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The pros and cons of re-signing Michael Stone

With Kris Versteeg all but assumed to be automatically back, the Calgary Flames have just one pending unrestricted free agent of interest: Michael Stone.

Acquired at the trade deadline, he’s been credited as a crucial part in the Flames getting to the playoffs. For lack of any better options, he slotted into the top four alongside T.J. Brodie, and the two appeared to mesh through the final quarter of the season.

If Stone comes back, though, he won’t be playing alongside Brodie; that’s what Travis Hamonic was just acquired to do. No, Stone would be a depth move, playing the right side on the bottom pairing.

In that case, does it make sense to bring him back?

Reasons to re-sign Stone

  • Depth.

The Flames have what appears to be a formidable top four in place. If Stone – who has played top four minutes more often than not the past couple of seasons – is playing on the bottom pairing, what does it say about the Flames’ defence? That they likely won’t have to do much sheltering of their bottom pairing, a far cry from how things have been done in recent years. Furthermore, it provides a bit of insurance in case any of the top four gets injured.

  • No need to rush prospects.

Sure, the Flames have a stable of impressive prospects on defence – it’s easily one of the most exciting aspects about them, both for the present and the future. However, they’re still just that: prospects. The Flames’ big five – Rasmus Andersson, Adam Fox, Brett Kulak, Oliver Kylington, and Juuso Valimaki – has a combined 32 games of NHL experience between them, 30 of them belonging to Kulak. Stone coming back ensures nobody is pushed into a role they aren’t ready for – and ensures the Flames won’t be scrambling to fill out their bottom pairing for someone who is.

  • Fits in, age-wise.

Stone is 27 – he and Brodie were born on the exact same day. When Brad Treliving acquired him, he wasn’t necessarily seeking a rental player, and the fact Stone fits right in the team’s age group provides fair reason to bring him back into the fold. He’s a bit older than the core, but he should have quite a few years left in him. Whatever term he gets on his new deal, he should be able to fulfill it, no problems.

  • Potential.

Stone can handle 20+ minutes a game. And while he scored just 15 points this past season, in 2015-16, he scored 36 – one year removed from a career high. Stone is a high volume shooter, and he’s generally hovered just under 50% in 5v5 CF since he started playing a bigger role. Last year was an exception – statistically, he was one of the worst defencemen in the NHL – but considering just how poor the Coyotes were, there’s a chance the season was just an anomaly and he’ll be much better in the new year. He’d also be much more sheltered in Calgary, which could help his numbers.

  • Hometown discount.

Stone played for the Calgary Hitmen. His wife’s family has ties to Calgary. The fact he has connections to the city beyond playing 23 games for the Flames could encourage him to leave a little bit of money on the table. If Calgary has a potential top four defenceman playing in the fifth role at a price suited for a fifth defenceman – well, that can only be good, right?

Reasons to let Stone walk

  • Is he even necessary?

The Flames already have a pretty stacked top four – one that’s being hailed as one of the best in the West, if not the league all together. Sure, they could load up on their bottom pairing, too, and make it a formidable group of six. But is that something the Flames should really be focusing on? They filled their biggest hole on defence, but there’s still another big hole to fill: the forward group still needs some work. An excellent bottom pairing is a luxury when the Flames still have other needs. And with the amount of minutes the top four should be eating anyway, why do they need someone like Stone to pick up the garbage minutes?

  • Less room for prospects.

A complaint regarding the Flames as of late is that they don’t give their prospects a chance. Re-signing Stone only furthers that. Look no further than Rasmus Andersson’s recall in the final quarter of the 2016-17 season: he sat and sat and sat in the pressbox, and was only given a chance to play in a meaningless Game 82 (and there were a couple of meaningless games he could have appeared in before it, too). If Stone is back, then it’s probably Andersson’s spot he takes, as they’re both right-shooting defencemen. And with Hamilton, Hamonic, and potentially Stone under contract for at least a couple of years yet, at which point is Andersson supposed to finally break in? Stone would just be yet another obstacle to overcome in a seemingly endless line of them.

  • Save a fifth round pick.

Okay, admittedly, this one is incredibly minor. It’s more of a direct counter to Treliving’s not wanting to go after a rental. If Stone walks, then he was just that: a rental player. However, letting him go would save the Flames’ 2018 fifth round pick. They’re already looking at going into that draft with just one pick in the top 90 as it is, and while the higher a pick the better, actually having picks to begin with is a good thing.

That said, it’s not like the Flames are going to let Stone go over a fifth.

  • He had a really poor season.

By corsi metrics, Stone was one of the worst defencemen in the NHL this past season. He had a 5v5 CF of 43.27%, which is rather poor. For context, even Matt Bartkowski and Jyrki Jokipakka were at least 2% better than him, and neither may end up playing in the NHL next season at all. And sure, you can point to Arizona being a tire fire – and it’s a good excuse – but the Coyotes had other defencemen on the team who were able to fare better than Stone, including those who also suffered poor zone starts. Somehow, they weren’t as harshly affected as he was. There could also be residual concern after his knee surgery last year.

  • Cost.

Stone is a 27-year-old unrestricted free agent coming off of a one-year, $4 million deal. He is set to be at the prime of his career, and in a relatively weak free agent market, this could be his chance to get paid. Why would he leave millions on the table just to play a depth role for the Flames? Look at what Kris Russell just re-signed for. Should Stone not go for something similar? There are teams out there who need defensive help more than the Flames who should be willing to pay for him.

Meanwhile, if Stone’s cap hit is even within sniffing distance of Hamonic’s, it’s poor asset management on the Flames’ part. They just got out from under Deryk Engelland’s contract, and he was making nearly $3 million (that’s per year) to play 16 minutes a game. The Flames already have a $10 million fourth line – they don’t need to make the same mistake with their defence. Especially when, as mentioned above, a formidable bottom pairing is a luxury, and they could still improve their forward group. With Hamonic signed, that should take priority over Stone.

  • T&A4Flames

    Off topic, but I’m wondering what Flames fans would think of signing Tyler Pitlick as a UFA? Sounds like he is not going back to stink town. 6’2″ 200+ lbs right shot. He scored 8G and 3A in 31GP last year which translates to roughly 20G and 30pts. I don’t like to watch a lot of EDM games when I don’t have to so I can’t say much for how he looked last year. Could he be another Glencross and possible fill in with Johnny and Mony on the RW? A 1year prove it contract?

    • RealMcHockeyReturns

      I actually don’t mind the idea. Right handed RWs are in short supply. But if you bring back Chiasson and Versteeg it gets crowded. I’d do it if you can’t find a better option.

  • T&A4Flames

    I like Stone. But with the acquisition of Hamonic, it isn’t a necessary move. However, the other potential pros i see, incredible depth on the backend and if he would sign a 2 year deal, we could look to trade himafter this season and either recoup some of those draft picks we lost or target a legit top 6 RW. He does have a physical aspect to his game which we still need and he could help shelter Kulak. When injuries occur, Andersson is 1st call up.
    The price and term must make sense but I really don’t see Stone going for it. As was stated, he’ll likely get better offers for money, term and playing time.

  • jakethesnail

    Is there anybody of value on LV who stocked up on D-men and now must rid themselves of the extra bodies?
    Stone likely will wait until July 1 to see what he is worth in a weak Free Agent market.

  • RKD

    I would bring Stone back unless you sign a guy like Franson. I can’t see the Flames brass icing 2 kids on the 3rd pairing. I would have Kulak-Stone/Franson. If Stone walks and Franson signs elsewhere then they may have to look elsewhere or play Kylington/Andersson. Stone is more than capable of holding his own.

  • Why is this team and its fans so afraid of giving a young defenseman a sheltered role? Other teams develop their young D talent. To date, all we have to show for the past several years is TJ Brodie. Wotherspoon, Kulak were both misused in my opinion.

    • T&A4Flames

      I don’t disagree. With our top 4 looking solid, they will play 50mins a night. Having Andersson and Kulak play 10 mins a night would be fine.
      The problem happens if 1 of those top 4 get injured. Then suddenly our depth is blown.

      • Kevin R

        Kulak actually showed he can hang ok & I know everyone hate him but we still have Bartkowski with NHL experience. Honestly, if injuries happen, it puts pressure on the young guys to really step up their game, which wouldn’t be a bad thing. If Stone takes a home discount, doubt it will be anything short of a 3 year deal with NT provisions. Russell deal really probably reinforced his 3.5 -4.0 Mill price tag for 3-4 years.

      • cjc

        If it is a matter of experience in the event of injury, they can always sign an FA mid season, make a depth trade or call up a vet playing in the AHL. If they don’t start playing their prospects, they’ll never learn what they’ve got. What if Andersson is better than Hamonic?

      • But are the results really any worse than when you had Engelland, Wideman, or Russell in that role? You can’t plan for injuries, but the organization needs to stop being so terrified of giving young D responsibility.

  • Puckhead

    In theory, Stone should fair better in a 3rd line role against weaker opponents. He does have a good shot and isn’t afraid to play physical.

    However, as mentioned, he would be in the way of Ras, who is knocking at the door waiting his turn. Also can’t see Stone taking less than $3M (a $1M pay cut). It would also suck to lose another pick if he comes back.

  • everton fc

    To me, Stone blocks Kulak. Kulak, not Andersson, has proven he can play a role in the NHL. No matter the risk, and especially if we re-sign Johnson, I still like Kulak/Andersson as “5/6″…

    Stone for 2 yrs/2mill a season is all I’d offer. BT likes Stone. Expect him as one of our 5/6 defenders come training camp.

    As for Franson… No to Franson.

    • Baalzamon

      I think people are saying Stone blocks Andersson because it’s pretty clear that the Flames are graduating Kulak (that is, there’s no one in his way). Bartkowski is clearly intended to be the #7, sitting in the pressbox.

  • everton fc

    You’re probably right.

    BT likes Stone. I am sure they want him back. And perhaps another season in the “A” is best for Andersson. We shall see…

    Stone is a 5/6 defender. So is Kulak. Andersson may be. If they sign Stone for 2 years, it’d have to be at a serious discount. I don’t think Stone will low-ball himself here.

  • Matty Franchise Jr

    I’d be happy to see Kulak and Andersson get a shot to start the season. If one doesn’t work out, then there’s always the option for a mid-season trade with a team that is unexpectedly sucking.
    There only going to get 10 minutes a night anyway. Might as well give it a shot.

  • Nick24

    Not a fan of Stone at all, and his time in Calgary was hardly inspiring. If he’s going to come in at $2.5m-$3m they’d be better off looking elsewhere. If he comes back on a one year deal at $2m or under sure, but otherwise it’s not worth it. I get the depth argument, but if he can’t hang in the top-4 does it really give you that much depth in case of injury? why not take a chance on Andersson, maybe he can do a better job playing up in the depth chart. Considering how stacked the Flames top-4 is they’d have the luxury of being able to heavily shelter a Kulak – Andersson pairing.

    If the plan is to go with a more veteran group, that give you good depth, they could absolutely get better value than Michael Stone.

  • OKG

    Pros:
    Kulak gets a sniper to feed on the right point, instead of Deryk “let me back up to the red line instead of play offense” Engelland.
    Cons:
    Nakladal is a better sniper…

    • OKG

      As far as Andersson goes I think the hype around him is unwarranted. He was a good rookie defenseman in the AHL. He was not, however, a defenseman who looked half as NHL ready as Kulak did two years ago, more close to as NHL-ready as Wotherspoon did three years ago. Be patient with Andersson, he’s a fantastic prospect, but that doesn’t mean 8 minutes a night playing with a rookie partner is the best thing for either his development or the team’s success. Let’s see how Andersson does in the minors without the experience of Jankowski, Wotherspoon or Kulak to cover for his gaffes. Let’s see Andersson improve offensively (he wasn’t even manning PP1 on Stockton in the playoffs). Let’s see Andersson be able to dominate puck possession in the minors before we put him into the majors.

      This isn’t me saying fringe-NHLers should play over prospects who are just as good. Absolutely not. But Andersson is not just as good as a guy like Michael Stone or Cody Franson yet, not defensively OR offensively. So let him develop. Don’t Darnell Nurse him into having a miserable rookie season.

  • Just.Visiting

    Stone is a very polarizing player. The analytics people have very strong negative opinions toward him. My friends, on the other hand, with whom I talk about the Flames (myself included) all liked his play a lot. He was consistently in position in his own zone, didn’t take stupid or lazy penalties, didn’t treat the puck like a hand grenade in our own zone, had a great shot and appeared to be a great fit. I think there are reasons to bring him back, where the depth argument is stronger today than it was before the Hamonic trade because we’ve chosen to accelerate our timeline to be a more serious contender by a year. That being said, the level of interest in him on July 1 and the money aspect mean that he’s likely to move on. I guess we’ll see next season how good he truly is, no matter how this unfolds.

  • flamesburn89

    Interesting to see that consensus here is for the Flames to maybe offer Stone a 1 or 2 year deal at around 2.5 max. Now that he’s re-signed at 3.5M per for 3 years, most on the other thread are loving it. Strange times.