WWYDW: How do you fix the second pairing?

Things are going pretty well for the Flames.

They have one of the top scorers in the NHL, and three lines that are creating chances (plus a fourth line that can at least play a regular shift). Their starting goaltending is making saves, their top defensive pairing is shutting opponents down, and their third pairing has been, for the most part, reliable.

With so much success up and down the lineup, that makes the one key problem that much more glaring. So it begs the question: what do you do about T.J. Brodie and Travis Hamonic on the second pairing?

We’re 20 games into the season. Brodie and Hamonic have not been poor all 20 games; their faults have become much more evident since Hamonic returned from injury four games ago. But since it’s so early in the season, trading someone this early is probably off the table; you don’t ship a player out because of a poor couple of games. Furthermore, barring an injury it seems unlikely someone gets scratched; the Flames don’t really have anyone better to take either Brodie or Hamonic’s place.

That leaves two other options: you leave things well enough alone and let them work themselves out (i.e. what the Flames did with their third line, once all respective personnel were in Calgary and healthy), or you change up the pairings.

When it comes to the Flames’ current defensive makeup, it looks like there’s only one real option: switch Hamonic and Michael Stone. Mark Giordano and Dougie Hamilton are playing well as the Flames’ top pairing, so why break that up? And even ignoring the handedness conundrum, it’s difficult to see Brett Kulak being promoted from a clearly defined sixth defenceman role to play in the top four alongside Brodie.

Besides, so far this season, Brodie has really only played with Hamonic and Stone. All stats from this season so far at 5v5, via Natural Stat Trick:

Partner TOI w/ Brodie CF w/ Brodie Brodie CF w/out Partner CF w/out OZS
Hamonic 254:21 47.85% 52.83% 46.15% 49.70%
Stone 86:01 49.21% 48.47% 47.67% 47.37%

For context, over 2016-17, Brodie and Stone played 286:58 together, posting a posting a shared 46.49% CF with 41.79% offensive zone starts.

Even from just a snapshot, though, it looks like Brodie and Stone are a better combination this season. Switching up partners could be the answer, at least for now.

Hamonic hasn’t played much with Kulak – just 11:34 – and they only had a 35.29% CF together, but the sample size is so minuscule, it shouldn’t play much of a factor in the decision-making.

So what would you do? Hope Brodie and Hamonic can work things out? Switch things up, and reunite Brodie and Stone? Or go even further with the defensive mixing and matching?

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    • deantheraven

      Indeed! It’s one thing to let guys play their way out of their funk, it’s a whole other deal to let it go on and on (as GG seems to have done) without any progression.

    • Avalain

      This is exactly what I came here to say. The only reason to play the 2nd pairing more than the first is if Gio and Dougie are out of shape and can’t handle the minutes. We know that isn’t the case.

    • Squishin

      Yes! This! Your best pairing should get the lion’s share of the minutes. It is also evident that the second option is the best.
      Here, I’ll do the math:
      Giordano-Hamilton 25:00
      Brodie-Stone 20:00
      Kulak-Hamonic 15:00
      Something like this would be perfect, no?

  • buts

    Ari, I think your one of the best writers on FN. I’ve been critical of GG many times and Brodies struggles all started when GG moved him to the left side. I remember a pretty good D man who shot left and played the right side a lot named Bobby Orr. I believe the cure for Brodie would be to move him to the right side because he just plays better and is more comfortable on that side. He has been hanging on to the puck too long but I’m sure that’s the coach and his pro-corsi system. Getting back to this coach, imagine where this team would be in the standings if the bottom 6 were more productive. Also GG’s terrible usage of the bottom 3, who he dresses in the bottom 3 is mind boggling. Finally he needs to send Lack to Stockton to get him some minutes and give Smith a rest or Smith will be burnt out by January. This goalie has saved GG’s job.

      • deantheraven

        Give Rittich some starts. or Gillies. Or Harvey. Hell, I don’t care who. I didn’t like the deal in the first place and now it looks like we have a relatively cheap back up who has failed in limited tries to win the confidence of his coach and teammates. Guaranteed the Flames would play better in front of either of the Stockton starters, at least for a few games.

        • Scary Gary

          Lack has been brutal but his 0.813 save% is better than Gillies 0.750. Lack has only started two games, you’d have to think he gets a few more games before anything drastic happens. I’d definitely be open to giving Rittich a shot if Lack continues to blow up.

          • Danomitee

            Oh come on, that’s a stretch. That sample size, in a blowout game where we have a 5 on 3 against for the last 5 minutes of the game does not help Gillies. The team had already lost, he was hung out to dry.

    • cjc

      -Or, you could say Brodie’s struggles started when he was de-coupled from Giordano. Brodie’s problem is that he’s had to haul around crappy defensemen for the last two years (Wideman, then Stone, and now Hamonic).

      -The bottom 6 are not Gulutzan’s fault. He does not sign the players. The bottom six has been equal parts bad and unlucky, but that is not on Gulutzan. He’s done his best to shelter them. The third line, at least, seems to be figured out now.

      -The bottom 3 is, like, whatever. This is what Gulutzan has had to work with: Stajan, Brouwer, Glass, Hathaway, F. Hamilton, Lazar. You can’t really go right there, so who cares?

      -Not sure how sending Lack to Stockton will give Smith a rest, but it’s out of Gulutzan’s hands, Treliving makes those decisions.

      Gulutzan makes usage mistakes (playing Bartkowski over Kulak, not using D. Hamilton enough, giving Brouwer PP time) but those errors have also corrected themselves (Bartkowski eating popcorn now, Brouwer on the 4th line and 8th among forwards in PP time now).

      • MontanaMan

        I’m amazed how little objectivity people have when assessing Brodie. He has struggled because of his last three partners? Really? Forget about who he’s playing with and concentrate on Brodie – you will see that the majority of his struggles are self induced. No it doesn’t mean they will be long term but for now, he needs to get himself out of his funk and Flames fans need to start holding him accountable and stop blaming the players around him.

        • whysoserious

          Why the lack of love for Brodie? Do people realize he is tied for fourth in Team scoring, the next defenseman is 4 points behind in Hamilton and he is playing with the captain. He is also in the top 20 for the league in defenseman point totals. The defensive side will take some time to get together but the offensive side is doing pretty well IMO

        • Sensei

          Don’t blame it on Hamonic – it’s Brodie!! He’s been brutal this year especially on whiffs and giveaways in his own end. Trade him while he still has value and get some toughness back that was lost when Engelland left.

      • Cheeky

        @cjc – apart from Wideman, the other 2 are decent dmen. Perhaps it’s Brodie who isn’t doing his best or not the right partner for them…and yes it is on the coach for the bottom 6 depending on who he plays. His insistent on playing guys like Bart and Brouwer and Stajan over more capable players is on him not the GM…

  • L.Kolkind

    What about putting Hamilton and Brodie together for a few games? Gio is good enough that he can carry around Stone or Hamonic and put up pretty good results. Hamilton would also be a clear upgrade over both Stone and Hamonic and could get Brodie going.

  • Zalapski

    Why don’t they just stop putting Brodie on the first PP unit? Maybe that will wake him up. The man has ZERO use on the first PP. He doesn’t carry the puck overly well(bump back all the time)Doesn’t possess an overly great shot either. Hammy should be the guy. And if they want a left handed shot, use Gio, the mans offensive game is criminally underrated. Hamonic has come as advertised. It’s early but I’m underwhelmed.

  • Clayton

    I’d just give them time. They are only 20 games in and it takes time to learn each other’s tendencies, style and thought processes. Remember how quickly people were jumping on Dougie when he arrived and now he is solid with Gio!

    • deantheraven

      20 games isn’t a small sample when you look at an 82- game season. They looked so good in weeks 1-2. Brodie was electrifying. Now he’s shockingly bad with the puck. I’m tellin’ ya, something is wrong. His puck handling and skating have sagged considerably, his decision-making has been cringe worthy.It appears his confidence has all but evaporated. Sitting him should be an option but wouldn’t fly. I truly believe Hamonic isn’t to blame. Maybe splitting them up is the only answer. I think Hammer would do well with Kulak and Brodie could do alright with Stone, but if Gio and D. Ham get split up, GG’s gonna want to keep his effing R-L pairs, so that means no reuniting of the Flame original Dynamic Duo.
      The alternative is a mix-mashing of all the players, causing confusion, acclimation issues for all. Eff that!
      If Brodie has issues, and it seems he does, a personal leave would give us the chance to see someone from Stockton step up to the next level.
      I think it’s time for both to happen.

    • Cheeky

      Brodie was struggling last year too. When he was on his top game was when we played the stretch pass / dman jumps up style under Hartley. This style may not mesh with him, just saying…

  • Puckhead

    It shouldn’t matter what side Brodie plays on. I can’t think of many instances where his poor play can be directly attributed to what side of the ice he’s playing on. He’s obviously struggling and it’s up to him to pull it together.

  • Alberta Ice

    Some good questions. TJ has struggled more than usual which has been a bit concerning of late, but I hope he and Hamonic can continue to learn to complement each other. It’s another ‘adjustment learning time’ to work on. Though inconsistent so far, the last two periods at Washington looked a bit better. And, yes, Kulak has been taking his effort to a new level and that has been a pleasant surprise on D.

  • Bottsy777

    I’m not sure my suggestion will be well received here – but just let them play…

    Hamonic is still figuring things out here. Remember when Dougie came over? It took a looooong time until he was comfortable in a new system. That adjustment time period is affecting them both to some degree… Let them work through it – it will be best for the long term.

    Add to all that the personal struggles Brodie is having off the ice with his wife’s health struggles – and I’m impressed he can play as well as he is. I guarantee that if any of us had a similar situation our work production would decrease by way more than. 10%….

    The one thing I see constantly ignored here in “our” assessments – is that we all forget to value the human side of the equation. While I question some of GG decisions – where he has impressed me is in his level of care for the guys as people. And trust me, that has a value in an organization. It’s those types of situations where teams become greater than the sum of their parts.

    This human factor also plays into our situations with Stajan and Brouwer as well. I know most of us think we should just get rid of them, but how we deal with those players as people affects more than just them. Other free agents, and players look at how an organization deals with its “challenging” contracts – and it affects their perception of that organization. Players want to play where they feel they will have a chance to prove themselves if they are struggling. THese choices have the ability to affect Free Agent choices in 2,3 or 4 years down the road. So while in the moment we may not like how things are being dealt with, I trust in the process for the long run. It’s also easier for us to all jump to a conclusion without having to look the player in the eyes and tell him what we think….

    • Off the wall

      Well said sir. The human element is more important than we realize.
      Our perception becomes skewed when we omit that.

      Stay the course, we aren’t the Oilers thank goodness.

      This gets my vote for the most sensible post today!

    • Cheeky

      Trash away but that’s more the assistant coaches job. Yes as in most jobs the boss needs to be personable and have the human element but in competative sport it’s about winning. Sometimes hard decisions need to be made and it’s up to the head coach to make them. Personally I’d rather work for someone that has that friendship style like GG (who I wouldn’t want to let down) but most professional athletes need and want that kick up the @rse…

    • JoelOttosJock

      Bulls#$! I don’t know what you do for a living, but in my line of work (oilfield) you get a couple moments to ve upset, bet then move on and do the job or take a leave and let someone else do it. I am empathetic to Brodie and his situation, but be the big man and take a leave of absence..Craig Anderson did it last year, also whom is a much bigger piece of the cog there.

  • BringtheFire 2.0

    Stay the course until we lose. Whatever is going on in Brodie’s life or game that’s hampering him will pass. After all we’ve seen him do and after how he’s played for us over the years, there is simply no way he doesn’t come out of this funk. He’s too good. When he does he’ll take Hamonic with him. Then there’ll be a Brodie Bump for Hamonic. And all will be well again.

    Also, it’s important to note that although Brodie is making bad decisions right now, his skating is still fine. That’s important.

  • Rudy27

    Some here are saying 20 games is enough for Brodie and Hamonic to gel. Yet it’s still recent history when everyone was jumping all over Hamilton for not playing up to snuff, or the whole team taking have of last season to figure out/buy in to GG’s system. I say give them time.

  • Flint

    Corsi is a good analytical tool, but it is but one tool. Brodie has put Hamonic to shame in the Corsi measures the last few games, but Brodie has also been terrible in those games, and much worse than Hamonic. I understand that may not align directly with Corsi, but c’est la vie.

  • Sterls

    Anyone think Brodie would be effective as a winger? Like next season move Kulak into 2 pair LD, give a prospect a chance at 3rd LD and see if Brodie can play 3rd line RW. Probably better just to trade him than experiment if he isn’t working out, but they guy is creative and can skate. Might complement Janko and Bennett nicely. He also has great chemistry offensively with Jonny and Monny, especially in OT. He might make a great winger if the transition isn’t too difficult. Ok, crazy talk over, I fully don’t expect this to happen, but felt like voicing my crazy talk today for some reason.