The Calgary Flames have had a very busy offseason as the team tries to take a few steps forward after earning a playoff spot on merit in 2016-17. Thanks to Calgary’s wheeling and dealing this summer, a number of players will be looking at different roles for the coming season. A trio of veterans, specifically, could be looking at diminished responsibility once we get to October.
Stajan has turned into one of the most likeable members of the Flames over the course of his eight seasons with the team. But, as he enters the final year of a contract and gets set to turn 34 in December, Stajan could be looking at one of his smallest roles since joining the Flames in early 2010.
After averaging 12:40 per night over 81 regular season games, Stajan was down to 10:15 in the playoffs. He was also scratched along with Lance Bouma in Calgary’s final game, as Curtis Lazar and Freddie Hamilton made their postseason debuts with the team. With some interesting decisions to be made down the middle for 2017-18, I’m unsure where Stajan sits right now.
Johnny Gaudreau-Sean Monahan-Micheal Ferland
Matthew Tkachuk-Mikael Backlund-Michael Frolik
Kris Versteeg-Sam Bennett-Alex Chiasson
Lance Bouma-Matt Stajan-Troy Brouwer
Those lines were what the Flames went with in Game 3 against Anaheim, Stajan’s final game of last season. With a few of those players gone, and with a couple new considerations, there are some important questions to ask here. Is Bennett a centre? Does Lazar play down the middle? And, does Mark Jankowski enter into this conversation at all?
If the answer is yes to one of the first two questions, then Stajan is likely set to reprise his role as Calgary’s fourth line centre. If the answer is yes to both of those first queries, though, then Stajan may not be looking at an everyday role this year. And, regardless of the first two questions, if the answer to number three is yes, then the result is likely the same: Stajan seeing significant time as a healthy scratch.
Over the last few years, Stajan has settled into a fourth line role after being used as one of the team’s top two centres in Bob Hartley’s first two seasons. I don’t see any real harm in Calgary using Stajan as their fourth pivot once again this season, because he can do the job just fine. The determining factor will be whether the Flames have better options for right now and, just as importantly, if it makes more sense to give someone younger those minutes with an eye to the future.
As Brouwer’s first season with the Flames went on we saw his role gradually reduced, so this is something that’s already underway. After averaging more than 17 minutes per night in his first few months, he was down to just over 14 by the end of the season and into the playoffs. In saying that, though, Brouwer’s average ice time still finished fifth highest on the team at 16:13. Season over season, I just can’t see him being in that same ballpark to start 2017-18.
Even with one of the highest offensive zone starts on the team, Brouwer was one of Calgary’s least effective players last season. As much as he didn’t want to, head coach Glen Gulutzan didn’t have any choice but to reduce Brouwer’s ice time as the season went on. It’s harsh to say, but for most of last season Brouwer was ineffective at his best and detrimental when worse.
In fairness, last year was perhaps the worst season of Brouwer’s NHL career, so some slight improvement in the coming year won’t be a total shock. Even with that, though, Brouwer is very likely looking at a diminished role as opposed to where expectations were a year ago. For many, the hope was for Brouwer to slot in on one of the team’s top two lines. One year later, though, a third line role is likely his best case scenario.
Along with Brouwer, NHL right wing depth for the Flames looks like this as it stands right now: Micheal Ferland, Michael Frolik, Garnet Hathaway, Kris Versteeg*, Curtis Lazar*. The asterisks beside Versteeg and Lazar means they could play the right side, but there’s no guarantee that’s the direction Calgary will go; Lazar is a natural centre while Versteeg spent most of last season on the left side.
Regardless of where the Flames put Lazar and Versteeg, though, Brouwer just isn’t a fit in the top six. If Bennett starts the season at centre as we’re led to believe, then perhaps Brouwer could slide in on the right side of a third line opposite Versteeg. If things go in a different direction, though, then Brouwer could end up being a very expensive fourth line option. Regardless, his role is set to be much smaller than it was to start last season.
For some, Stone’s arrival just before the trade deadline was a big part of Calgary’s torrid end to the season. After all, the team’s 10-game win streak started the same night Stone made his debut against the Nashville Predators. Of course, the addition of one player wasn’t the only reason why the Flames got as hot as they did (the 3M Line, Brian Elliott, and Giordano-Hamilton all played bigger parts), but it was a fun narrative. Now, regardless of how much credit you think he deserves for Calgary’s torrid finishing pace, Stone is looking at a much lesser role for 2017-18.
The main reason for that is the team’s June acquisition of Travis Hamonic, who’s penciled in on the second pair currently. The Flames gave up a first round and a pair of second round picks to pry Hamonic from the Islanders and the plan is to partner him with T.J. Brodie. With Giordano and Hamilton already an established duo, that drops Stone to the third pair and essentially makes him the team’s number five defenceman. Judging on the last few seasons, and the price Calgary paid to acquire Hamonic, this line of thinking makes sense.
Other than last season, when both players struggled, Hamonic has been the superior defenceman and seems better suited to play top four minutes on a regular basis going forward. With both Stone and Hamonic possessing right shots, Calgary’s back end is most likely going to look like this come October:
Mark Giordano-Dougie Hamilton
T.J. Brodie-Travis Hamonic
Those question marks could be filled by any one of Brett Kulak, Matt Bartkowski, or Tyler Wotherspoon, with other options potentially in play, too. Regardless, it’s a pretty good bet Stone’s ice time is going to come in under the 18:51 he averaged in 19 games with the Flames last season.