We’ve written quite a bit about Deryk Engelland on this site since he signed a contract with the Calgary Flames two summers ago. Admittedly – and somewhat predictably, given his role and hefty cap hit – the majority of what we’ve written about Engelland hasn’t been overly complementary.
Yet despite his relatively high age (he’s 33, turning 34 in April) and high cap hit ($2.917 million) for his role as a third pairing, limited-minutes defender, Engelland has quietly been arguably Calgary’s most consistent defender this season. It’s this consistency, perhaps, that has led to his specific utilization by Flames coach Bob Hartley: when players have struggled, Hartley has put them with Engelland for a few things to settle down.
We come not to bury Engelland, but to praise him.
Engelland’s first project this season was fresh-faced rookie Brett Kulak, who made the team because of injuries to veteran left-handers T.J. Brodie and Ladislav Smid. Since Hartley seemed hell-bent on putting left shots with right shots – his other pairings were Giordano/Hamilton and Russell/Wideman – this pairing made all kinds of sense. And since a 21-year-old was bound to play limited minutes anyway, it made sense to put him with a limited-minutes, steady, stay-at-home blueliner. Engelland gave him a safety net.
Both guys played well. Together, Engelland and Kulak combined for 57.7% Corsi For, the best performance of any pairing on the team at the time. They played six games together and then Kulak was returned to the American Hockey League, though he went with a lot of momentum due to his bearded, veteran defensive partner.
Russell began the season with Dennis Wideman. Things did not go well. Their Corsi For together was 41.0%, which is downright dreadful. So Bob Hartley (smartly) blew up that pairing. Russell ended up going with Engelland, who was fresh off being a reliable foil for a young defender.
Russell’s numbers didn’t get insanely good – and the evidence suggests that Russell actually made Engelland worse than he was away from him possession-wise – but his own possession numbers saw a slight up-tick to 43.9% Corsi For. This modest improvement earned Russell a new assignment after a few games.
T.J. Brodie returned on October 28, so Hartley shuffled the deck once again. Russell went with Brodie, Mark Giordano got Dennis Wideman, and Dougie Hamilton drew Engelland. After the 22-year-old had struggled, primarily with Giordano and playing big minutes, the logic was probably to give Hamilton a change of pace, some lower-risk deployments and to lower his even-strength minutes a bunch to keep him fresh for the power-play.
Maybe it was the changed deployments, but once together Hamilton and Engelland combined for a 59.8% Corsi For percentage, which is crazy-good considering the personnel. Hamilton and Engelland spent four games together and they were each 10% better together than they were apart.
The last couple games – since Hartley reunited Brodie and Giordano (and put Hamilton with Russell) – Engelland’s found a new project: Wideman. Like Russell, Wideman had woeful possession numbers. Like Russell and Hamilton, I think the logic is to give Wideman lower minutes, easier deployments and generally keep him fresh for power-play duty. The results haven’t been there quite yet – their combined Corsi For is around 45% through a few games together – but if nothing else, lower even-strength minutes have limited what kind of damage Wideman can do defensively at even-strength.
SUM IT UP
Is Deryk Engelland a world-beating defenseman? Nope. He’s been a third-pairing defender throughout his tenure in Calgary, aside from jumping into the top-four when Mark Giordano was injured. But his value is that he’s a reliable, predictable player that doesn’t need to play a whole heck of a lot to be effective.
And if you basically throw anybody alongside him, his steadiness has a tendency to calm guys down and smooth out bumps in their games. So far this season, he’s mentored Kulak and been entrusted to settle down the unsteady games of Russell and Hamilton. And considering the cap space the Flames have invested in Engelland, it’s heartening to see him find a niche on this club – especially considering how many other players on the club have struggled at times this season to do that.