The summer doldrums were disturbed yesterday by a rare late-August swap. The Calgary Flames traded aging two-way center Daymond Langkow back to the Phoenix Coyotes for speedy winger Lee Stempniak. The deal cleared some $2.6 million in cap space for Calgary, while the Desert Dogs were desperate for more center depth beyond Martin Hanzal.

The surface reasons for the trade are obvious, however there are particular risks each side of the deal bears. The Flames simultaneously lost a player who has proven to be perhaps their best two-way forward over the last few years, while the Coyotes acquire something of an unknown quality.

At 35 years old and with a pair of underwhelming offensive seasons in his wake (37 and 49 points respectively), Daymond Langkow looked like something of a bad bet to provide value at $4.5 million, even ignoring the cracked vertebrae that saw him miss all but four games last year. Langkow’s counting stats obscure his true value however.

Since 2008-09, Langkow’s primary function has been as the Flames two-way/hard minutes center. Aside from Brent Sutter’s ill-fated flirtation with Olli Jokinen and Jarome Iginla playing power vs power at the onset of the 2010 season, the primary center on the club in terms of tough match-ups has been #22 for several seasons. Despite frequently playing against the best the opposition had to offer, Langkow nevertheless posted some of the best underlying numbers on the Flames.

In 2009-10, for example, the trio of Langkow, Rene Bourque and Nigel Dawes faced the toughest quality of competition in aggregate. Nevertheless, Langkow finished with the third best relative possession rate on the Flames (+4.6/60), despite the fact he also had the most difficult zone start ratio on the team (47.7%). I counted scoring chances for the Flames that same season and Langkow finished the year with a scoring chance ratio of .554 – the fourth best measure on the team and the first amongst regular forwards.

So although Langkow’s gross output had been falling the last few seasons, he was still driving possession and scoring chances in tough circumstances. This might be why Coyotes GM Don Maloney called acquiring him a “no-brainer“.

Even granting all that, Langkow represents something of a gamble for the Coyotes. He’s at the age where many NHLers start to struggle to keep up and that’s without the added burden of a significant spinal injury. Although he appeared in the last four games of the regular season for Calgary last year and is rumored to be completely recovered, there remains a very real risk that Langkow will never regain his pre-injury performance level.

On the Flames side of the ledger, Jay Feaster rids himself of a potentially burdensome contract and frees up space on a roster that was choked with centermen (Mikael Backlund, Olli Jokinen, Brendan Morrison, Matt Stajan and occasional pivot David Moss). Lee Stempniak is also a known commodity in the meaty part of his career arc: a capable, middle rotation winger who can manage roughly 20-goals and 40-points in a supporting role, so his addition isn’t a terrible one for the club. On the other hand, Calgary loses the one pivot who had proven he could play against the big boys and consistently keep his head above water. Brent Sutter settled on Jokinen and Bourque in the tough minutes role last season, for instance, and they weren’t quite as successful with a team worst possession and plus/minus rates.

The trade is therefore defensible for both sides, with each team potentially gaining something but also committing certain gambles. In the end, if Daymond Langkow returns at 100%, Don Maloney and the Coyotes likely come out ahead here. If not, then score one for Jay Feaster and the Flames.