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Flames' Hanifin tunes out trade rumours in win over Oilers

Calgary Flames Noah Hanifin - The Canadian Press

In the midst possibly his final season in Calgary ahead of unrestricted free agency, Calgary Flames blueliner Noah Hanifin is putting together a career season. 

The 26-year-old scored twice and now has a career-high 11 goals in the Flames’ 6-3 win over the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday night. 

He also made several key defensive plays while matched against Connor McDavid, who was held to one assist at even-strength. 

“Great team effort tonight,” Hanifin said after the game.

“We needed to get a win against those guys. We’ve had a tough time playing them lately. I thought we had a really good start to the game and played with a lot of emotion and passion and that’s something you have to do when you’re playing a team with that much skill.”

Hanifin, who now has 33 points in 58 games, is the top player on TSN’s Trade Bait Board, but hasn’t spoken publicly about his future in Calgary since the speculation increased three weeks ago. 

“It’s just taking it one day at a time and just doing what I can to help the team win,” he said of handling the noise.

“I’m just focusing on each day and whatever happens, happens,” Hanifin responded when specifically asked if he sees himself a part of the future in Calgary. 

“I’m just trying to play good hockey right now and help this team win.”

Head coach Ryan Huska simply stated that Hanifin should be counted on to cut out the noise surrounding his future.

“That’s his job,” he said.

“He’s got to come and play. He’s a defenceman that we rely on heavily and we’re going to continue to do that.”

Despite the buzz around Hanifin, goalie Jacob Markstrom, and blueliner Chris Tanev, the Calgary Flames (28-25-5, 61 points and fifth in Western Conference wild-card race) have rallied for three straight wins against tough opponents in the Oilers, Winnipeg Jets, and Boston Bruins.

Nazem Kadri, who scored the opening goal two minutes in, called the group a “pack of hyenas” after a win over Boston earlier in February and made a similar comment after this victory.

“That’s a pack mentality right there that we’ve been preaching about,” he said.

“Character win in a tough building against a good team. Feels good.”

Many thought that following the trade of No. 1 centre Elias Lindholm and given the further roster decisions ahead for general manager Craig Conroy, the Flames would slowly fall out of the playoff mix. Instead, they’ve remained competitive and actually improved their play. The Flames have opened eyes around the league with their play over the past week, but not necessarily in their own locker room. 

“I don’t think we look at it that way,” Kadri said, when asked if the Flames view themselves as underdogs.

“We have confidence and belief in ourselves. We don’t see ourselves as underdogs…other people might. We go into each game trying to play our brand of hockey. It’s been a great brand so far, the last couple of weeks.”

For most of the evening, the Flames outworked and outcompeted the favoured Oilers. Calgary had double the shot blocks (25-12), out hit Edmonton (30-27), and had just seven giveaways to the Oilers’ 15. 

“It was a night where I thought where we had a pretty complete effort from pretty much everyone in our lineup,” Huska said.

“One of the parts we liked about tonight was the emotion that we did show, but we felt that it was controlled and that hasn’t been something our team has been known for this year, but it was nice to see it tonight.”

Kadri has let it be known that regardless of the retool or reset, he won’t take losing games lightly. 

The 33-year-old leads the team with 51 points in 58 games and has been one of the Flames’ MVPs. He’s also taken a keen interest in mentoring rookies Connor Zary and Martin Pospisil, who combined for three points. With or without two of their top blueliners and starting goalie, the pack mentality will continue well past the March 8 trade deadline.

“We’ve got some nerves of steel in here,” he said.

“No quit. That’s just as simple as it is."