Amidst injuries and suspensions, what does the Flames’ defence look like?

The Flames’ defence group is somewhat of a mess at the moment. Dennis Wideman is still suspended for another 12 games, barring his final appeal (and assuming the appeal doesn’t take so long his suspension runs out during it). Kris Russell is day-to-day with an undisclosed injury. Ladislav Smid may or may not be forced to miss some playing time.

That leaves the Flames with five defencemen, one of whom is Jakub Nakladal, who has played three NHL games, with ice time ranging from 1:45-16:04. 

It’s probably not realistic to have the top pairing of Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie play 30 or so minutes every game, so this poses some problems – and, hopefully, some opportunities as well.

Before the trade deadline

The Flames have just five games left before the trade deadline. None of Brodie, Giordano, nor Dougie Hamilton are likely to go anywhere, mostly because the Flames would probably like to keep all three for years and years to come. None of Engelland, Smid, or Wideman have particularly desirable contracts, so any hopes of selling them probably aren’t realistic (and that’s without getting into Wideman’s suspension).

That leaves two possibilities for the Flames: Russell and Nakladal, both upcoming UFAs. Nakladal has had such a limited sample size that it’s hard to imagine anyone wanting him, but Russell has played a top four role for three seasons in a row with the Flames now, and evidently, is seen as a valuable commodity throughout the NHL, to the point he could cash in big come free agency.

Russell’s injury has prevented him from playing in the Flames’ most recent two games, but hopefully should allow him to contribute to a team – whether it’s the Flames or not – after the trade deadline.

Now, if Smid’s injury holds him out for a while, and Russell is traded, that leaves the Flames with just five available defencemen: Brodie, Giordano, Hamilton, Engelland, and Nakladal. Two defencemen from Stockton would have to be recalled: likely Brett Kulak (the highest-scoring non-injured defenceman on the Heat under NHL contract), and Tyler Wotherspoon (one of the more experienced defenders the Heat still has to offer, who has garnered praise from his coach, Ryan Huska).

After the trade deadline

The nice thing is after the trade deadline, teams are allowed to have rosters that exceed the 23-player limit. The not-nice thing is they can’t recall more than four players, unless it’s an emergency. So the Flames will have a chance to give new players a spot in the NHL – but they’ll have to be careful with just who they bring up.

If Wideman’s 20-game suspension holds up (and he isn’t traded), he won’t be eligible to return until March 14 against the St. Louis Blues. That’s an additional seven post-trade deadline games without him. Assuming Russell is gone and Smid’s status remains in flux, the Flames could still have two-three recalls up with the team and playing a regular shift on the backend.

Once Wideman returns, the Flames could keep all of their recalls up, but they would simply be adding another warm body to the pressbox – which Stockton, if still suffering injuries on its own backend, may not appreciate. (They are, at present, missing Oliver Kylington and Dustin Stevenson.)

If Smid returns to health, then that’s six veteran defenders and three hopefuls, with only three of the veterans likely in the Flames’ long-term plans. It’s an ugly group when keeping the future in mind, but it is one that Calgary has been playing with throughout the season.

Though of course, by the time Wideman’s suspension is up, the Flames may be more open to playing younger players, if they’re pretty much out of the playoff race by that time (and they very well could be). That would at least add a bit of excitement to what’s looking to be a painful end to a painful year. 

Assumptions

Of course, pretty much all of this is based on assumptions, because we have no idea what’s going to happen between now and the trade deadline, let alone what this team will look like by the time Wideman returns. Somebody else could get hurt, nobody could get traded. The only thing I’m fully confident in is that Kulak and Wotherspoon are next on the defence recall list, albeit not necessarily in that order.

If Smid doesn’t miss any further time, then the Flames can simply continue playing with the defence group they’ve had the past two games; if Russell stays on the team, then that leaves no room for a recall. That would leave a rebuilding team extremely unlikely to make the playoffs closing out the season with an older defence group.

That will probably be more sad to watch than anything else. The intrigue from this season is fast-fading, but at least a couple of kids getting their shot would be something to watch and cheer for. It’s time to look to the future – so hopefully the Flames are able to shed a body or two so they actually can.

  • hulkingloooooob

    Nax looked great last night and Dougie is a beast! Actually really nice to see him without his reg. partner, he seems to have taken control of the situation and looked more and more like number 7 out there, leading the rush and controlling the puck and play in the O zone. Dougie for Mayor!

  • hulkingloooooob

    If a guy like Cody Franson took forever to sign last offseason, and then for only 2 years/3.325 million per, I can’t see Russell commanding more. Especially with the cap set to stagnate or decline. Franson has more points than Russell in about 100 fewer games.

    • piscera.infada

      I don’t see the point. He’s clearly not ready for the NHL, so why try and force it?

      I like Kylington as a prospect as much as anyone, but it’s important for people to realize there are flaws in his game. I firmly believe he’s starting to get those deficiencies figured out, but sending a half-cooked rookie into his first NHL game(s) where you know he’ll be severely outmatched is irresponsible at this point. Kylington especially, is a prospect the organization needs to insulate and bring along properly. His ceiling is incredibly high if (being the the operative word) he’s developed properly. Let him figure out the North American pro game. There’s no rush.

      Nakladal and Wotherspoon are the two guys you really need to see at this level, so they’ll be the first.

      • MattyFranchise

        Yes. And not only is he a rook but dont forget this kid went pro in NA hockey as an 18 year old which is quite a lot to handle. The fact that he is doing just what he is doing is pretty impressive.

        That said if it was just to get a look in the last game of the season… much like we did with a bunch of guys last year I would be ok with him coming up for a treat.

  • Johnny Goooooooaldreau

    Brian Burke: So to take a week to rubber-stamp a decision that was made by the hockey operations department of the NHL as games tick off for my player, that affect my team’s ability to win, that affect playoff races, that affect competitive balance, is incomprehensible to me.” Process matters, especially within the application of law. Funny stuff BB…..

  • piscera.infada

    The comments code here states “NO POSTING ANYTHING SEXIST, RACIST, HOMOPHOBIC, XENOPHOBIC, LIBELOUS OR OTHERWISE HATEFUL IN NATURE

    We won’t tolerate any of this.”

    Yet I regularly see homophobic, racist and sexist comments on these boards. I’ve commented a number of times on the fact that they have been left in place. Moderators refuse to let those comments even appear.

    FN is a quality hockey blog but it also allows for a scummy group of commenters to dirty the waters.

    I hope this changes, I won’t be back until it does.

  • Craig

    I regularly see discriminatory remarks on these boards. I’ve mentioned a number of times that they have been left in place. Sadly, the site refuses to let those complaints even appear but leaves the offending ones up.

    FN is a quality hockey blog but it also allows for a scummy group of individuals to dirty the waters. It makes for an awful environment.

    I hope this changes, I won’t be back until it does.

    • supra steve

      AKA:Reporting Live, etc.

      It’s also annoying how posters are able to make multiple posts, changing their username with each new post, attempting to create the illusion of support for their opinions. Be a man (or woman, don’t want to offend you…actually I really don’t care if you are offended), create your “brand” and stick with it, for better or worse. Or just go away.

      Coward.

      • MattyFranchise

        About as bad as it was with them in the lineup. So, not good. However, without Wideman, the PP is actually scoring and without Russell the Flames are performing much better 5on5, particularly Dougie.

        The one thing that’s taken a nosedive is the PK. Russell is a great player to have on the PK.

        No word on how the team will do without Smid, I don’t really think he’s a difference maker either way (I have him at 7th D on the depth chart) but his minutes are likely to go to someone that needs them like a Nakladal and whoever is going to get called up next if his injury is long term again.

        • Baalzamon

          The one thing that’s taken a nosedive is the PK. Russell is a great player to have on the PK.

          Yes but the PK was crap with him too. It’s not like Russell left and suddenly the Flames gave up a bunch of powerplay goals. It was the Flames were giving up a bunch of powerplay goals, Russell got hurt, and they continued to give up a bunch of powerplay goals.

          0/3 (0%) against Anaheim, but 2/3 (67%) against Minnesota. Russell was there for San Jose (6/9; 67%)) and Arizona (4/7; 57%).

          • MattyFranchise

            I linked it in an earlier comment thread but the guy from flamesfrom80feet examined the PK and found that Russell is giving up half as many goals as Brodie and Gio.

            Brodie and Gio were both over 110 minutes of PK time and Russell had like 95 or something.

            So yeah, I’d say that the PK is worse without him. The even strength improvement is simply because Russell is not a top 4 dman. He’s a third pairing special teams guy at best. How his agent figures he’s worth over 5 million per, I’ll never know.

          • piscera.infada

            His agent thinks that because that’s how Hartley (incorrectly) utilizes him.

            Imagine you were working at a company that consistently gave you work over and above the level of your expertise. When it came time for review would you not ask for a raise proportionate to those responsibilities? Or, if they said “you’re not good enough to do that work, but we’ll keep giving it to you, you just won’t be paid accordingly”, would you be alright with that?

            It’s an overly simplistic parallel, but I do think it illustrates what Russell’s side will say in contract negotiations. Doesn’t mean it will work, but you aren’t doing your client justice if you don’t try.

  • Johnny Goooooooaldreau

    Look what some genius on LeafNation wrote:

    The Russian Rocket wrote:

    Any thoughts on Bernier + Komarov for Mason Raymond’s bad contract and their 1st?

    Do you think it’s at all possible to get their 2016 first?

    HaHaHa

    That is even worse than the Leafs trading for Kessell with the 2 picks that ended up being Dougie and Tyler.

    Thank goodness Burke isn’t in charge of the trades here… right… right?

  • VoRaCS

    Any chance that Wideman’s suspension makes him easier to trade? Would his new team have to pay him less if his suspension remains at 20 games? It sounds like his services will be available mid March. He might be an asset to a playoff team, and the Flames definitely need to clear some cap space.

  • freethe flames

    For me it’s time to look to the future. Try TJ and Dougie as a pairing. They are the long term furture, if they don’t work out then you know for next year. Try Nakladal with Gio; Gio would be good in this role. Another option is to let Nak play with Spoon if he gets called up, according to reports they were the best pairing for the Heat, see if their chemistry carries over. Kulak can come up and play with Eng’s.

    • MattyFranchise

      Sounds good to me. Brodie and Hamilton are both young enough to be the pairing of the future, Nak and Gio looked pretty good together in the preseason. Engs worked well with Kulak in NHL action early in the season. Could be good.

  • RKD

    This whole notion of building from the back end was a total illusion. A fool’s paradise. They never had a #1 legit goalie to start, Russell and Wides stepped it up but only for part of last season but are pretty terrible this season. We are so poor defensively, I don’t how people were saying the Flames have one of the best d-corps last season. We need another top 4 guy to compliment Hamilton. Do whatever it takes to get rid of Smid, Engelland, Russell and Wides. Kulak and Wotherspoon along with Naks should be everyday d-men. What a mess of bad contracts on the back end.