Hanifin emerges as intriguing trade chip
If the Calgary Flames were looking for a serious trade partner to step up, they may have found one this weekend.
The New Jersey Devils entered the season with high postseason expectations but have been beleaguered by terrible injury luck since the drop of the puck.
Not only are these injuries to impact players (Jack Hughes, Timo Meier, Dougie Hamilton, and Ondrej Palat are just a sampling of those who have missed time), they are starting to stack up, and the team’s depth is under siege.
New Jersey’s injury issues have become particularly noticeable on the defensive end. Hamilton is going to be out of commission long term if you believe head coach Lindy Ruff, and Jonas Siegenthaler’s broken foot also will take time. Veteran names the team perhaps could’ve relied on in years past – players like Ryan Graves and Damon Severson – now play for division rivals, leaving the Devils with excruciatingly limited options for defensive bodies.
The Flames haven’t been shy about their interest in moving some pieces this year, owing in large part to a grinding 17-18-5 start to the year and a major uphill battle chasing down the rest of the Pacific Division.
This Flames team still has tremendous talent, but you sense that the front office is looking for ways to retool their roster and cap forecast long term. To that end, Hanifin becomes a fascinating potential trade chip: a reliable 26-year-old top-four option who is in the final year of his current contract. And, notably, a player who the team tried and failed to extend earlier in the season.
With confidence of an extension in Calgary waning, and the team stuck in sixth place in the division, Hanifin is emerging as one of the most intriguing trade pieces available. He is also the type of player you can trade to a contender for real, meaningful assets — especially a contender that isn’t looking for a rental and may be willing to pay more in a sign-and-trade type of deal.
Let’s talk about why Hanifin would make sense for this New Jersey team. Setting aside the depth issues above, Hanifin is going to command a big extension somewhere. The Devils have cap space in 2024-25 and see two current defenders (Brendan Smith, Colin Miller) expire as free agents at year’s end.
They also have a need. Consider Hanifin’s production rates relative to what the Devils have realized from defenders over the past few seasons:
Hanifin looks indiscernible from the likes of Hamilton, Miller, or Siegenthaler over a three-year horizon. And that’s the point. Hamilton and Siegenthaler are both unavailable for an extended period of time, and Miller is a 31-year-old veteran the final year of his contract with the Devils. He’s been a reliable option for many years, but this isn’t the sort of player you are making a long-term bet on either.
At his best, Hanifin is a top-three option on any blueline and an excellent skater who can be deployed in all situations. He isn’t an overly physical player, but his versatility and confidence playing with the puck make him a seamless fit for a Devils team that wants to play with tempo.
Calgary is a markedly better team offensively with Hanifin on the ice, and that’s what you’re looking for if you are a Devils team that wants to attack with pace in high-pressure areas (via HockeyViz):
If Hanifin is traded, you would have to imagine the Flames would want to wait until the approaching trade deadline – a time of the hockey calendar year where buyers routinely overpay for assets as the playoff picture comes into focus. But considering the Devils needs at this very moment, you wonder if general manager Tom Fitzgerald wants to run in front of the trade deadline.
Having a player like Hanifin available for half of the season sounds a lot better than acquiring him in the second week of March. And even if New Jersey isn’t the ultimate landing spot, keep an eye on Hanifin – as needs around the league increase at the position, so will the opportunities for the Flames to move on from an expiring contract and begin retooling the rest of this roster.
Data via Natural Stat Trick, NHL.com, Evolving Hockey, Hockey Reference