It’s no secret the Calgary Flames have enviable organizational depth on the blueline. With the addition of guys like Travis Hamonic and Juuso Valimaki this summer (as well as the emergence of Adam Fox), the Flames may end up with more defenders than they know what to do with in a couple of years.
The same can’t be said for the club’s depth at right wing, however. After Michael Frolik, things drop off precipitously, with little hope of help from the organization’s farm or minor league systems.
So what should the Flames do? Continue to hoard their defensive talent and hope they can plug holes in the forward roster as needed? Or should they trade from a position of strength to shore up a position of weakness?
Before we proceed, let’s do a deeper comparison between the Flames’ RW and defensive depths. Here’s how Calgary’s blueline shakes out:
- Mark Giordano (33)
- T.J. Brodie (26)
- Brett Kulak (23)
- Oliver Kylington (20)
- Juuso Valimaki (18)
- Tyler Wotherspoon (23)
- Dougie Hamilton (24)
- Travis Hamonic (27)
- Michael Stone (27)
- Rasmus Andersson (20)
- Adam Fox (19)
For simplicity’s sake, I have excluded long shots and fringe guys like Matt Bartkowski, Josh Healey, Adam Ollas-Mattsson, etc.
As you can see, it’s an embarrassment of riches on the backend for Calgary. Only Mark Giordano is over 30 years old and he’s still a premier defender. Rasmus Andersson and Oliver Kylington are both good bets to press for an NHL spot in a year or two while Valimaki and Fox are bluechip prospects. Brodie, Hamilton, and Hamonic are in the meaty part of the typical NHL career arc, with Hamilton figuring to be a top 10 offensive defenseman for the foreseeable future.
In contrast, here’s the Flames’ RW depth:
- Michael Frolik (29)
- Micheal Ferland (25 – converted LW)
- Kris Versteeg (31)
- Troy Brouwer (33)
- Curtis Lazar (22)
- Spencer Foo (23)
- Garnet Hathaway (25)
- Emile Poirier (22)
- Daniel Pribyl (24)
Hoo boy that’s ugly.
Versteeg and Brouwer are both older than 30, with Brouwer figuring to be a buyout candidate before the end of his contract. Ferland is a quality utility winger who will likely be shifted to the right wing out of necessity. Foo, Poirier, and Pribyl are all unknown commodities, although none of them figure to ever be impact players. Lazar is a darkhorse the team is betting on despite lackluster results in the NHL so far and Hathaway is what he is: a replacement level bang and crasher.
Even if we dig deeper into the org’s coffers, there still isn’t much to get excited about. The last five right wingers the club chose at the entry draft were: Zach Fischer, D’Artagnan Joly, Eetu Tuulola, Hunter Smith, and Tim Harrison. It’s long shots all the way down. (Harrison isn’t even a member of the organization anymore.)
Frolik is the only time-tested top six right winger in the org (and he’s actually left-handed). Maybe Ferland gets there this year, or maybe he remains merely a decent middle six option who can move up to the scoring line a pinch (he is also left-handed). None of the club’s right side attack is naturally right-handed or currently at peak age, unless you count AHLers Hathaway and Pribyl (you shouldn’t).
This lack of depth matters both and now in the future. Presently, the Flames are entering a contention window with the Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Mikael Backlund, Dougie Hamilton core.
Unfortunately, the unimpressive right side opens the Flames up to significant injury risk as they try to compete this season. Imagine, for instance, both Frolik and Versteeg experience injuries at the same time in 2017-18. Unless Foo steps fully formed into the NHL, the starboard side becomes something of a tottering junk pile:
- Gaudreau – Monahan – Ferland
- Tkachuk – Backlund – Lazar
- F. Hamilton/Jankowski – Bennett – Brouwer
- Shinkaruk/Mangipane – Stajan – Foo/Hathaway
In fact, the Flames RW is so bad it forces the club to “borrow” from its left wing depth, rapidly depleting the other side as well.
The future is also a concern since both Versteeg and Frolik are aging and don’t figure to be around forever. Guys like Fischer and Joly are low bets to ever make the NHL and even if they surprise, they are probably five years away at best. As such, the club’s internal RW development is currently pinned on guys like Foo and Poirier, which seems like a big bet on long odds.
The Toronto Maple Leafs as a trading partner
The good news for the Flames is good defensemen are always in demand. Almost any guy in Calgary’s top six (with the possible exception of Kulak) would probably be of interest in a trade to one degree or another. In addition, Andersson, Kylington, Valimaki, and Fox would all likely garner significant interest if they were included in a trade proposal.
If we scan the NHL for trade partners, one team jumps out as an obvious fit: the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Now I know trades with the Leafs have typically not gone the Flames’ way, but they are a club with an inverse problem: lots of quality wingers versus lackluster defensive depth. Check it out:
- James van Riemsdyk (28)
- William Nylander (21)
- Mitch Marner (20)
- Connor Brown (23)
- Kasperi Kapanen (21)
- Kerby Rychel (22)
Nylander and Marner are converted centermen, which technically makes them more valuable. Both guys figure to be impact NHLers.
JVR is a good offensive LW, albeit not great defensively and already 28. Brown, Kapanen, and Rychel are lesser options, though with good enough numbers and pedigree to be of interest. The ideal candidate from a Flames perspective, of course, is Nylander. He’s young, right-handed, and already a high-quality offensive weapon. Of course, Nylander will also be not available for purchase, or very expensive to acquire.
Before we go on, here’s the Maple Leafs’ blueline:
- Morgan Rielly
- Nikita Zaitsev
- Jake Gardiner
- Ron Hainsey
- Martin Marincin
- Connor Carrick
Some good players, but also some huge question marks.
Like the Flames, the Leafs are moving into a contention window with the likes of Auston Matthews, Nazem Kadri, Freddie Andersen, and Marner/Nylander. However, their backend is a clear Achilles heel with no obvious help coming from the org’s minor league or draft picks any time soon.
So the question is: would you trade one of the Flames’ defenders for a Leafs winger? If so, do you swap middle tier guys like Kylington and Andersson for Brown or Kapanen? Or do you dangle a high-end asset in order to try to pry William Nylander out of Toronto?