Brett Kulak sent down; where does Matt Bartkowski fit in?

The Flames‘ lack of adequate defencemen has plagued them all season. From starting the year off by having Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie, and Dougie Hamilton all playing on different pairings to constantly insisting Dennis Wideman should be playing top four minutes contrary to any evidence whatsoever, things have been far less than ideal.

Matt Bartkowski probably isn’t going to be the solution to this problem, but at least he should help shake things up a bit.

In the meantime, though, the Flames were sitting at 14 forwards and nine defencemen, so somebody had to go down. That somebody was the waiver-exempt Brett Kulak.

It makes sense to send Kulak down at this time. Is he a bad defenceman? No, and the defence is probably worse without him – but he needs to play. Sitting at random isn’t doing any favours. Getting just 8:28 in ice time, as he did against the Flyers, isn’t either, really. Top minutes in the AHL are probably better at this stage of the game, especially if you’re just going to refuse to trust him to be an NHLer.

Is Kulak going to make mistakes? Yes, of course, everyone does. But it’s better to have a kid making mistakes that he can learn from than to have it come from veterans who are on their way out.

That said, this calls for the defence to look at least a little different from its usual setup:

Giordano Hamilton
Brodie Wideman
Jokipakka/Kulak Engelland

There’s absolutely no reason to split up Giordano or Hamilton. If the game against the Flyers is any indication, then Wideman may have finally lost his spot in the top four, and Deryk Engelland can probably be slotted in alongside Brodie – far from ideal, but outside of actually giving Kulak a chance, there’s not much else that can be done there with the team’s current personnel.

Seeing as how Bartkowski is a left shot, he then likely takes Kulak’s spot rotating in and out of the lineup with Jyrki Jokipakka while Wideman plays alongside them – for now.

Bartkowski fills expansion requirements, so the Flames don’t really need to play him; on the other hand, Jokipakka has a 45.62% 5v5 CF this season – only Garnet Hathaway has a worse corsi among semi-regulars – so it’s not as though Bartkowski could be a whole lot worse. (He was 45.84% 5v5 CF player over 80 games with Vancouver, though, so it’s tight. He averaged 18:37 a game then; Jokipakka averages 14:26 now.)

This is not a complete defence. This certainly won’t be what it looks like next season, and perhaps not even two weeks from now, when we’ll finally be past the trade deadline.

Jokipakka could very well be on his way out, since there’s now no need to re-sign him to fill expansion requirements with Bartkowski signed for next season. And there’s always the chance the Flames find a way to upgrade their defence now, and hopefully be able to keep said upgrade for next season, too. 

The build up to the trade deadline has been slow. There still may be plenty more to come. In the meantime, though, at least this is something, and it comes at no cost. 

And don’t forget there’s no guarantee Bartkowski is in the NHL next season at all, particularly as he’s on a two-way deal – there would be no qualms about sending him to play in Stockton. If the Flames can’t find a way to make a long-term upgrade before the trade deadline, they’ll likely be on it after the expansion draft, which would mean Bartkowski would have to be that much better to stay in the big league.

  • everton fc

    Why not play Bartkowksi with Brodie, which puts Brodie on his natural right side and go w/Jokipaaka and Engelland 5/6? Engelland must get credit for helping Kulak adjust; perhaps he can have the same affect on Jokipaaka, while he’s still a Flame.

    This also allows us to bench Wideman, which needs to happen. He’s washed up. Even as a 5/6 defender, he’s a liability. We don’t need him on the right-side if we take a chance on Bartkowski w/Brodie. How bad could it be??

  • ThisBigMouthIsRight

    From an interesting article at~> matchsticksandgasoline. “What Could Matt Bartkowski Mean for the Calgary Flames Defence”?
    “Bartkowski played alongside Dougie Hamilton while they were both with the Bruins, and the he also played under Glen Gulutzan in Vancouver. This familiarity could lead to some interesting lineup combinations”.
    Weird, but that could mean something Completely not thought of.. Having Bart – Ham… Gio – Brodie(again)… Then Jokipakka – Engelland.. sitting Wideman out.. Anyways it is an interesting look at the possibilities of line combinations.
    Have a good weekend everyone! Cheers!

          • wot96

            All kinds of things wrong with that.

            Iggy waives his NTC to go back to a place that asked him to go. Check.

            Wideman waives his NMC to help out a team he screwed with a blindside hit to an official. Check.

            Joe Sakic loses mind. Check.

            Flames fans required to drink the koolaid of sentimentality before attending any home game. Check.

        • Parallex

          Sentiment, Lack of RW’ers that look like a top 6 forward even if you squint, and the fact that it would be an all-time epic narrative if the Flames got into the playoffs and went on a run.

          Plus someone would do an epic fan video set to the song “Coming Home”…

          I’m coming home

          I’m coming home

          Tell the world I’m coming home

          Let the rain wash away all the pain of yesterday

          I know my kingdom awaits and they’ve forgiven my mistakes

          I’m coming home, I’m coming home

          Tell the world that I’m coming

          I’m back where I belong,

          Yeah I never felt so strong

          I feel like there’s nothing that I can’t try

          And if you with me put your hands high

          If you ever lost a light before,

          This ones for you

          And you, the dreams are for you

    • Greg

      Iggy is going to come here at TDL, refund his scoring touch with Gaudreau and still hit 20 goals, then win the conn smythe and hoist the cup before retiring as a a flames.

      Also theo Fleury will come out of retirement to help the playoff push, and kipper will give up smoking and take over the net again.

      And then we’ll all drop the Iggy thing 😉

  • cjc

    I want to get angry about this, but at the end of the day Kulak has played 3rd line minutes and earned 3 points in 21 games (two in one glorious game against Dallas). He hasn’t been on the scoresheet since Nov. 10, and he hasn’t really moved the needle in this lineup. The AHL is where he belongs for now, I just feel he’s been jerked around more than anything. Hopefully he hasn’t been Wotherspoon’d.

    Can’t say I’m excited about Bartkowski, but he’s better than Grossman, FWIW.

      • Kevin R

        Absolutely. They play better when they sense opportunity & the Flames haven’t exactly been a Mecca of opportunity this year. When forwards making less than a Million who got passed over by majority of other NHL teams get prime playing time all year over your prospects, well, that’s just sad.

  • Prototype369

    Honestly, at this point, I’m willing to take anyone over Wideman. Hell if Skid miraculously recovered from his neck injury and was able to slot in right away, I’d play him over Wideman. If we don’t make the playoffs, I see us picking in the 12-14 range. If we do make the playoffs, we pick either 15 or 16. With the depth of the draft as is, it makes no difference where we pick in the 12-16 range. The ONLY plausible explanation of playing Wideman at all, let alone in the the top 4 is showcasing, but after the linesman incident plus his horrendous play this year, no one wants him. Just enchanted him permanently, and play Kevin and Kulak. And when the season ends, waive goodbye to Wideman, Engelland, Jokipakka and Skid.