Prior to the trade deadline, GM Brad Treliving did some fairly major surgery to the Flames’ backend. He signed former Canuck Matt Bartkowksi out of the AHL, more or less consigning Jyrki Jokipakka to the pressbox. Then he traded for Michael Stone from the Coyotes, bumping Dennis Wideman to the sidelines.
He did this because it was clear Calgary’s depth options on the blueline weren’t really working. It seemed like any change might be a good one at the time. And then the Flames won 10 in a row. Huzzah! The switch up worked.
Or… not really. In the case of the Flames’ newest third pairing of Deryk Engelland and Bartkowski, the winning streak was entirely coincident. Now that the magic of that run has dissipated, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the team still has a problem on their hands.
Since Bartkowski has arrived, the two have played just over 230 minutes together. In that time, they boast some of the worst underlying numbers of any Flames duo this year: a corsi ratio of 45%, a scoring chance ratio of 32% and an expected goals ratio of 39%.
To put those numbers in context, The Engelland-Jokipakka pairing put together a CF of 45%, a SCF% of 40% and a XGF% of 41%. The only difference is, Jokipakka didn’t get the benefit of a crazy percentages spike, so he was run out of town.
As such, all available evidence suggests Calgary’s third pairing is a huge liability and potentially the worst available option, at least of the experiments they’ve run this year. The only problem is… the club is just a couple of games away from the postseason with no clear alternatives at hand.
So what to do?
Calgary currently has two guys on the sidelines: the much maligned Dennis Wideman and the completely untested Rasmus Andersson. Both are right shots, meaning they’d have to bump Engelland from the lineup or go against Glen Gulutzan’s strong preference for matching handedness on the backend. Neither is a great bet to somehow stabilize Bartkowski, who was plying his trade in a lower league earlier this year for a reason.
The best partner Engelland has had all year according to the math is Brett Kulak. Together, the pairing was actually above water by most metrics: corsi (52%), XGF% (54%) and SCF% (59%). We can safely say that’s skewed by sample size somewhat (because Engelland has never consistently put up numbers like that in his career), but it’s encouraging enough to be worth another look.
Problem is, Brett Kulak is on the farm. And injured.
The Flames are on a path to either face the dreaded Anaheim Ducks or the imposing Chicago Blackhawks in the first round of the playoffs. As things stand, their third pairing looks like it will be a potential Achilles heel in the postseason.
What would you do, if anything, to try to fix it?