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.