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Flames take on Lightning with new faces ahead of trade deadline

Mar 4, 2024; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Calgary Flames center Nazem Kadri (91) controls the puck against the Seattle Kraken during the third period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

The Calgary Flames and Tampa Bay Lightning will close out their two-game season series Thursday in Florida with their immediate futures heading in opposite directions.

Currently grouped with the St. Louis Blues, Seattle Kraken and Minnesota Wild as contenders below the wild-card line, the Flames have not made much headway in the standings after topping the Lightning 4-2 on Dec. 16 in Alberta.

Calgary general manager Craig Conroy’s three transactions — starting in January and with two more in the past week — have made the team sellers rather than buyers as Friday’s NHL trade deadline nears.

On Jan. 31, Conroy sent pending unrestricted free agent Elias Lindholm to the Vancouver Canucks for Andrei Kuzmenko, two prospects and first-round and fourth-round picks, the latter selection a conditional one.

The GM then dealt veteran defenseman Chris Tanev to the Dallas Stars on Feb. 28. The three-team trade also involved the New Jersey Devils, who had been rumored to be in on Calgary goaltender Jacob Markstrom.

“It’s never easy to … let guys go, but we also knew it was something we had to do,” Conroy said after trading Tanev. “To move forward, we worked through lots of calls with different teams to figure out what’s the best thing for the Calgary Flames in what we’re trying to do and trying to accomplish here.”

The Pacific Division team decided that Noah Hanifin was not going to be part of that “thing.”

Viewed as the top available blue-liner on the trade market and also a pending UFA, the 27-year-old Bostonian initially looked like he might be staying in Tampa while Calgary moved on to face the Florida Panthers next.

Mikhail Sergachev, Victor Hedman’s linemate on the No. 1 pairing, broke his left leg in New York against the Rangers on Feb. 7 in the first game after the All-Star break. With that major injury, the Lightning had emerged as one of the favorites for Hanifin — seemingly a perfect fit.

On Wednesday, however, Conroy shipped Hanifin to the Vegas Golden Knights, who had salary cap space after they put forward Mark Stone on long-term injured reserve Monday, freeing up his $9.5 million salary, after taking Jack Eichel off LTIR earlier this week. The Flames will receive defenseman Daniil Miromanov, a conditional first-round pick in the 2025 NHL Draft and a conditional third-round pick in the 2025 NHL Draft from Vegas.

With Sergachev out indefinitely and likely only to return if Tampa Bay goes deep in the playoffs, coach Jon Cooper has turned to rookie Max Crozier to pair with Hedman, who scored the game-winner in Saturday’s 4-3 shootout win over the Montreal Canadiens.

“That kid can turn the page in a hurry, no matter what,” Cooper said of Crozier, 23, who will face his hometown Flames on Thursday. “He just goes out, plays his shift and plays hard. He competes. He’s got a good head for the game, and with every NHL game he plays, you can see he’s getting more confident and comfortable.”

Having split the first two matches (1-0-1) of the five-game homestand, the Lightning were prepared to enjoy the five-day break.

“I think when you’re 60-plus games into the year, I think to get your mind away from hockey, rest the body (and) all those things that we’ll need over the two weeks (is important),” Cooper said Saturday. “We can’t do anything about the other teams. They’re going to play their games and we’re going to sit back and watch.”

–Field Level Media

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