It’s time to play Brett Kulak

While the number of games Matthew Tkachuk has played has been a big subject, things have been quiet regarding his fellow rookie, Brett Kulak.

Kulak isn’t on the clock for anything. He’s already on the last year of his entry-level deal; how many games he plays doesn’t really matter this year as much.

But it still stands that the Flames have played 11 games so far this season, and Kulak has been dressed for just three of them. In that time, he started playing about 15 minutes a game, and picked up his very first NHL point. 

How long has it been since Kulak played? The Cubs hadn’t won a World Series in 108 years. October 20. It was Oct. 20. It’s time to get him back in the lineup.

Fact is, Kulak isn’t the worst defenceman on this team. He probably isn’t the second worst guy, either. One can understand scratching him every now and then, but it’s been six straight games now. Over that time, we’ve seen the Flames rebound somewhat, from “really difficult to watch play” to “sometimes I feel this weird feeling watching them, it’s called hope, I think”. 

But over that time, the defence pairings have remained a mess. Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie remain split up so Dennis Wideman – a powerplay specialist who was taken off the powerplay in the most recent game – and Deryk Engelland can continue to play alongside what should be the Flames’ top two defencemen. 

It’s not that Kulak is necessarily ready to handle top four minutes yet, but he certainly has more potential (and mobility, for that matter) than either of those players. He’s a lefty, but what does the obsession with handedness matter if Brodie has said he prefers playing the right side, and is still relegated to the left? It shouldn’t.

Through his three games so far this season, he has a 5v5 CF of 60.27%. That’s a small sample size, but it’s what we’ve got to work with, and it has him the current team leader. That’s with 45.45% offensive zone starts, by the way; Wideman and Giordano are the only defencemen who have been more sheltered.

Kulak played eight games in 2015-16. His 5v5 CF then was 55.62%, which was good for third on the team, behind Emile Poirier (played two games) and Fredde Hamilton (played four). His OZS then was 50.88%; again, Wideman was more sheltered than he was (as was Jakub Nakladal, as far as defencemen go).

These are all really small sample sizes, but that just further proves the point: why aren’t we seeing what this kid can do? He’s at least earned a modicum of trust by now, hasn’t he? Sure, it’s likely his numbers will drop the more he plays, but we’ll never know unless that actually happens – and in the meantime, we’re watching older defencemen who often have trouble keeping up with the play, who have limited, deteriorating skill sets dress in his stead game after game after game.

Kulak shouldn’t be Nicklas Grossmann. He shouldn’t be up with the club for cap purposes. He made the team out of camp, and he still has potential; he should be playing.

We’re a month into the season now. There’s no reason for him to be sitting this often. It’s time to give Kulak a chance. Otherwise, why is he here?

  • Parallex

    While I sympathize with the position until the coaching staff smartens up re: pairings I can’t really endorse it.

    You know that it won’t be “older defencemen who often have trouble keeping up with the play” that sits if Kulak draws in… it’ll be Jokipakka.

  • calgaryfan

    Wideman should have been gone a long time ago. It seems ownership does not want to buy him out or sit him in the pressbox. Treliving should never signed Grossman, could he have not found a defenceman that can skate. The flames continue to not give their young defencemen a chance to play. see Wotherspoon.

  • Jakethesnail

    When your team has lost in the past it was blamed on the goalie,sometimes still is.
    I get the feeling that fans are starting to realize that, while being one of the highest paid defence in the league , it is has not performed to that level.
    They sit 20th in goals against . Like last year they actually have been awful.
    This can’t be blamed on Engellend and Wideman all the time.The other guys have to shoulder the blame. The top three guys are making about $17 ml/season and what they have done last year and so far this year is just not good enough.

    • wot96

      The GM signs the players and the coaches play them. The price of the d-corps is irrelevant, it is how they are used that is the issue.

      It was patently obvious and remains so that both Hartley and GG had and have issues getting these pairings to where they ought to be. GG may be experimenting but at some point, hopefully soon, he has to put away the beaker and bunsen burner and stop experimenting. Advanced stats should have made this much easier.

      Should Wideman and Engelland be blamed all the time? No. And they aren’t. You are on here often enough to know that Engelland has been praised a fair bit thus far.

      This D should be better but it would be better if it were not so reliant on players whose era passed into memory 10 years ago.

      • Jakethesnail

        Actually I and a lot of other people on here are surprised by how Engellend has played. He has done what’s asked of him and more and if the others would or could do the same this team would be in a better position.

        • wot96

          I do not disagree wrt Engelland. He has good moments and bad but he is merely overpaid and not a particularly hazardous GA/60 challenge.

          The point is that Calgary’s defence could be better constructed and GG should be looking at advanced stats to assist him. Kulak is part of that better construction.

          • Jakethesnail

            You’re quoting wood guy?? What a joke . Russell has been a bargain at 3 ml this year. Playing very well and is quite a pleasant surprise!

            Oiler fans are not turning on him.He competes hard every minute ,takes it to big guys ,has a big heart ,he moves the puck well and is also a plus 6 and is second in the league in blocked shots. I don’t care about corsi

          • T&A4Flames

            Just hilarious how the opinions turn when the player becomes yours. Last year at the start so many of you Oiler fans said he was garbage and wouldn’t be top 4 on you team; that your D was as good as CGY’s. Now, Russell is a god send….well maybe more of a disciple since you already have McJesus.

          • Jakethesnail

            Not gonna argue about crap but he has played well and their GAA is one of the best in the league, and Russell has been a big part of ok with the Oilers paying him 3 million as opposed to 6 or 6.75 if you know what I mean. So far money well spent.

          • Nick24

            Russell has had a negative impact on almost every Oiler he shares the ice with. Short of Sekera, everyone is better with out him. The only reason that paring look mildly capable is because they are getting lucky.
            Once they come back down to Earth, and they will, they’ll likely be the worst paring the Oilers ice.

    • Parallex

      Not that I don’t appreciate your attempt at a classier brand of trolling but we have hundreds of games viewed… enough to know that Giordano and Brodie are great and we have hundreds of games viewed in order to know that Engellend and Wideman are not. Neither of them (nor Hamilton) are an issue.

    • trox

      Yes, our d has to be better, and there are 3 easy and very basic steps to put them in a position to achieve this instantly:

      1) Dress our best 6 d-men every night. This is Ari’s point: Kulak should be in and one of Wideman/Engelland should sit; Grossman should never play unless there are injuries.

      2) Play them in sensible pairings. Start with Gio/Brodie as the top pairing. Gio and Brodie are excellent two-way d men, but they can’t effectively jump into the rush when they don’t trust their respective partners.

      3) Deploy the pairings intelligently. Gio and Brodie are great precisely because you overload them with d-zone starts and they STILL out chance the opponent. Yet as Ari notes above Gio is being sheltered with o-zone starts. This is a total waste of his abilities. Deploying the parings intelligently also means giving the best d-men the most ice time.

      Even Harley understood all of this, because it is patently obvious.

  • Newbietwo

    We don’t have top two defenders period!!! If you think Giordano is it or that Brodie is it or that Hamilton is it think again!! Hamilton could become that with a true gritty stay at home defender like Gubranson but in case I have not made myself clear.. we as of this moment do not have a top 2 defender and Giordano was never going to be it.. he is past 30 and it took him all those years just to get to where he is now and decline becomes imminent.. if you are going to rebuild effectivellllllyyyyyy you don’t pay a thirty plus defender a crap load of money on an extended contract! You trade and gain assets with the right mentality “Toronto” and you suck it up in the meantime.. those moves however takes guts we have yet to see.. we have the Kulaks and the Wotherspoons but we choose to try to win now instead to being wise running Giordanos and Engellands.. Trade Giordano and get a Trouba or something

    • Newbietwo

      Trash my comment all you want folks.. optimism is part of being a fan I get it and agree but if we are really honest we will know and this isn’t a short game stint situation it’s been carrying over from last season.. when we play teams with true top defenders we lose because 1. We can’t score against them and 2. Our defenders and this is the important factor gives up goals.. being one of the teams giving up most goals tells you a lot and you can say systems in this case and I’ll raise you with.. last year was a different system where Hartley rolled with basically most of your suggestions which are 1. Change the lines and play Gio and Brodie together and 2. Play a different system.. as some point it has to come back to the reality of the talent that we have on this team and with leadership that has the guts to make bold moves..

      • Greatsave

        For my part, the trash was for the hideous blob of text. Please learn to punctuate, capitalize, paragraph, and section.

        TBH, I didn’t even read what you were trying to say. And I’m not saying this to be demeaning. If you want others to try and understand your points, please make it readable.

          • Derzie

            You don’t need to be an English major but you do need to use English to communicate your point. I too can’t read what you write because it is a disjointed stream of consciousness. I’m commenting on it because I want to read it, but can’t. Simple changes will help make it readable.

          • Greatsave

            *shrug* Hey, just trying to give helpful suggestions so your thoughts can be better appreciated by others. Take it or leave it, doesn’t matter to me. No need to get your back up.

          • Greatsave

            Also, to suggest that punctuation, capitalization, and paragraphing is what an English major learns is rather insulting to both a) English majors, and b) the public education system as a whole.

      • Greatsave

        If it’s a matter of not knowing how formatting works on this forum, a suggestion: you need to hit Enter twice to create a new paragraph. [Hit Enter once]
        Still the same paragraph.

        [Hit Enter twice] Voila, new paragraph.

      • Nick24

        I’m sorry, but Giordano is fantastic. He is one of the best shut-down defenseman in the league and can still score 50 points. Yes, some players decline rather sharply at 30, but Gio didn’t and it’s not unheard of to see a player remain dominant later into their careers. Gio plays a style that may be conducive to longevity, we’ll have to see, but his biggest problem right now is his partner.

        Gio and Brodie were never the issue in the past. It’s always been the the bottom parts of the line up getting too much responsibility or some other skewed player utilization on part of the coaching staff.
        Most teams would kill to have a top-3 like Calgary’s. Unfortunately, our coaching staff seems to think that our top-3 doesn’t include Dougie Hamilton.

        It’s not about needing to make the bold move, they just need to ice the best line up they can, and that means leaving Wideman and Engellend out of the top-4. In fact, one of the two should probably sit most nights.

    • T&A4Flames

      I really disagree with your comments about Gio. He has certainly shown he was a top defender the last few years; stats proved it, the eye test proved it, and most media and hockey people have said it. He may not look like his old self at the moment, but that may just be trying to get comfortable with the new systems and the rotation of line mates.

      If all you ever do is trade guys when they hit 30 then you’re never really progressing, you’re just cycling hoping that at some point the ball lands on the jackpot. You need solid players to help insulate the youth and teach them how to be professional athletes.

      I mean geez, bud, 30 years old is in a players prime in most cases. And if you think Gudbranson is a a top pair D, then you have zero credibility.

      • Kevin R

        Hey come on now!!!! It’s been 9 games & Gio & Brodie have proven they aren’t even top 4, lets trade them. Trade them all I say! In fact we should move Gaudreau & Monahan too. Heck it’s been 9 games & they are making over 6.0 mill & playing like $600K players. Lets go youth & send down all our Dmen & bring up all 6 of the Stockton D. They’re young, its a young mans league, who needs experience?


  • Derzie

    Why did we pass on Nakladal & Schlemko? To make room for young players. Now we have Grossmann instead and our youth still sits. This is progress? Who in the Flames thinks this is progress? Would be nice if the press would ask these types of questions rather than lobbing softballs so they can keep their jobs. Don’t get me started on giving up Paul Byron & Jo Joo for Chiasson & Versteeg. League is going to youth & speed and we are getting older & slower? That’ll work well.

  • snotss

    the flames are just not good on the blue line so far this year I’ve said it before dump the crap{we all know who they are}bring up some young d prospects see what they can or cannot do!!!! the current d men are not getting it done…lets look at the facts the flamers are going to have a hard time making the playoffs this year…it’s sad but true we are still a rebuilding team!!!!!! so lets REBUILD!!

  • brodiegio4life

    at this point after years of wanting it to happen I’ve pretty much accepted that engallend will never be a healthy scratch no matter what he does or who else is available to play in his place. Just gonna have to ride it out until his contract is up and we never have to talk about this again.

    • T&A4Flames

      Ha, and what do you think the chances are that the Flames brass really like what he brings to the locker room and resign him for another year or 2. I’m pretty much expecting it at this point.