31Deryk Engelland.
Photo Credit: Sergei Belski / USA Today Sports

In defense of Deryk Engelland (and why he likely won’t be back)

The Calgary Flames did not get off to a very good start this season. When the team struggled in the early goings, particularly their defensive zone, one player earned praise from president of hockey operations Brian Burke for his consistency. That player? Deryk Engelland.

Engelland’s a fairly divisive presence on the Flames blueline and has been since he was signed three years ago. Yet despite all this hubbub, he’s played every game this season for the Flames and has gotten consistent ice time and regular time on the penalty kill.

With Engelland’s contract running down and speculation rampant that he might head to Vegas (where he keeps an off-season home) on July 1, let’s take a quick look at what Engelland is, why the Flames like him, and why he probably won’t be back.

A simple role player

In a lot of ways, Engelland is a stylistic throwback to the blueliners of yesteryear – the Robyn Regehrs and Rhett Warreners of the Flames lexicon. He’s not a scorer. He gets zero power play time. He starts many of his shifts in the defensive zone. But his role is fairly simple: try to keep the puck-carrier to the outside, block shots and clear the zone, and essentially try to eat up the clock and set the table for the team’s more offensively-minded players. Based on the framing of this role, it’s probably not shocking to learn that virtually every player that plays significant time with Engelland sees their possession stats obliterated during their time together.

Perhaps because of this framing of his role, quite often I watch a game and note that I barely notice Engelland. He’s not the world’s most agile or mobile player, and his puck management isn’t amazing, but Engelland rarely embarrasses himself in his own end. When comparing Engelland’s work with that of healthy scratch Dennis Wideman and the departed Jyrki Jokipakka, statistically Engelland is as bad or worse than they are in terms of shot suppression, but how those multitude of shots are generated against Engelland seems to be a lot less stressful on his teammates. (This is also likely why Engelland gets penalty killing time.)

We effectively saw an endorsement of Engelland’s playing style over the past few weeks when the Flames added a pair of similarly-positioned defenders in Matt Bartkowski and Michael Stone. The messaging following their acquisition? Stability.

Low expectations, high offense

Engelland is a role player. Engelland isn’t an amazingly fleet-footed guy, particularly compared to Calgary’s top three defenders. Yet he’s shown that he’s usually good for a couple really nice goals a season, which are usually followed by exclamations of how shocking it is to see Engelland displaying nifty mitts or sweet dangles.

Engelland has shown that’s he’s actually pretty good when he jumps into the rush. He doesn’t do it often, which may be an indication that he knows that he’s Deryk Engelland, bottom pairing defender, and really has to pick his spots.

Let’s fight about intangibles

When you talk to “hockey people” about Engelland, they often rave about several things. He’s a leader, which is evidenced by him wearing the alternate captain’s A while Troy Brouwer was hurt earlier this season. He plays moderately tough minutes, playing against the opposition’s lesser lights but usually in his own end, and his usage usually translates to having to block a lot of shots and throwing his body around in an effort to knock the puck loose and clear it out. He also fights a lot, being one of the leaders in fighting majors during his three years with the Flames.

But when you look at the things that he’s praised for, they have almost zero impact on game outcomes but have shown to be fairly expensive to purchase in the open market. (A similar statement can be made regarding Brouwer, for what it’s worth.) Engelland comes by his meager offensive output honestly, as he’s not exactly being propped up by good linemates, deployments or special teams time. But spending nearly $3 million on a guy that spends a lot of time in his own end and only generates a handful of goals a year is hard to swallow in a cap system.

The future

We’ve gone over the things that the Flames probably like about Engelland. His predictability and the attributes he brings to the table likely means that the club wants to retain him for next season. But that’s a scary idea, given that he’s 35 next month and plays a physical style (what with the shot-blocking, hitting and fighting that he does). Given that he’s had such a long slog to even get to the NHL, it’s a minor miracle that his body is holding up. It’s extremely unlikely that his luck will last another two or three seasons.

Beyond that particular concern about Engelland’s longevity, there’s another big one: the cap. The Flames owe fairly hefty raises to Micheal Ferland and Sam Bennett after this season. Whether it’s Michael Stone or a free agent, the team needs a fourth defender. And they have zero NHL goaltenders under contract for 2017-18. Their cap space won’t go very far and it’s likely that pragmatic concerns about the cap alone will force them to go with less expensive options than Engelland.

Finally, in terms of the up-tempo style they want to play, the Flames may have internal options that are better suited for what they want to do. Engelland was well-suited for a rebuilding team that wanted to minimize damage against their lesser lights, and that’s what he basically was when they signed him. But on a team that has visions of contending in their heads bringing in more versatile and mobile defenders – whether that’s via free agency or promoting from the farm system – is probably their best bet.

  • Kevin R

    Have always liked what Engelland brings to this team. If he leaves, it will be something that would be missed on that backend. But I can’t see more than a 2 year deal at more than 1.0 mill per in order to fit in what else we need to get signed next year. I am sure he will get better offers out there.

  • Greatsave

    Things I loved from that first video clip against the Blues:
    1. Engelland starts as the Flame closest to his own net when the puck is turned over off a shot-block, then busts his tail off to create the odd-man rush. Great recognition there on his part. Also shows great confidence in his teammates’ ability to break out because if that puck is turned back over to the Blues, he’s hosed.
    2. Surprisingly soft hands indeed to corral that saucer pass and great poise to hang onto it not only to dangle but to get it up over the goalie’s right pad.
    3. Versteeg’s vision and patience to spot Engelland and the hands to thread that saucer pass over to him through the Blues players.
    4. Was that Shattenkirk whom Engelland beat in a foot-race? First of all, no idea why Shattenkirk was with Engelland in front of Elliott to begin with. Second of all, was that Shattenkirk whom Engelland beat in a foot-race??

  • KKisTHEproblem

    Sorry, don’t know where else to post this comment on the new format: overall, looks great. One quibble: I used to be able to see the number of comments on an article on the home page. When I saw the number of comments increase, I could go back in and see what others had to say. That feature appears to be gone. Could it be added back? Its nice to know when others have commented by refreshing the home page vs having to click into each article to check. That will be a pain and I therefore will likely click back into an article a lot less!

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    Always plays within his abilities. We will be able to replace him with a better 5-6 defender but we Wil miss the character and grit. I am expecting that Rasmus is going to have a monster off season and crack the squad in pre-season. He will start as Engelland’s replacement but could move to replace Stone as Brodie’s partner by mid season.

    • The Doctor

      I agree with the praise, but for me the decisive points are he’s too expensive, no spring chicken and we have some nice options in our system for next year (Rasmussen being only one).

  • clib542

    Engelland will soon be 35. In a league where there are limited amount of players over 35, Engelland does not stand out as one of those players who should or would attract interest to teams come July 1st.

  • OKG

    As Devil’s advocate, I would say the biggest difference between a guy like Regehr and a guy like Engelland is that one guy makes crossing the blue line against a chore (Regehr) whereas the other guy will leave a loose gap and go for the shot block (Engelland). If Engelland played more of a Regehr style, just as if Kris Russell played more of a Stralman style, I would welcome those two.

  • Thunder1

    First looks seem positive to me on the site upgrade. Way more info and more attractive… as for Engs, I think he’s that backroom deal Vegas/Flames/Engelland have already cooked up so that the expansion draft is not an issue for Calgary. He owes his wife big time and I think he’s going home next season. He’ll do his half-dozen fights or so and be one of the early favourite faces of the Knight’s franchise and then transition into a management role down the road in a year or two for them.

  • Baalzamon

    Love the new look; it would be nice if the login feature was asynchronous (like it used to be) rather than refreshing the page.

    Just a small nitpick from a professional web dev 😉

    As for Engelland, I’m actually far more ambivalent about him than I probably should be. I wouldn’t mind if he stuck around on the cheap. Also, no mention of his strange and as yet unexplained chemistry with Kulak? They make a great third pair for some reason.

  • Burning Ring of Fire

    The 3D line needs to be improved and keeping Engelland around won’t help. Time to move on and start building a contender with good depth throughout.

  • flamesburn89

    Dude has really grown on me over the last couple years. He is a good pro and a decent depth defenceman. However, I think the Flames will have to move on from him this summer. They’ve got young guys coming up through the system (Kulak, Kylington, etc.) who deserve a look. Also, Engelland is in his mid thirties and if he wanted to stay he’d have to take a major haircut from his 2.9M. I think the Flames will miss some of his intangibles, but they do have other guys that play a physical brand of hockey (Bouma, Brouwer, Ferland, etc.)

    By the way, congrats on the new site format. I was big fan of the old one so this will take some getting used, but it looks pretty good.

  • dontcryWOLF88

    Flamesnation.ca gonna get sued for copyright violation by flamesnation.com

    Sure, flamesnation.com’s most recent article features the death of Brad McCrimmon in 2011, but they were obviously just waiting in the shadows for this time to strike.

    For what its worth, I liked the old site. White background makes a lot of glare for a site 99% based on reading. Day one though, I realize.

    Engellend is pretty decent. I think the talent in the system is possibly better already though, and almost definitely has a better ceiling. Time to start giving those guys a chance. I say alternate the 5,6,7 spots next year between Kulak, Kylington, and Andersson.