As trade looms, Noah Hanifin powers Flames past Oilers

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This was, barring a massive surprise, Noah Hanifin’s final appearance in the Battle of Alberta.

It was a heck of a farewell.

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The Calgary Flames will certainly miss him.

The Edmonton Oilers may not.

The scouts must have been drooling Saturday as this soon-to-be-traded defenceman — a swap seems like an inevitability after he couldn’t be convinced to sign a long-term extension with the Flames — put on a show against the provincial rivals, piling up three points to power his team to a 6-3 victory at Rogers Place.

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“I’m just trying to focus on my game right now and helping this team get into playoffs,” Hanifin insisted in a post-game interview on Hockey Night in Canada. “That’s where my focus has been this whole year. You just can’t give that (trade talk) any attention this time of year. We’re in the hunt for the playoffs right now as a team, and I’m doing everything I can just to play well and help this team win games and get into a playoff spot.”

Ironically, Hanifin is one of the reasons that some are already writing off the Flames.

That’s not any sort of knock on this 27-year-old smoothie. It’s absolutely fair to wonder, as many have, how the Calgary-based crew could possibly remain relevant in the wildcard race when they’re poised to ship out two of their best blue-liners. Hanifin’s defence partner, Chris Tanev, is also on the block. Both on expiring contracts, they should be top targets on the rental market.

Saturday’s performance, one of the finest of Hanifin’s six seasons in Calgary, simply highlights how much he will be missed.

He scored twice, added an assist and snared first-star honours.

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He fired seven shots on net and blocked four in his own zone.

While Oilers superstar Connor McDavid did collect a pair of assists, neither came with No. 55 on the ice. He finished with a plus-3 rating in 25 minutes of ice time.

Calgary Flames vs. Edmonton Oilers
Calgary Flames forward Nazem Kadri scores on Edmonton Oilers netminder Stuart Skinner at Rogers Place in Edmonton on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024. Photo by JASON FRANSON /THE CANADIAN PRESS

“And I hit the post at the end there on the empty-netter,” Hanifin told reporters in Edmonton. ”That would have been nice.”

While he wasn’t able to complete the hat-trick, this superb skater did boost his season goal total to 11, a new career-high.

He may not have boosted his trade value, but this certainly won’t hurt.

On just his third shift of the evening, he created a turnover with a slick poke-check at his own blue-line. About five seconds later, the puck was in the back of Edmonton’s net, with Hanifin collecting a secondary assist after Walker Duehr set up Nazem Kadri for a top-shelf redirect.

He’d scored one of his own before the first intermission. This time, Jonathan Huberdeau played pickpocket in the neutral zone. Hanifin immediately joined the attack as the trailer and, after a pass from captain Mikael Backlund, snapped a shot inside the post on the blocker-side.

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He cashed his second of the evening on the man-advantage, capitalizing after a fantastic feed from Connor Zary.

“He was all over it tonight,” Kadri said of Hanifin.

He will, between now and the March 8 deadline, be all over every rumour site and trade-bait list. The Flames, after offering an eight-year contract that was reportedly worth roughly US$60 million, really have no choice but to flip this minute-muncher for future assets.

It’s believed the Boston-raised rearguard prefers to play south of the border. Certainly, any bidder will want to know if he’s willing to extend — and at what cost.

“He’s a defenceman that we rely on heavily,” said Flames coach Ryan Huska, whose squad has knocked off a trio of contenders — the Winnipeg Jets, Boston Bruins and now the Oilers — over the past week. “And we’re going to continue to do that.”

Probably not for long.

The Flames, just three points out of the final wildcard slot in the Western Conference, have only four games remaining before deadline day.

During his post-game scrum in Edmonton, Hanifin stickhandled around questions about his future.

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“I just focus in on each day and whatever happens, happens,” he told media at Rogers Place. “It’s just taking it one day at a time and doing everything I can just to help the team win. We’re in a playoff hunt right now and that’s the focus in the locker-room. I’m a part of this team and that’s where my mindset is at right now too, is just each game helping us move forward to a playoff spot and playing the best hockey I can each night for the team.”

He was certainly near his best Saturday in what was likely his bye-bye to the Battle of Alberta.

“It was a great team effort tonight,” Hanifin said afterward. “We needed to get a win against those guys.”

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