In a season full of good boys named Mike, there was perhaps one who did not meet the expectations that name entails.
Acquiring Michael Stone was necessary or superfluous, depending on who you ask. Sure, the Flames’ bottom three defence was/is a pile of garbage that needs serious overhaul. But was Stone a solution or a further detriment to that problem? Did he help the team make the playoffs, or was he just along for the ride?
There’s a lot of evidence pointing towards the latter.
2016-17 season summary
This season was always going to be a test for Stone. Aside from this being a contract year, he suffered an injury late in the previous season to both his ACL and MCL, requiring a six-month recovery period.
And that showed in the first half of his season. In the desert, Stone was on pace to put up his worst season since his rookie year. He was dropped from the first pairing due to his struggles, arguably becoming one of Arizona’s many problems rather than one of their few bright spots. Stone was quite visibly off his game, and it was hurting the Coyotes.
A new beginning appeared to be the cure for what ailed him, and for what ailed the Flames at the time. After limping through January, the team needed a breath of fresh air defensively, and decided to target Stone as a new second pairing defenceman. The Feb. 20 trade saw the Flames send a 2017 third round pick and a conditional 2018 fifth for Stone (at 50% reduced salary). He immediately slotted in the next day against the Nashville Predators, which was coincidentally the start of the 10-game win streak that thrust the Flames into a playoff spot.
With the Flames, Stone picked up his offensive side, adding two goals and four assists in his 19 games. That meant he finished tied for fourth among defenders in points-per-game with Dennis Wideman, and finished ahead of regulars like Matt Stajan and Alex Chiasson in that same department. His time in Calgary, albeit quite short (he was knocked out with an injury for three games), was well received.
Compared to last season
The chart is a bit unfair to Stone. With a 25-game rolling average, his raw CF% from Arizona still haunts him. I added the red line to mark when he joined the Flames, and his CF% improves steadily, almost reaching the levels he was playing at the season prior. That could be an indication of the Flames being better, that could be an indication that he somehow became better. It could be both. All we know is that his raw CF% improved when he came to Calgary.
Digging deeper, there are some problems. Despite his improvement in Calgary, he faced a drop in quality on a year-by-year basis.
Some of his stats aren’t very strong to begin with – perhaps the effect of playing on the Coyotes – but everything that could be considered positive cratered this year. His rel stats completely fell apart, far beyond what we could reasonably write off as a rough season. Even if you attribute his decline to zone starts, it seems suspect that a second pairing defenceman needs sheltering.
Even if you split his stats for Arizona and Calgary (score and venue adjusted), things don’t look great.
A lot of the raw numbers appear to be the effect of being on a better team, but the rels are still concerning. Even in the one category he did improve, scoring chances, there’s still some concern. Unadjusted, Stone sits at 8.91 SCF/60, and 9.11 SCA/60. In terms of chances for per hour, he would rank first on the team, ahead of Dougie Hamilton by a smidge. Given the histories of those two, one player is likely to sustain that rate while the other won’t.
With regard to chances against per hour, Stone ranks second behind Jyrki Jokipakka in most scoring chances allowed. He has allowed over nine SCA/60 in every season since 2013-14. He’s only ever been over eight SCF/60 once in his career other than this season. His improvement in the for category is likely because of better teammates (and will also likely drop), but he still doesn’t have the ability to deny scoring chances.
Most common linemates
Stone has some weird results. He paired well with T.J. Brodie, although Brodie was the one doing most of the heavy lifting. He held up well with the 13-23-79 line, but was not great away from them. For whatever reason (likely related to the player on the far right of this chart), Stone just did not gel well with the third line.
Generally, he works with people who can carry him. Otherwise, things are suboptimal.
Considering the assets they paid for Stone, it’s highly likely that the Flames try to keep him. And I can get behind that as long as it is a short-term, low-cost deal where he’s on the third pairing.
But that’s highly unlikely considering all of the boxes he ticks. Young-ish, right-handed, appearing to be back on the up-and-up, well-liked, and surrounded by good narratives. Given the precedent his last contract sets, he can probably argue for $3M+. He’s going to command a salary and probably a bit of term next year if both player and team want to stick together.
That’s not something the team needs right now. Stone is more likely to be a burden – both on the team and the cap – than to be a key piece down the stretch. There’s very little proof that he can make a positive impact on the team, and if he does, it’s only when he’s extremely sheltered. The team can certainly find better players on the market (or in their own farm) who will fit their needs without tying them down to a bad contract.
|#1 – Brian Elliott||#5 – Mark Giordano|
|#6 – Dennis Wideman||#7 – T.J. Brodie|
|#10 – Kris Versteeg||#11 – Mikael Backlund|
|#13 – Johnny Gaudreau||#17 – Lance Bouma|
|#18 – Matt Stajan||#19 – Matthew Tkachuk|
|#23 – Sean Monahan||#25 – Freddie Hamilton|