Time to revisit the plea to not have Deryk Engelland be TJ Brodie’s regular partner

Despite how pleasantly surprising these 2014-15 Calgary
Flames have been, there’s a lot that isn’t quite ideal right now. Being down 0-1 to
the Anaheim Ducks in the second round of the playoffs isn’t ideal. Being
blown out 6-1 by them also isn’t ideal.

But probably most of all, Mark Giordano not being able to
play is not ideal.


Not having Giordano around means multiple things:

  1. The Flames lost their best player.
  2. The Flames lost half of their top defence pairing.
  3. TJ Brodie can no longer play on the top pairing.
  4. TJ Brodie has to play with an inferior partner.
  5. That inferior partner is Deryk Engelland.
  6. Being elevated to the top four means Engelland has to play more minutes in harder circumstances.
  7. Engelland is not particularly great at hockey, so more of him isn’t good.
  8. Instead of being elevated by Giordano, Brodie is brought down by Engelland.
  9. Ultimately, the Flames’ defence is nowhere near as strong as it could be.

When Giordano went down, Bob Hartley immediately selected
Engelland as his replacement. The Flames have now played more than two months
with Brodie-Engelland as their second pairing.

It has not worked out.


Even though there appears to be another option.

Context matters

At a glance, it looks obvious. Brodie is substantially
better with David Schlemko than he is with Deryk Engelland; the numbers go from
disastrous to impressive. Not only that, but Engelland himself is better when
he isn’t with Brodie.

There are a few reasons for that: zone starts and quality of
competition. By playing 20 minutes a night on the top four as opposed to 10 or
so on the bottom pairing, Engelland is put in a position where he has to face
better opponents more often. Because Brodie plays at an elevated level,
Engelland is forced to match his competition, and he’s not the kind of
defenceman who can do that.

Zone starts play a massive part, as well. When playing with
Brodie, Engelland’s OZone% is 32.1; when he played away from him, that number
jumps to 43.2.

Simply put, Engelland out of the top four is an Engelland in
a position to actually potentially succeed, rather than being thrown to the
wolves and praying Brodie can help keep him above water. (He cannot. Nobody can. Not even Gio.)

It should be noted, however, that these are regular season
numbers, and therefore, when comparing Brodie with Engelland and Brodie with
Schlemko, they’re very, very skewed. For example, when Brodie started shifts
with Schlemko, their OZone% was 40.0. The Brodie-Schlemko
pairing has been more sheltered than Brodie-Engelland.

Time is the really big skewer, though. Brodie spent 332:01 even
strength minutes with Engelland over the regular season, and just 18:52 with
Schlemko, so we understand more about Brodie with Engelland than the alternative.

Why not Schlemko?

Considering how disastrous Engelland’s numbers are with
Brodie, context be damned, why wouldn’t you try someone else at some point?
Right now, Schlemko is the only reasonable option. Tyler Wotherspoon is too
green for top four playoff action, and every other possibility is either
injured or Corey Potter. (Do not play Corey Potter.)

Schlemko’s most common defence partner this season was
Raphael Diaz, with 140:11 even strength minutes spent together on the Flames’
bottom pairing. They were a positive possession pairing at 52.30%, but again, as the bottom pairing, sheltered, with an OZone% of 48.4.

After Diaz, Schlemko’s most common partners were Zbynek
Michalek and Michael Stone, with approximately 70 even strength minutes spent
with both.


Michalek is a pretty good defenceman, so of course,
Schlemko’s numbers with him are better than his numbers with Stone. There’s
just one other important number not included there: their OZone%.

With Michalek, it was 58.6; with Stone, 52.8. This is where
we have to take into account the Arizona Coyotes, despite their worse record,
were a better possession team than the Flames: 48.6%, compared to 44.4%.
This also generally meant better OZone% numbers: 49.3 compared to 45.3. When you have the puck more, you get more shots on net, you have more opportunities for offensive zone faceoffs.

A dual partnership

So, why not Schlemko? Because while the numbers he posts are good, he posts them in incredibly sheltered circumstances, and needs a good defencemen alongside him to do it. He hasn’t played tougher zone starts. He hasn’t really played in top four situations.

Here’s the thing, though: we already know he thrives in reduced circumstances. We know that Engelland is struggling.

From the first round playoff series:


And then Engelland was on the ice for five of six goals against the Ducks. The Ducks are a significantly better team than the Canucks, so Engelland playing top four minutes against them is something of a massive concern.

At the same time, there’s no evidence that Schlemko’s numbers could sustain in top four time.

But… there’s no evidence he’d be any worse, either. 

And the Engelland experiment, despite going on for two months now, is clearly not working.

Schlemko already occasionally plays with Brodie. Why not just play him more? Split Engelland and Schlemko’s time down the middle. It’s an odd circumstance to be in, but the Flames really only have three properly functional defencemen, and even that much is debatable. So break up the fourth man minutes.

Or, if we’re at the stage of giving Wotherspoon more minutes now – he played 14:32 against the Ducks, with most of those minutes coming once the Flames were already down 6-0 – just try replacing Engelland with Schlemko flat out for a game.

Because while the options are few, it’s not as though Engelland is the only one.

  • everton fc

    It’s a massive concern to have Engelland play top 4 minutes vs. the Ducks. Agreed.

    I’d argue the same concern with Schlemko, but he has played top-4 minutes with two teams, under similar circumstances, albeit regular season.

    Either way you go, our defence, which I’ve always said would be our soft spot, is starting to show it’s soft underbelly. At lease in Game 1. But I have absolute faith Hartley will out-coach his nemesis and we may see a very different game this evening. Hartley got us this far. He’ll adjust and if the players can do the same, we may be surprised.

    One must retain hope!

    I also think we see Ramo in the crease.

  • Toofun

    We’ve been shouting for this change for what feels like months now. Perhaps after last game Hartley is ready to give it a try?

    This isn’t dissimilar to how FN was begging Calgary to try out Monahan with Hurdler and Gaudreau. That worked out pretty well…

    Desperate times call for desperate measures Bob. Give Schlemko a chance!

    • hulkingloooooob

      This sounds to me as though too many people here think they are smarter than Bob. You don’t think he’s thought the options thru? You think this website gave him the idea to put Monny with Hudler and Johnny? Don’t be so prideful.

      He’s not going to win the Jack Adams because he’s an idiot

      • Toofun

        No I don’t believe that we gave Hartley they idea to move Monny and yes I do believe he is a good coach who has thought this through and will probably win the Jack Adams.

        Now that that is settled, I also believe he has been conservative with his line up changes and Yes, that FN suggested weeks before the change was made to move Monny up with Hudler and Gaudreau. (Look back. The change was made due to injuries and lack of alternatives.)

        We don’t get paid to coach so it’s easy for us to recommend risky changes. We don’t have to explain to Burke why we decided to play our toughest defenseman 5 minutes in a game against one of the biggest teams in the league.

        I get it. It is a difficult decision and it could backfire. In my opinion it’s a chance that’s worth taking. Engelland, despite all of his truculence, is not a top 4 defenseman and he is bringing down the quality of play of someone who is one of the best puck moving d-men in the whole league.

  • TheoForever

    Engelland was brutal in the last game. On the first goal, he thinks about it and instead of going to the other side with lots of space he turns back into traffic and then passes to the enemy. And that was just the start…..

    • MontanaMan

      And it ended with Brodie terribly out of position and caught up ice with the puck still in the Flames end and Stajan not picking up his man in front. Engelland struggles no doubt but people focus on him and don’t see the breakdowns of others on the ice.

      • FlamesRule

        The reason is because when Engelland is not on the ice, the puck is more likely in the Neutral zone or the Ozone, and “breakdowns” don’t result in goals against. The fact that the Flames have to play perfect defense in this series is a clear result of Engelland’s inability to

        1) Clear the puck properly
        2) Move the puck to a forward
        3) Take the puck away from the opponent
        4) Sustain offensive pressure

        I’m not a big “rah-rah corsi” guy. But you can watch the game and know Engelland is a liability against top 9 competition. Put him in a place to succeed, not fail. Hartley has failed all season to do so, first with the Smid/Engelland pairing that made about as much sense as the Sven/Bouma/Bollig line that accompanied it, and now with the Brodie/Engelland pairing that would make a great bottom pairing but makes a horrid middle pairing.

        • MontanaMan

          Agreed, I’ve seen Brodie make several errors that resulted in goals in which the root cause was him trying to do too much.

          Engelland needed to be upgraded as a 3rd pairing D man. It’s astonishing that people defend him as a 1st pairing D man when what they should be doing is acknowledging the greatness that is Brodie for even being able to survive with Engelland as his partner.

          Reminds me a lot of the Bouwmeester and Butler debate.

        • MontanaMan

          My issue with him is the number of icings and firing the puck up the boards blind when he has time to make a good pass. The puck is a hand grenade on his stick and it’s not pretty having him in the top four but the Flames are stuck with it. I’m not a fan of Diaz at all and believe he will get eaten alive by the big Duck forwards. If they use Diaz it needs to be very sparingly, including the PP but for my money, I’ll begrudgingly take Engelland over Diaz in most situations.

  • FlamesRule

    Engelland’s our best matchup against the size and strength of the Ducks forwards. Diaz is not the answer. He’s a pro and will have a much better game two – like the rest of the Flames.

    They were all lulled into a sense of what it takes to win against the soft Canucks – they’ll adjust and be better.

  • beloch

    Hartley has been very conservative with his lines thus far in the playoffs. I doubt Brodie will get a new partner unless the Flames dig themselves another hole and Hartley has no better response than to bring out the line blender.

    Diaz participating in full practice is good news. This could mean a functional third pair. The top two pairs will both play better if they can get a little more rest.

  • hulkingloooooob

    my only thought about Engelland is that the one thing he brings that none of our other defenders really have is the ability to pin the bigger forwards to the boards in an effort to stop the cycle, and to me it’s clear that’s one major thing we need to do. I’d love to see him as a 7-D who comes in for bigger teams in a shut down role, but we are 3 good defenders short of a full roster these days (although shlemmy has been good!). we just have to work with what we have and hope for some luck from the hockey gods.

    remember kids, this is the flames, in the second round. one of 8 teams that still have a chance at the cup. this is all glorious gravy and the young guns are learning some valuable lessons. plus, the bar for next season just went up.

    my only other thought from game one was this: we need byron! the ducks bring it in and slow the game down, lolly-gagging about until perry or gets laughs can find the back of the net. we need to beat them with speed. it might be all we have against them. i seem to remember some great games against the ducks this year, almost feeling like we had their number (at home that is). does anyone have any idea how we beat the ducks this season? i’d have to go back and watch but i’d venture a guess that it was speed not brut force that won those games for us.

    enjoying the ride none the less….

    Go Flames Go!!!

  • hulkingloooooob

    What scenario has better odds…the Oilers making the playoffs next year or Ari actually being able to go a few articles without trashing Engelland and/or Bollig…

    Wow armchair Coach/GM. My god, relax and get off these guy’s back, its been non-stop all year-long, Matchsticks is unbearable to read for this very reason alone. These guys are doing the best they can with the cards they’ve been dealt (injuries). Other than last game where everyone was hot garbage, both Engelland and Bollig have contributed and done their part during the playoffs…we desperately need more size and beef and Game 1 made that painfully clear.

    Win or lose I’m proud of what these guys have accomplished and these type of players are critical this time of year hence the premium al teams pay for them…their coach has their back as well…as should we all

  • hulkingloooooob

    Not the time of year to make this plea. Perhaps in the offseason. When the options are as slim as they are in that dressing room, you grind your teeth and go with the vet every time (Even though this is the most uneven pairing in the history of pro sport). Game one was a tire fire for the entire team. Move on. Not like Hartley is going to pop in for an FN pep talk anyways.

  • hulkingloooooob

    A healthy Flames team makes this a series; not having Gio on the back end makes it very difficult especially considering that BT did nothing at the trade deadline to address the lack of depth on the back end. The Bouma injury also has hurt thsi team especially against a big team like the Ducks. I am proud of this team and expect the guys that Hartley puts out their tonight will put up a much better effort than Thursday. We have been spoiled by this season and should never forget that this is year two a rebuild and everything these guys are learning from this run will help them in the future. Lets enjoy the moment but remember we are about 3 forwards shy upfront(I believe we may actually have them in the system) and 2 defensemen short(here I am as optimistic).

    Enjoy the game tonight.

    • hulkingloooooob

      CP good post…I also think Flames are a goaltender short as well…more consistency is required and hopefully Ortio / Gillies will be the answer in the near future or perhaps they sign a big name as UFA (Dubnyk??).

      The forwards you mention need to be bigger in order to match up with teams like the Ducks….

      • hulkingloooooob

        While it would be great to have a star goalie I would prefer a great team with solid NHL goaltending(Chicago) than a team that depends on the goal tender(Flames with Kipper)
        Poirier’s size and skill set will help. Bouma, Ferland are size enough. You can have some smaller skilled guys if the line up is filled with some good skilled guys with size and hockey toughness. Look at the Rangers.

  • hulkingloooooob

    Schlemko has been a very solid addition and cost us absolutely nothing, that’s very astute asset management on Treliving’s part.

    With Diaz being close to coming back it will help ease some of the minutes that Russell, Wideman, Engelland and Brodie have been forced into and balance out the ice time better.

    Looking at next year once Gio’s back you’ll have your top 4 (Gio, Brodie, Wideman, Russell) and how I’d like to see it, Schlemko, Engelland and Wotherspoon rounding out your 5-7 slots. I’d be ok with them letting both Diaz and Potter go in the offseason. Wouldn’t be surprised either tho if Brad made an offseason depth D signing as well…someone that can play on the 3rd pairing with reliable minutes. At the draft I would suspect they’ll draft heavy on D, mixing in the odd winger.

    • hulkingloooooob

      That first round pick is the most intriguing for me.With Hannifin,Provorov.and Werenski off the board,i wonder if the scouting staff might go after a Bittner,Greenway or Meier,under the rule of ” Best available Player”

      If they could grab one of those forwards and trade up to the late first early second round and draft a Meloche,Kylington or Chabot,i’d be happy.

  • hulkingloooooob

    Engelland may not be a top 4 defenseman, nevertheless here we are in the 2nd round and with a win% of something like 60-66% since Gio went down so let’s cut the big guy a break. He has been a big part of the reason we were able to get into the playoffs in the first place.

    Remember the season was supposed to be finished when Gio went down, Engelland has helped to make sure that wasn’t the case