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.
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.