Do you hear that? That’s the sound of angels singing, getting ready to welcome our hero back on the ice. Everything will soon be okay.
Well, maybe not. The Flames’ problems are too much for just one person to fix, but if any one person can fix them, it may very well be T.J. Brodie. There was no question losing the 25-year-old in the pre-season hurt, but now, we’re seeing just how badly the Flames miss him.
He’s not back quite yet, but the fact he’ll be making the trek out to eastern side of the continent in just a few days is a good sign.
So wait, when’s he actually back?
Brodie suffered a broken hand in a Sept. 21 pre-season game. On Sept. 23, he was given a recovery time of about 3-6 weeks.
We’re at about the four week mark now, so this is pretty much right on track. The five week mark comes right at the end of the road trip, so there’s absolutely no guarantee we actually see him make his season debut out east, but it’s certainly possible.
The six week mark is Nov. 4, making it a maximum of seven more games without Brodie, assuming there are no further setbacks. And considering how he’s been skating this entire time and seems to be progressing well, there really isn’t any reason to expect any.
Now, it really should be stressed that Brodie likely isn’t going to fix anything immediately. He’s still a top pairing quality defenceman, but he’s also a month behind everyone else. Sure, he’s been skating, but he hasn’t seen any real NHL action since the playoffs this past May. He’ll help, but he’ll need some time in order to do so.
What does the defence look like in the meantime?
#Flames pairings also the same: Giordano-Wideman; Russell-Engelland; Smid-Hamilton. Nakladal the odd man out today.
— Pat Steinberg (@Fan960Steinberg) October 22, 2015
It’s the return of Ladislav Smid! Although there is a chance Jakub Nakladal could take his spot; that’s something we’ll find out tomorrow. Nakladal already has three assists in two games with the Stockton Heat, but that’s the Heat: he hasn’t been with this Flames team.
On the other hand, while Smid has been practicing with the Flames this entire time, he also hasn’t played an NHL game since Jan. 19, 2015, and not with regularity since Dec. 12, 2014, when Simon Despres’ headshot started this whole mess. Even then, though, he was only playing about 10 minutes a game.
The Mark Giordano and Dougie Hamilton experiment appears to be over, and rightfully so, as the two were not clicking. We saw some of Dennis Wideman with Giordano in the third period against the Capitals – just over seven even strength minutes with, to be exact – and while the sample size is small to date, it’s still worth exploring further.
Giordano is barely helping the struggling Hamilton, if at all; meanwhile, though he’s played about 75 fewer minutes with Wideman to start the season, hey, that pairing is worth looking into for the time being. Especially when you consider that Giordano and Hamilton have had 51.8% zone starts together, whereas Giordano and Wideman have only been at 20.0%.
Is this a demotion for Hamilton? Essentially, yes, but here’s the thing: we know he and Giordano aren’t clicking, and there aren’t really many other defencemen the Flames have available to pair up with him. If it means a drop in his ice time, so be it: it could be good for him, anyway, as he’s still learning to adapt to the Flames.
What’s really interesting is the idea of pairing Kris Russell and Deryk Engelland together. Russell is generally thought of more highly, but Engelland has been better to start the season. Neither is really known as a positive possession player, though. This is the pairing I’d watch out the most for, because it’s probably the one where things have the most potential to go wrong. The two played 99 even strength minutes with one another last season, and clocked in at a CF of 39.9%, so it’s probably best to not get any hopes up.
What does the defence look like when Brodie returns?
Assuming Smid is back and there are no further recalls, when Brodie is activated, he’ll be the 23rd man on the Flames’ roster, so nobody will have to be sent down. The Flames will be carrying 13 forwards, eight defencemen, and two goalies.
First things first: you put Giordano with Brodie and you never let them apart. Duct tape them together. Make them roommates. Do what you have to do, but get that top pairing back together and do not break it up, even if there are struggles to start with. That pairing has been absurdly, stupidly good over the past two seasons, and it’s the Flames’ best hope right now.
After that, it’s more of a mystery. The Flames will have Hamilton, Wideman, Russell, Smid, Engelland, and Nakladal fighting for four spots. Let’s assume Hamilton, Wideman, and Russell are in by default, since they’re more likely to play big minutes.
Hamilton and Wideman are both righties, so they probably won’t end up on the same pairing. Wideman and Russell have been tried together ad nauseam, and they’ve been brutal, so let’s suggest Hamilton and Russell end up on the second pairing together.
That leaves Wideman looking for a partner. Jakub Nakladal and Deryk Engelland are both righties as well, so the default choice seems to be Ladislav Smid, who should have a few games under his belt by the time Brodie returns and the Flames reshuffle their defence.
The number of defencemen up with the Flames gives them options, though. Russell is an upcoming free agent, so maybe you trade him. That could mean Smid up with Hamilton, or an all-righty pairing to go with the all-lefty on the top.
The Flames have a lot of options to mix and match their defencemen when Brodie returns to bump everybody down the lineup. But the number one priority should be reuniting Giordano and Brodie. Number two is probably ensuring Hamilton is comfortable, and finding the ideal partner for him. Smid and Engelland have shown themselves to be not particularly suited for big minutes – maybe Nakladal is the answer.