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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Does it make sense for Michael Stone to come back?

We don’t need to remind you, but the Flames acquired Travis Hamonic this weekend. That solves the second pairing RHD problem.

By making this move, it would seem to signify that previous 4D occupant Michael Stone would be done with the team. They filled his spot with a defender that is much better than he is, and someone they paid a handsome price for.

Not so fast. Even after the trade went through, Brad Treliving said that he was still interested in bringing Stone back. That’s interesting, to say the least.

I’m sure the team likes Stone, and Ari gave some reasons why (and why not) the team could be interested in bringing him back. I can’t read minds, but given what I know of Treliving, Ari’s points are probably some of the things going through his head.

But here’s the flip side: the team may be interested in Stone, but would he be interested in them? Even if the team wants him to come back, there’s probably few reasons that he wouldn’t (and honestly, shouldn’t) be interested.

A series of precedents

Of course, no contract exists in a vacuum. Every player’s value is determined by players before, and every contract’s value is determined by contracts before, both at a league and team scale. There’s almost too many factors involved, but some of the big ones are age, previous performances, teammates’ performances, position, salary cap, etc.

Real life is a bit more nuanced with such things, but that’s the gist of it. Here’s some of those factors that are at play for Stone’s upcoming contract.

1. Stone’s previous contract

His previous contract was a pretty bold one by the Coyotes. After ending the 2015-16 season with an injury that required surgery to both his ACL and MCL, the Coyotes gave him a one-year, $4M contract on July 28. Very rich, but also very tempered.

Up to that point, Stone had arguably been one of the better defenders, and one of the better pieces, on a shaky, constantly rebuilding Coyotes team. He certainly earned his keep, but the knee injury complicated things. If things turned ugly, term would only get worse. This was a “show me” deal at age 25.

And as we’ve shown before multiple times, it did indeed get ugly. Stone’s underlyings, both in Calgary and Arizona, were a steep decline from what he was doing in years previous. He did not show it to the Coyotes, so they traded him.

Although arguably, he did show it in Calgary. He was one of the late season stories, and we wouldn’t be having this conversation if he had not impressed during his stay here.

The perception, or at least the perception that could be argued, is that the Flames recovered the good Michael Stone from the desert. At the negotiating table, Stone’s side could argue that his performance after leaving Arizona indicates that Arizona was the problem, and that he is still worth that pretty decent paycheque he received. He played the same role on both teams, and his perceived improvement indicates that he has fulfilled his end of the contract.

2. Travis Hamonic’s current contract, and his existence in general

As many pointed out, part of the reason Hamonic’s price was so steep was because of his beautiful contract. At an AAV of $3,857,143 until 2020, Hamonic is going to be providing some sweet, sweet value to the club. Hamonic’s contract comes $142,857 short of Stone’s last contract, if you did the math (aside: what a weird number of dollars to pay a person).

That puts constraints on Stone’s next contract value. First, even if he feels he has performed to the level his previous contract demanded, he’s certainly not going to make more than Hamonic. If we do some rough math, the difference between Hamilton and Hamonic, the first and second pairing RHDs, is $1.7M. Following that logic, Stone would then make $2.1M. That seems a bit low, so perhaps he could argue that he can get paid like Deryk Engelland, the previous third pairing RHD, at $2.9M AAV. That seems like a fair amount.

But looking at the previous contract, that’s a pretty big drop in salary! He essentially loses $1.1M on the basis of having to play with the Arizona Coyotes for most of the year. Even if the Flames see him as an upgrade on Engelland, they probably don’t want to pay him more than that given that they need to deal with RFAs and, potentially, UFAs. Paying over Engelland money to your third pairing defenceman is not a great idea.

$2.9M is certainly fair third pairing money, but Stone is fancied as a second pairing guy. Hamonic is the second pairing guy. If Stone wants to accept the demotion and paycut to third pairing that’s fine, but he has some stiff competition there.

3. Kulak coming, Andersson approaching

The thing about a third pairing spot is that it’s a depth spot. Ideally, you should be able to easily dispose of your 5/6D. They should be cheap (yet effective) players, because signing expensive-ish ones is going to be a headache, both for fans and the cap.

Luckily, the Flames have built up some great prospect depth on the backend. They’re going to start the process of the farm taking over the defence (arguably, this started with T.J. Brodie, but for the sake of this article) with Brett Kulak, mercifully saved from the clutches of the Vegas Golden Knights. Based on results from the previous two NHL and AHL seasons, it’s kind of hard to argue that he won’t have that spot come October.

And that’s fine because he’s left handed. Given Gulutzan’s strict lefty-right policy, Stone can simply slot right next to Kulak. That’s probably a decent pairing in sheltered opportunities.

But there’s also Rasmus Andersson, a kid who is right behind Kulak on that depth chart. The team really liked what they saw from him as an AHL rookie, and given that they let him hang around the big team during the drive to the playoffs, it’s likely they’re eager to give him a chance at a starting spot next year. Hell, the team recalled Andersson when Stone went down with an injury. That says something.

Who really knows if Andersson is 100% ready to make the jump, but he’s going to put in a solid case during training camp, and that drives Stone’s value down further. You already can’t argue that Stone deserves to make more than Hamonic, but if the team says that they would not mind a kid on an ELC in that position, what exactly can Stone do but take another pay cut?

He already has to take a cut because of Hamonic, but Andersson forces a second cut. Why pay someone between $2-$3M if you can get someone to do the same job for about 40% of the cost? We should doubly consider that Andersson’s contract stops sliding next year. If they don’t start playing him in the NHL now, they lose a cheap year for essentially nothing, which is probably something the club doesn’t want to do.

That also limits Stone’s ability to get term. The team wants to graduate prospects, especially the highly touted ones they have at various levels of the org. Even if Andersson isn’t ready this year, the max he’ll get is a one year deal, as Andersson will probably be ready the year after, if he isn’t already halfway through this season. Stone probably doesn’t want to be here on a one year deal, while the Flames probably don’t want him on anything longer than that.

Combined with #2, there’s some severe flexibility limits on Stone’s next contract. He’s not getting a lot of money for a 5/6D position, and he’s not getting a lot of term, if any, because there are prospects knocking on the door. That would probably be too many cuts to his overall contract value for Stone to seriously consider.

4. A knee injury and the sands of time

And that’s probably something he should be considering at the point in his career.

Occasionally, you have to take pay cuts in hockey. Part of getting another job in this business is occasionally taking less money and less term just to stick around one more year. As explained, Stone will probably not want to do that.

The primary concern surrounding Stone is the fact that his decline in play likely came from the terrible knee injury he suffered at the end of 2015-16. Now, perhaps that can be interpreted in multiple ways. Perhaps this previous season and his struggles can be written off as a recovery year. This could also be a permanent thing. Only time will tell.

But if you’re Stone, or perhaps his agent (seems like the more appropriate option), why would you not cash in on one last big payday?

If the hype is real and many other teams see him as a 4D and want to pay 4D money, how could Stone say no to that? He has the potential to earn a similar amount of money as his last contract, and given the realities of knee injuries -specifically, their tendency to make the knee weaker and more susceptible to future injury while taking a toll on athletic ability- it seems that you take the money and run.

The reality of this league, and pretty much every other major sports league, is that athletic ability is fleeting and temporary. The window to actually make your money is usually twelve to fifteen years, if you’re lucky. There have always been exceptions, but for the most part, 30 is the age where deterioration occurs rapidly.

Stone is 27. He has already suffered a major knee injury. That countdown to being obsolete has begun, and has probably been expedited. It’s going to be hard to guess where he is in a year, but Stone would probably want some contract security if it goes bad. If the worst case scenario happens and Stone does not recover post-injury, it would be career suicide to take a short term deal for low cash, become a depreciated asset, and only get PTOs and veteran’s minimum afterwards.

If his agent is worth any money, he’s telling Stone to ignore the guys underselling him and go for the big bucks.

  • Newbietwo

    Simply put.. Your 4/5 D is often the most important in an 82 game and very long play off you are bound to get injuries and you need a player that came move up and down in your line up that has proven track record.. without that you can have the best team in the world and one injury derails everything you’ve built upon

    • Just.Visiting

      Pretty much sums up my perspective. I’d add that he’s probably higher than Dougie on the PK too. My eyes tell me something completely different than the conclusion from the analytics, and my friends think the same thing. That being said, the pipeline and probable demand seem likely to make it difficult to do a deal.

  • Fan the Flames

    It is time to play Andersson and Kulak at a higher level . We have Bartkowski who can jump in if somebody is struggling but with the top 4 we have the young guys can play some reduced minutes as not to be thrown in the deep end.

  • TheRealPoc

    I don’t disagree with the assertion here that, if he’s generating 4D hype on this market, Stone should be looking to cash in and give himself some insurance; his injury history & past performance could mean this is his last shot to score big.

    However, if a big deal doesn’t materialize and the objective then becomes rebuilding value in the short term, I’d think the Flames would still remain a very enticing option. I’m sure I’ve beaten this horse dead in posts over the last season or so, but Kulak & Engelland ran at 52% CF across their close-to-300 mins @ 5v5. You’ll have a hard time convincing me Stone isn’t appreciably better than Engelland – give him the same partner w/ the same deployment and I’d think that output is a very realistic target.

    If you spend a year crushing soft minutes as a big RHD, beside an emerging young d-man on a contending team, I’d have to think that’s preferable for your future contract outlook rather than getting crushed on a mediocre-to-bad team in a role that might be over your head to begin with.

    • everton fc

      Or Kulak’s that good! 😉

      I wonder if Vegas would move Colin Miller – RHD, $1mill cap hit, averages 15+ minutes a game. Pair him w/Kulak. But he’s Vegas only RHD outside Engelland and who goes the other way, as we have no more picks (the rights to Stone, perhaps?!)

      Just thinking out loud here….

      • RealMcHockeyReturns

        I like this idea. C Miller will be cheaper (and possibly better) than Stone. And LV can use RD Stone, he may not even need to move his family way from Arizona since its not too far from Vegas.

      • TheRealPoc

        If it’s for one year, and it doesn’t start with a ‘3,’ I’ll be more than okay. He’s a fine bottom pairing guy who can take on a tougher & heavier workload in an emergency.

        I just can’t see any way the Flames run out a Kulak-Andersson bottom pairing intentionally. If anyone above them misses appreciable time, you’re asking one of those kids to jump straight into the deep end without much assurance they’ll be passable in a top four setting. That might’ve been acceptable 2 or 3 years ago, but not now.

  • redwhiteblack

    He would like to stay but can get more money and term on the market. Can not offer more than 2.75 mil or 2 yr. Even that sounds risky with his knee, Andersson close and others closer in a year or 2.

    A winger to play with Johnny and Mony is the next required keystone. Ferland is better suited on a well rounded second or third line. He just does not have the raw skill to compliment those 2 properly. The attention the D is getting (which is looking better) is clouding the fact we need a special top line to go deep.

    • jakethesnail

      The first priority for Tre was shoring up the Top 4 D-men. Ferland is a better choice for the first line than GG’s fave Chiasson…..that is not saying much, but Johnny and Monahan need someone to ride shotgun to give them some room. And if Ferland spends the start of the year with them….looking forward to some excitement from that line and not the disastrous start they had last year.

      • Willi P

        It would be the same message that the Flames have sent to Kulak. It appears they have Kulak penciled in to the 3LD position, with either Bart or Spoon as his back up. Moving up if there is a LD injury. Kulak has 30 NHL games. Ras has shown in the past that conditioning is an issue and management may feel he needs one more year to become what Kulak is now for the RD position. Ras moves up if one of the RD gets hurt. If it is Stone or somebody else, I think the Flames will sign an RD with some NHL experience as I don’t think they are ready to promote Ras. If he knocks it out of the park within 2 years, pretty easy to trade an experienced RHD on a reasonable contract

    • BlueMoonNigel

      $2.5M a year is too much. Max would be $2M. One season is long enough. Gives him a chance to build value like hustle Russell did and another full year of seasoning for the farmhands. Win-Win as I sees it.

      • Willi P

        ^ This

        The only offer make to Yakupov should be a one-way ticket back to Russia so the Flames do not sign him. FN members should start a collection, I will kick in a $100

      • Damm shame

        Try him out on a league min deal playing with Johnny and mony. If he isn’t producing after 10 to 15 games put him through waivers/ down to the farm. He has the skill somewhere just don’t know where he’s hiding it

    • Raffydog

      I’ve been saying that for a couple years now, I think Yak would be worth at least trying out on the first line, sure he sucks defensively, but that line isn’t exactly known for its stingy defensive play. If it works out, great, if not, we can always throw Ferland back on that line

  • freethe flames

    The advantage of signing Stone is he knows the system and has GG trust, going elsewhere means starting over. But the key is it has to be both the right price and right term.

    • Willi P

      He appears to click a lot of boxes. Pretty defensive but that’s okay. Looks like he is arbitration eligible so the Wild may have let him go UFA so they can negotiate better terms like the Flames have done with several players.

    • Baalzamon

      Folin’s underlying results are brutal (like most Wild dmen). I don’t see any reason to pursue him when the Flames could just give that spot to Andersson.

  • freethe flames

    Would a Brenden Smith be an option. He is LH but has played a fair bit on the right side in his career. Like many here I would be okay with giving both Kulak and Andersson a chance but I believe it would be prudent to have a veteran available who is an upgrade on Bartkowski.

  • freethe flames

    The thing we need to remember is that many teams carry 8 defenders to start the season and teams are frequently looking for extra defenders come the playoffs. If we are honest there is huge drop of after Rasmus Andersson immediately on the RH in our D prospects on the farm. Are there any? Fox is still in the NCAA.

  • Skylardog

    Need a veteran 5-6 stop gap until we are sure Andersson is ready to go. With injuries, we must have another DMan. I just don’t want to see Bart in the lineup.
    Stone is worth $4.0 for 2 to 3 elsewhere. We just are not getting him for $2 to $2.5 for 1 or even 2.

    How about Kyle Quincey for 2 years at $1.5 to $2.0. Experienced, getting long in the tooth but capable. Made $1.25 last year. A stop gap.

    • BlueMoonNigel

      I have no problem with 2 kids and a stop gap vet filling out 5 to 7. Rotate as necessary with no kid sitting for too long. I doubt this scenario appeals to Stone.

      Then again, if Tre is all about winning now, Stone as a solid 5th and a couple of kids swapping in and out of the lineup as #6 makes a lot of sense.

  • freethe flames

    What are teams always hunting for at the trade deadline? Depth defencemen and teams always overpay for them. Would it not be prudent to see if you can sign one or two them now. Better to have an upgrade over Bart now. Better to have insurance in case one of Kulak or Andersson are not as good as we believe. Look at the list of UFA’s and see if you can upgrade for both now and during the season, and hopefully into the playoffs. We won’t have the assets at the trade dead line.

  • Roger the Shrubber

    The Flames need someone who can step up to top 4 minutes if one of the top 4 go down with injury. Do we trust Kulak on the 2nd pairing? Or Bartkowski? *shudders At the same token, with the top 4 the Flames have now the third pairing will likely be playing around 12 minutes a game. If Stone will sign 2×2.75 then I’m all for it, any more than that and the Flames should walk.

  • Garry T

    Thought Stone brought a dimension we sorely needed. He hit hard along the boards and in the open. But most importantly, what really helped our tenders during the win streaks was his clearing the front of the net. I am hoping that, doing so is a must form of regimen for all of our defenders from here on in. As to staying, with a short supply of good D in this free agent year, I do not think he will take much of a haircut financially to stay.
    I might be wrong but I think he is gone.

  • Garry T

    Bartkowski was a great addition along with Stone. his quick adjustment to the speed of the NHL was admirable. He made a few mistakes but, overall, I thought he played very well under pressure. A proper training camp and he could wind up being a super injury replacement option throughout the year.

    As far as Nail Yakupov is concerned, I would bring him in , talk to him about his willingness to learn a 200 foot game and if he agrees to commit, yes sign him. The man is a lights out accurate shooter and he can manufacture chances. Yes, resoundingly, give him an opportunity. I think he is desperate to prove he can play. I do not like to be negative but he was exposed to soon with far too many expectations in Edmonton. St. Louis’s policy is produce or we have someone else and they draft well. Thus his departure. It could be that he was not given enough time to adjust to a new team there. Send him a plane ticket and turn him loose on the Oilers. Go Yak!