improve their top six without putting their kids farther down the totem pole.
The best part of this arrangement is that Liles would get a chance to prove himself for next year or be bought out by the Flames in the summer time. One of the advantages of having cap space and ownership that is motivated to spend. Any deal for JML would have to be sweetened by the Leafs with some kind of draft pick as well and this is where the rubber meets the road in terms of the likelihood of this deal being done. It boils down to whether the Leafs are desperate enough to move Liles’ contract that they are willing to part with a reasonably high draft pick (most have suggested a second rounder would be suitable).
So far this season, the Leafs have clearly not been willing to do that and would rather stash him in the AHL than part with picks. If the Flames could acquire him and a second rounder for say, Derek Smith, this would be the kind of leveraged deal that can help move a rebuild forward a lot faster.
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