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
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.
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.
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.