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As trade deadline looms, Flames’ Hanifin has tough decision to make

NEW YORK – The Calgary Flames need a decision from Noah Hanifin.

An eight-year contract offer has been on the table for some time, and with the trade deadline looming the club is anxiously awaiting word on whether they’ll need to start shopping him.

With so much at stake, the all-star break offered Hanifin the perfect chance to gather with family in Boston to help him try figuring out if the grass is greener elsewhere.

“It’s a huge decision, and my family plays a huge part in that,” said the 27-year-old defenceman in a one-on-one chat.

“My fiancée, my parents, my brother and sisters were all home, so I was able to discuss with them the whole situation because obviously it’s going to be coming to a head sooner rather than later.”
Indeed, it has to.

The Flames have made it known just how important they see the slick skating defender as they implement a youth movement balanced by having veterans like him to lead by example.

He likes Calgary and the organization, but it’s only natural for him to wonder if the free agency route would land him in a better situation like Matthew Tkachuk’s, or a more challenging one, a la Johnny Gaudreau.

He admits the decision is weighing on him.  

“It’s definitely on my mind – I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t,” he said.

“But I’m just trying to control what I can, and that’s just playing hockey and trying to perform and help the team get wins.

“Sometimes these contract years can be a lot to process, but hockey has almost been a good escape for me, just getting on the ice and playing games and hanging with the guys.”

The thought of saying goodbye to a group he’s spent six years with can’t be easy, even if the team is morphing into a younger bunch that may have a harder time winning as Elias Lindholm, and likely other veterans like his defence partner Chris Tanev, are swapped out.

“It’s nice seeing the energy in the young guys at the rink,” he said. 

“There’s definitely a bright future, and getting (Jakob) Pelletier and those guys back makes a big difference energy-wise. 

“They’re really good players too and they have a lot of talent.

“Absolutely there’s a bright future here.”

Whether he wants to be part of it will be decided in short order.

Saturday’s afternoon game at UBS Arena will be his 650th spin as an NHLer, which is a remarkable number for someone his age.

A strong, steady, puck mover since he burst into the league as an 18-year-old first rounder, Hanifin has been the epitome of consistency throughout his career.

Yet, proving how much of an upside he still has, this season may be the best of his nine years so far.

His end-to-end goal in Boston Tuesday demonstrated once again how much more comfortable he is making deep forays into the offensive zone, landing him just one snipe shy of his career-high of 10.

He sits one back of Flames blueline leader MacKenzie Weegar with 28 points and he leads all Flames defenders at plus-12.

He’s averaging a career-high 23:38 of ice time to be amongst league leaders in the category, having logged more shifts than any player in the league this season at 1,580.

That’s reliability.

If he chooses not to sign, you can see why he’d be one of the most sought-after players, likely capable of bringing in a return somewhat similar to what Lindholm netted.

“Having just turned 27 I’m kind of coming into my prime,” said Hanifin, who had a career high for points two years ago with 48. 

“I’ve played a lot of games and have experience and learned a lot about what kind of player I am and it’s all kind of added up, and this year I just feel confident and free with the way I’m playing.”

It shows, which is why the Flames’ offer is reportedly in the neighbourhood of $60 million.

An American choosing to stay in Calgary would be a powerful endorsement for the organization and the city.

Regardless of how you label the Flames’ recalibration, Hanifin is a player who won’t be on the decline anytime soon.

“I always try to pride myself on getting better every year in different areas and I think my experience playing a lot of games for my age has helped a lot in that regard,” he said.

“I had played a lot of games when I was a little bit younger and people kind of label you as, ‘this is who you are as a player,’ and I was never a fan of that.

“You can always find ways to improve.”

He’s done that.

It’s his next move that has the organization and its fans waiting so patiently for.

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