Remember that time Brent Sutter put 5 defencemen on the power play?

The date is Dec. 1, 2010. The Calgary Flames have lost a game 7-2 to the Vancouver Canucks. It was a chippy game – as these types of games often are – and it saw the Flames get three power plays.

Three power plays they were unsuccessful on. Actually, Mason Raymond, then of Vancouver, scored a shorthanded goal on one of them. En route to a hat trick. 

It was a different time.

Sutter wasn’t thrilled with how his team was performing, though, and at one point, sent out five defenceman during one of those power plays.

This brings up a handful of thoughts as to just how much things have – or haven’t – changed. For one thing, the power play is still as abysmal as ever, though Bob Hartley hasn’t quite reached the levels of frustration required to send out five defencemen. 

For another thing, the defensive group is very different nowadays; the Flames have come a long way over the past five years. Maybe five defencemen… wouldn’t be the worst thing?

The five defencemen power play

Featured on your esteemed power play were:

  • Jay Bouwmeester, career .38 point per game player, currently on the St. Louis Blues
  • Mark Giordano, career .50 point per game player, currently the Flames’ Captain
  • Cory Sarich, career .16 point per game player, retired
  • Brendan Mikkelson, career .08 point per game player, currently playing in Sweden
  • Anton Babchuk, career .37 point per game player, last played in the KHL

Left out was poor Robyn Regehr, career .18 point per game player, recently retired.

There are some decent names on that list. Bouwmeester and Babchuk were already regulars on the power play – Babchuk in particular because of his booming shot – and could, clearly at least score on occasion. 

Giordano was in the midst of his first 40-point season and just starting to break out, but he wasn’t quite yet the offensive (and defensive, for that matter) force we know him as today.

… And then there were Sarich and Mikkelson, more known for hitting Patrick Marleau that one time and having a more successful sister, respectively.

And man, what a defensive group the Flames had back then. There’s some mobility there, sure, but having both Regehr and Sarich in the same lineup is definitely a sign of the times passing by. Mikkelson barely played in the NHL at all, and Babchuk was on the fringes at absolute best.

Today’s five defencemen power play

Let’s do two versions of this. First, we’ll go with what today’s projected lineup would entail:

  • Mark Giordano, career .50 points per game
  • T.J. Brodie, career .43 points per game
  • Dougie Hamilton, career .46 points per game
  • Jakub Nakladal, career .17 points per game (just 12 NHL games played)
  • Jyrki Jokipakka, career .19 points per game

Tyler Wotherspoon is my odd man out because he’s the youngest, least experienced, and only up by virtue of emergency recall. He has just 22 games and four assists to his name, and when it comes to special teams, he’s been asked to do more on the penalty kill than the man advantage.

Anyway, I… don’t hate this? It’s obviously not the unit you’d go with under normal circumstances, but it wouldn’t be the worst thing ever. The top three defencemen are particularly impressive, and unlike with Babchuk, all three are capable of playing a regular shift and 200-foot game. This five-defencemen unit might even be able to get something done.

That’s today’s lineup, though. The Flames’ defence looked rather different for most of the season – and if we went for the general 2015-16 five-defence power play, we’d swap out Nakladal and Jokipakka for Dennis Wideman (career .49 points per game) and Kris Russell (career .31 points per game).

And wow – that’s such a staggering difference. The least likely to score on that man advantage would have been Russell, who isn’t that far off from Bouwmeester in terms of scoring. That’s the Flames of yesteryear’s second guy being on nearly the same level as what would have been this season’s fifth guy.

Look at where we are, look at where we started

This really speaks to just how far the Flames have come in shifting their defensive makeup. True, this ignores Deryk Engelland (and Ladislav Smid, for that matter), but in an ideal world where everyone is healthy and available, it’s entirely possible neither is in the lineup to begin with, and if they are, they’re playing limited minutes.

And this isn’t even counting how their top prospects consist of guys like Brett Kulak, Brandon Hickey, Rasmus Andersson, and Oliver Kylington: all mobile players more than willing and capable of jumping up into the offence.

Gone look to be the days of the designated “stay-at-home” guy. It’s not that Regehr and Sarich were terrible, it’s that the game is shifting; and with just one year left remaining on each of their contracts, Engelland and Smid should soon go that way as well.

Two seasons from now, the only defencemen signed are Giordano, Brodie, and Hamilton. Any number of free agents may be added to that group; any number of current Flames prospects may make it over that time. But the three guys we know will actually be here are exactly the kind of players you want on your backend: defensively sound, capable of creating offence, smart and, depending on the player and his style, physical when it calls for it.

The future of the defence is exciting – but it’s even more so when you look at the steps the Flames have already taken to get there. One doesn’t typically put five defencemen out on the power play, but in today’s world, such a message wouldn’t have nearly as hilarious an effect.

  • ronipedia

    I love defencemen articles. Defencemen are the best.

    If Tre can get rid of even one of Wideman, Smid, or Engelland this summer it’ll be a godsend.

    Although Engelland has actually been okay this year!

  • Cfan in Vic

    I remember that game like it was yesterday. Butter sent out 5 defensemen to punish the team for playing like a bunch of sloths. Sad days.

    The funny thing is, as well as I remember this one game from 6 years ago, my memory has completely discarded Mikkelson. Can’t recall that guy at all.

  • Nighteyes

    With the new CBA wasn’t each team given two buyouts ? They should buy out Wideman. Although that might be waste considering he only has one year left on his contract.

  • Nighteyes

    With the new CBA wasn’t each team given two buyouts ? They should buy out Wideman. Although that might be waste considering he only has one year left on his contract.

    • Jake the Snail

      There were 2 compliance buyouts awarded to each team but they had to be used before the 2014-15 season. A limited time offer where the player’s salary cap was completely wiped out.

      There is still a buyout period June 15-30 each year..rules are different and a good portion of the cap remains. I would still buyout Wideman; he is holding up development of our future Defence.

      • The Last Big Bear

        Wideman is an offensive defenceman, and has put up 118 points in 220 games since joining the Flames. That is elite-level offensive production.

        Some team appreciate intangibles more than others. But points are the most tangible thing there is, and that’s why points are what teams pay for, both in terms of salary and trade returns.

        Wideman has been inconsistent, but I’d argue that on the whole he has performed up to his contract.

        Every Playoff team wants defensive depth, and most want a bit more scoring on the back end. And unless he absolutely falls off a cliff next year, Wideman will probably be the highest scoring offensive defenceman available at the deadline, an asset which routinely commands a 1st rounder.

        If he has an any way decent season, Wideman could be a very valuable asset to the Flames.

        • MattyFranchise

          This is why I’m on the fence about buying him out. In and of himself he’s fine, his production nearly matches his contract but his defensive play leaves a lot to be desired.

          The problem comes when you put his contract together with Smid and Engelland. That’s just too much money spent on too many roster spots that should be going to players like Nak/Spoon/Kevin.

          I’m more concerned about the roster spots than I am the money though both are big concerns.

          • The Last Big Bear

            Andrej Sekera got a 1st rounder last year, and he’s battling for ice time agains waiver-fodder Adam Pardy and scrambly rookie Darnell Nurse.

            And even as a bottom pairing defenceman, Wideman is still scoring at a higher rate than Sekera, or any defenceman on the Oilers for that matter.

      • RedMan

        if we can trade him and retain salary, we are farther ahead. either buying him out or trading with retained salary leave the flames on the hook for some money, so we might as well get some value for him, even if it’s a 3rd or 4th rounder.

        the only challenge to this possibly is that Wideman will likely be a marked man to the refs from now on… so any team taking him, even at a rediced salary, has to accept this real possibility.

        (remember how Bertuzzi was marked? the refs penalized him all the time for bogus stuff for the first 2 or 3 years after he started plaing again.)

  • OKG

    While we’re on the topic of “things our PP could try differently” how about setting Monahan up on the right circle for once? This is what he did in Junior, you would think it’s something he’s pretty decent at.

  • The Last Big Bear

    Oh yeah, and Robyn Regehr was a STUD.

    He wasn’t a Darian Hatcher type who was only in the NHL because players were allowed to waterski behind guys back then, Regehr had a talent that transcends era.

    He was a Canadian Olympian, and probably the best defensive player in the world for a year or so.

    He proved that the old school bruisers could bring the pain to the new school skill players, even in the New NHL.

  • Stu Cazz

    Not sure how many compliance buyouts are allowed per year but if more than one then I would seriously consider Wideman and Stajan. Wideman is an embarrassment to the organization and the game has passed Stajon as he no longer has NHL speed or skill.

    With regards to Smid perhaps injury retirement is in order at which time insurance absorbs the remainder of his contract. I still view Raymond as a player and once BH is gone he will get another opportunity with the Flames. If not then a trade in return for an equivalent bad contract is in order given that he cannot play for BH….

  • JKG

    Orts flailed on that one. Let’s see what he can do in OT and/or a shootout!
    Edit: guess JG had other plans lol

    This may be a stupid question but does anyone know if there’s some kind of forechecking stats? possession break??!

  • hulkingloooooob

    “the power play is still as abysmal as ever” is actually not true, as kelly pointed out last night during the game, their power play has been “top ten” over the last 20 games or so….nit picky i know but just to say the season stat line doesn’t tell the story now.