It’s time to play Brett Kulak – maybe even in the top four

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):

2016-17 flames dmen usage

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.

  • PlacidSeanMonahan

    Without reading the article, just the headline: YES, Yes it is time to play him with Brodie.
    Move TJ back to the side he feels comfortable on and play Brett in the top 4 for 10 straight games minimum. We need to see what he can do now.

  • redwhiteblack

    This article shows he is a better option than Wideman, Engelland or Jokipakka most nights. Thankfully spots will be available next year. Increase his small sample size of work now and maybe he sticks as a regular.

    Stockton lost all road games on last trip without Kulak. D prospects not making a case to get called up. Forwards and goalies struggling also. Maybe it is just a slump and they will turn it around.

    Be good to see someone ramp it up in prep to take a spot or two next year. If not it will be very difficult to fill the gaps we have via trade and free agency alone.

  • RKD

    I expected more from Jokipakka he’s been really disappointing he doesn’t even resemble a 7th d-man these days when i thought he could be a 4/5. Kulak has played well when he’s been up here, he’s even contributed offensively. He passed Wotherspoon a long time ago. It’s a mistake for Gulutzan to sit Kulak and then watch Wideman or Jokipakka get burned all over the ice.

    • deantheraven

      A reasonable point unless the Flames go the ‘8 skaters route’ and he’s one of ’em. Or they make that deal with Vegas to take Engelland after they extend him…

  • pcj42

    Honestly, if Calgary is not in a playoff spot by the deadline, I could see a Giordano trade… I love gio, but it might make sense. If we start playing Kulak now, it won’t matter that people take notice of him cause he will be one of our 3 d-men protected then.

  • ThisBigMouthIsRight

    This Whole Expansion Draft is sucking the life out of this year for everyone but Vegas! Teams seems to be trying to shelter good young players and showcasing bad contracts.. I too would love to see TJ back to his right side with Kulak on his left (or Gio-TJ / Ku-Ham) But the reality is that teams are afraid to play their young up-starts with the damn Freebee off your roster to Vegas… This really hurts teams that are currently in a re-building mode or bubble teams(where maybe 1 player does make a difference)as apposed to other teams whom have been good for a long time and have week prospects. Its hard to want to bring up young talent and play them when you’re afraid to lose them for nothing.(except to prop up Bettman’s ego). Honestly its almost safer to just toss this year out the window and play through the motions, then focus on next year after this expansion draft circus is done. Very Frustrating!

  • jakethesnail

    Important points to consider:

    A healthy defense this year! The need for defensive replacement – zero

    As stated elsewhere: if he plays really well and he becomes unprotected for Las Vegas? Leave Gio unprotected? Gio has the characteristics a new team would find valuable in terms of leadership.