When the Flames acquired Dougie Hamilton, they were almost immediately thought to have one of the top defences in the NHL. Adding a 22-year-old top four defenceman to a team that already had Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie on the top pairing? That was nuts.
And while things got off to a rocky start, eventually, all three players rounded into form. (Well, Brodie didn’t need any time to round into form; his only failing was not being healthy.) Their team didn’t do so well – but when you compare the Flames’ top three to the rest throughout the NHL, well.
Turns out they’re actually a pretty formidable group.
A quick preface: this isn’t necessarily talking about defencemen in their all-around games, but in their offensive capabilities. There are good defencemen out there who simply don’t score points, but the way the NHL is shifting, it’s preferable to have a backend that can contribute offensively as opposed to only stay-at-home guys.
Top three defencemen throughout the NHL
I looked at the top three scorers for defencemen through all 30 teams to see which team collected the most points from the blueline. The following table is ordered from most points to least. Included in this is the group’s average age, to give some sense as to which teams are on the rise, and which may be on the decline.
Okay, first off: I don’t even like the Oilers and I’m distressed by how little their backend does. Giordano alone outscores them. That’s absurd. What the hell.
But there you have it: when comparing teams’ three highest-scoring defencemen, the Flames have the second-best offence from the blueline, beaten out by only the Predators (though the Sharks put up a pretty good fight). Giordano, Brodie, and Hamilton average out to about 26 years old: Giordano is the older guy of the group and the most likely to decline – though that hasn’t happened yet – while Brodie and Hamilton are in pretty solid position age-wise.
It’s also perhaps worth noting that Brodie missed 12 games with injury. If he’d played the full 82, he would be pro-rated for an additional eight points, which puts the Flames at 152 from their top three. (To be fair, pro-rate the Predators’ defence’s missed games, and they have 152 points as well. The Sharks end up with 147.)
So the Flames’ top three defencemen are in extremely good shape: both in a vacuum, and when compared throughout the entire NHL.
Top four defencemen throughout the NHL
When discussing defence, we don’t usually talk in terms of top three defencemen. They play in pairings, after all; it makes much more sense to discuss them in terms of top four guys. And while the Flames can play Giordano and Brodie together, who is Hamilton supposed to play with?
This left me curious. The Flames have a formidable top three group compared to the rest of the league – but how does their top four stack up? Once again, arranged by points totals:
When you add Dennis Wideman to the Flames’ top three, you still get the second-highest scoring group of defencemen in the NHL, even if only 19 more points are added. The average age increases by two years, though: a less flattering picture.
(Nashville is downright terrifying, and that’s with Seth Jones traded.)
If you leave all other teams’ top fours intact but keep the Flames to just their top three, though, they’re still outscoring everyone but the Predators and Sharks. Giordano, Brodie, and Hamilton provide so much offence from the backend that they don’t even really need help.
If a career-worst season from Wideman can help keep the Flames in the top two, though, imagine what they could do with another legitimate top four guy?
But here’s the thing: the Flames have more pressing issues in their lineup. They need a goalie. More top six-caliber wingers would be nice, especially on the right side. So while defence was a priority a year ago, it isn’t so much now.
That doesn’t mean they can’t improve, though; the Predators are a pretty good standard when considering defensive groups.
Fortunately for the Flames, they can probably rely on an internal option to step into the top four at a fraction of the cost. And while nobody is a sure bet – Brandon Hickey’s apparent decline this season helps emphasize that – all Calgary needs is for one of its prospects to pan out. There are no guarantees, but if even just one of Rasmus Andersson, Oliver Kylington, or maybe a prospect we aren’t aware of yet can meet his potential within the next couple of seasons (Brodie’s contract is the first to expire, in four years’ time)… Well, the Flames blueline could be exceptionally formidable.
If Giordano can continue defying time, it really could become that league-best that was theorized earlier.