It has been one week since the Calgary Flames recalled Brett Kulak.
A part of that move probably had to do with demoting Tyler Wotherspoon, who was a day away from requiring waivers to be sent back down. And for all we know, that was the only reason – because it’s been three games Kulak could have played in (not counting the Jets game on the day of his recall), and yet, three straight healthy scratches for him.
Before he was sent down back in December, he had been a healthy scratch five straight games. And so it continues.
But really, the Flames should probably be playing him.
The Flames understandably have some limitations when it comes to their defensive group this season. T.J. Brodie, Mark Giordano, and Dougie Hamilton are great, but after the top three there’s a steep drop off.
Dennis Wideman has had to play in the top four for lack of any better options. And no – Deryk Engelland and Jyrki Jokipakka aren’t at all what anyone could consider a better option. Throw in the expansion draft in the offseason, and the Flames are stuck having to wait until after it to get someone who could actually respectably fill the role.
Unless there’s someone they haven’t tried yet who may already be able to do it.
Via Corsica, here’s the Flames’ defencemen usage this season (click on image for full size):
Kulak is pretty clearly not the worst defenceman on the Flames’ roster. He’s not even the second worst. … Or the third worst, for that matter.
Though he’s been relatively untested at the NHL level – just 24 games – on merit alone he’s probably earned the chance to get a shot at the top four, especially when you consider his competition.
The only defencemen with a lower zone start ratio than Kulak are Engelland and Hamilton. And yet Kulak’s 5v5 CF% is 52.70 – second only to Hamilton. And while it’s granted that Kulak has a much smaller sample size than the other defencemen, and plays weaker competition than the top three, he has played over 200 even strength minutes this season, and his play never really faltered that much.
At absolute worst, Kulak has proven he deserves a chance to at least be tried in the top four.
He’s averaged 14:43 a game this season; Jokipakka has averaged 14:28. That’s pretty much the same amount per game, and when you look at just how great the disparity is between their level of play – Jokipakka has been one of the worst Flames defencemen this season – would the Flames really be worse off if they just switched the two? And that’s just asking for Kulak to have bottom pairing minutes, which isn’t a lot.
Let alone, you know, trying to solve their top four problem with a potential internal solution while they’re in the midst of a playoff battle. You know, when they could use a fix as soon as possible.
At this point, the Flames are doing themselves a disservice by refusing to play Kulak. Both in the long term – seriously, he should be getting ice time, there’s only so much he can learn by just watching – and in the short term, because all the evidence we have so far points towards him being one of their better defencemen now.
Stop scratching him; start giving him actual minutes.