The Calgary Flames’ defence has been a problem all season long – and swapping out Dennis Wideman and Jyrki Jokipakka for Michael Stone and Matt Bartkowski isn’t really a meaningful upgrade. (It’s actually debatable whether you could even call it an upgrade to begin with.)
We all know their top end is great; the only fault you can find in Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie, and Dougie Hamilton is that Giordano is on the wrong side of 30. So it’s also a good thing that those three are the only defencemen the Flames have meaningful money committed towards beyond this season.
On the other hand, that means the Flames are going to have to make some tough decisions to fill out the bottom half of their defensive rotation for next season. On that note, Brad Treliving had a very interesting quote in Elliotte Friedman’s 30 Thoughts (#16):
“You’d like to have a big four on defence. We have (Mark) Giordano, Dougie (Hamilton) and T.J. Brodie. We’ll see who that fourth is, whether we bring back Michael Stone or it’s somebody else. Ideally, you allow for two kids, maybe one on the third pair and an extra. But the plan is to let them marinate. You don’t have to rush them, although it’s contingent on what we do here. What it gives you is options and depth. They can come and play here, or they give you the opportunity to find other things you need.”
I don’t think Stone is seriously being considered as a long-term top four option. I don’t have any evidence for that, but the way Treliving specifically says they need a big four, and then only lists three players as certainties – if he’s serious about having a genuine top four, it doesn’t sound as though Stone fits the mold.
It’s also worth mentioning that in Thought #17, Treliving wants to bring Deryk Engelland back, but a fourth defenceman takes priority.
What I want to focus on, though, is having two kids on defence.
The Flames have really only had one “kid” on defence this season: Brett Kulak, and he’s only played 21 games for the Flames this year. (I’m using “kid” in the loose sense: a relatively young player who has not yet established himself as an NHLer. I mean, Hamilton pretty much counts as a kid, but he’s played over 300 games, so not really.) The team may have kept a kid around this season, but they certainly weren’t inclined to actually use him on a regular basis.
So having two next season? That’s interesting.
How would it all work out?
First off, the Flames have options. Kulak has familiarity with this team. Rasmus Andersson is waiting to make his NHL debut, but the Flames must be keeping him up for a reason. Brandon Hickey will likely be getting a contract soon. Oliver Kylington has always been an intriguing possibility. And the Stockton Heat likely won’t have any shortage of defencemen to work with – they’ll still end up with two of those guys, plus Josh Healey, perhaps Adam Ollas Mattsson, and whatever other surprises are brought in (and maybe even Matt Bartkowski: the only other non-prospect defenceman signed beyond this season).
The question here is how do you fit everyone in at the NHL level?
Giordano and Hamilton likely remain as the top pairing. Brodie anchors the second pairing, alongside a mystery top four defenceman whose identity remains unknown at this time. (Going off of what Treliving is saying, it probably won’t be a kid, but you can always hope someone impresses so well that their hands are forced.) Then you have a kid alongside Engelland or Stone on the third pairing, and someone else in the pressbox.
If the plan is to let their prospects marinate, though, then I don’t understand why they would have a kid just sitting and watching; that sounds more like a Bartkowski job than one for someone who, well, still has potential.
But if the Flames can find their ideal top four defenceman, then if they truly do plan to have a kid actually playing next season, it sounds as though they have room for only one of Stone or Engelland.
- Do you consider a team with Stone in its top four a legitimate contender? Do you feel the Flames currently have an ideal top four?
- If the Flames are unable to find a top four defenceman over the offseason, who do they go with? Is there a chance one of their prospects may actually be able to fill the role sooner rather than later, “marinating” them be damned?
- Will the Flames actually commit to playing a prospect? Outside of Matthew Tkachuk, who was taken sixth overall for a reason, we haven’t seen any evidence they would – whether that’s a comment on the actual quality of their prospects, or their hesitancy to trust them.