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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Giordano and Hamilton head and shoulders above the rest

With so much negativity surrounding the Flames currently, here’s a positive for you: this team’s top pairing is having another stellar season. After going through our report card exercise at forward earlier this month, our look at the blueline is a little more stark. Calgary’s top pairing has been very good, but the drop off from there has been significant.

FIRST PAIRING

Mark Giordano-Dougie Hamilton

GP TOI CF% GF% OSZ%
78 1182:49 58.6 52.5 54.4

For a second straight year, the pairing of Giordano and Hamilton is one of the league’s best at both ends of the ice. First off, no pairing in the league has spent more time together at five-on-five than these two have this season.

In fact, Hamilton and Giordano have basically been stapled to one another since the early stages of the 2016-17 season; only the top duos in Columbus (Seth Jones and Zach Werenski) and San Jose (Marc-Eduoard Vlasic and Justin Braun) have spent more time together over the last two years.

But Giordano and Hamilton haven’t just spent a lot of time with one another, they’ve excelled together. For a second straight year they’ve posted the league’s top possession rate as a pairing, and have actually boosted it a couple points from last year’s 56.6%. Without heavily tailored offensive minutes, all these two guys have done is drive play this season.

Offensively, both have gotten the job done. Hamilton co-leads NHL defencemen with 16 goals while Giordano sits tied for 11th with 13; Hamilton also ranks third overall in goals-per-60 at .57, trailing only Boston’s Torey Krug. It’s tough to quarrel with what these two have done at the offensive end of the ice.

Hamilton and Giordano have done the job at the other end, too. While not hammered with defensive starts, this pairing averages around 17 minutes of five-on-five time each night against top opposition. To have a positive five-on-five goal differential considering the difficulty of their minutes is impressive and certainly helps dispel any “poor defensively” narratives that may exist.

I’m always happy to push back on the “Dougie’s soft and defends poorly” train of thought, too, because it’s just not true. Yeah, he isn’t overly physical and, sure, he’s made mistakes in his own end, but that happens with every single top pairing defender.

For whatever reason, though, the confirmation bias with Hamilton is high and reminds me a lot of Jay Bouwmeester’s time with the Flames. The reality is, Hamilton is +5 at five-on-five, which is top five on the team, and has contributed positively far more than he has negatively.

Finally, what really seals this pairing’s high grade is how much better they make one another. Giordano and Hamilton make up a true pairing and are better with one another than they are without, as the five-on-five WOWY stats below flesh out, courtesy Natural Stat Trick.

State TOI CF% GF%
Together 1182:49 58.6 52.5
Hamilton without 144:33 52.9 50.0
Giordano without 137:09 53.9 45.5

Grade: A. No one has spent more time together this season than Giordano and Hamilton have, and there’s a good reason for that. This is one of the NHL’s top defensive pairings and they’ve carried a massive amount of Calgary’s blueline load this season.

SECOND PAIRING

Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

T.J. Brodie-Travis Hamonic

GP TOI CF% GF% OZS%
69 1042:16 51.3 45.2 50.5

When Hamonic was acquired from the New York Islanders last summer, it was with the expressed goal of pairing him with Brodie. The Flames paid handsomely for Hamonic’s service, giving up a much discussed first round pick, minus lottery protection, and a pair of seconds. Knowing the results and expectations, this pairing hasn’t lived up to the hype.

From an underlying perspective, Hamonic and Brodie have been passable if not outstanding. They haven’t driven play like the top pairing has, which is disappointing. Hamonic has never put up counting numbers at a high rate, so I wasn’t looking for a ton of offence from these two, but I was expecting them to contribute to the team’s overall structure a little better.

Despite their struggles, though, they’ve been deployed in a primary role all season long. One of my biggest criticisms of this coaching staff is player deployment, and this is a good example. Brodie, who’s hurt now and likely done for the season, and Hamonic (now also injured), have been relatively ordinary, yet have averaged more five-on-five ice time than both Giordano and Hamilton.

Furthermore, the second pairing has regularly seen similar, if not more difficult, opposition as the top duo has, which is confusing. As a pairing, Brodie and Hamonic are -7 at five-on-five and have made numerous miscues defensively that have led directly to chances and goals. With the way they’ve played, they should be getting significantly less ice time than Giordano and Hamilton, especially at even strength, but that just hasn’t been the case.

It has been a rough go for Brodie this season, and this is likely his worst as a full-time NHLer. While Hamonic has struggled in year one, Brodie looks like he’s fighting it more and it’s hard to pinpoint why. Is he just that much better on the right side? Did Giordano prop him up that much? I don’t know the answer, but the WOWY numbers below paint an interesting picture.

State TOI CF% GF%
Together 1042:16 51.3 45.2
Hamonic without 198:16 52.3 53.3
Brodie without 238:25 48.7 48.5

Grade: C-. My grade for this duo would likely have been lower had I taken expectations and Hamonic’s acquisition price into account, but I’m leaving that out. The fact is, Brodie and Hamonic have been a relatively average second unit this season. Hopefully Hamonic’s second year in Calgary is more comfortable and is thus reflected on the ice. Whether or not he’s back with Brodie is anyone’s guess.

THIRD PAIRING

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Brett Kulak-Michael Stone

GP TOI CF% GF% OZS%
66 598:09 50.6 50.0 52.3

As a pairing, Kulak and Stone haven’t been awful, but they also haven’t been particularly strong. Average is probably the best word to describe them, which is usually passable for number five and six defencemen. The fact Calgary’s second pairing has struggled, though, trickles down a little to what we’ve seen from Kulak and Stone.

Stone is the more experienced of the two and has two years remaining on a contract that carries a $3.5 million cap hit. The organization appreciates his physical edge and likes the way he seals opposing players out of the play along the boards.

On the other hand, Stone doesn’t have great foot speed and that limits his effectiveness. While he’s relatively capable inside his own blueline, Stone doesn’t suppress zone entries very well and is average in terms of quelling shot attempts. As such, he’s probably been slotted properly for most of the season.

Kulak has a little more upside at this point and he’s shown some real flashes. In a lot of ways, he’s kind of the opposite of Stone, in that skating his one of Kulak’s strongest attributes and allows him to step up on zone entries much more effectively. Now completing his first full season in the NHL, Kulak hasn’t done anything to set himself back for next season.

The future of this pairing is what really interests me. At 24, Kulak is still relatively young and, more importantly, very affordable going forward. Even with players like Juuso Valimaki and Rasmus Andersson potentially being ready for next season, there’s no reason for Kulak not to be part of this mix for the foreseeable future. Cheap and effective is a great mix to have, especially on a third pairing.

I see Stone’s future a little differently, though. Trading him this summer seems like a sensible, and somewhat likely, proposition. While I don’t think the Flames would be getting a huge return, Stone could still fetch them a mid-round draft pick; clearing a space for Andersson, and the $3.5 million in cap space, would be the added benefits.

Grade: B-. As third pairings go, Stone and Kulak have been okay this season. They don’t see a lot of five-on-five ice time and rarely see anything but bottom six forward opposition. What this duo looks like next year is a different story, because Kulak and Andersson at a combined, say, $1.5 million looks pretty good.



  • KeepitReal

    The Hammy / Gio haters are gonna be lighting up the switchboard with all the luv’n in this article. They bring it every nite. Not sure why it doesn’t translate into more team offence.

    T. J. will probably be sacrificed at the alter of Need A First Rounder At The Draft. Its probably best for both parties if he moves on so long as we get decent return.

    Harmonic – no matter what he does, short of crapping out golden Easter eggs, will always be disparaged for what BT gave up for him. That ain’t his fault.

    The cOilers are typicallly playing like all stars when there’s nothing left to play for whilst spinning the false narrative of what’s to come next year The shiny Richard trophy might distract from all the problems the club has. Nice to see the knuckleheads put them in their proper station.

  • Just a Fan

    So in a year that was an absolute disaster every defence pairing gets a passing grade and it’s all the professors fault. Take off the rose colour glasses. This is a below average defence.

    • ThisBigMouthIsRight

      A good defense relies upon all 6 players on the ice working together to be solid and efficient in the D-Zone, Not just the Defense men. it comes down to a consistent and well thought out system implemented by the players, taught by the coaching staff, if you don’t have that… the best d-men in the league would struggle… and that’s what we have here a poor system with antiquate teaching and player execution. It just makes for a disaster.

      • Trevy

        And this is exactly why Brodie needs to go. Some games, I truly believe he goes rogue and deviates from any sort of game plan they have in place. This just causes everyone to scramble to figure out what he’s going to do. Ras is already as good a skater as Brodie, is smarter and plays a structured game. We have to insert more skill up front and deal from our strength which is our plethora of dmen, starting with Brodie

    • JoelOttosJock

      This is an above average dcore that played well below average, be it bad coachiņg, bad systems, poor goaltending or bad team defence, it is what it is, this dcore and whole team needs a shake up. I would move Brodie and Stone and change coaches.

  • meat1

    I just hope that as we move forward, it’s these players mentioned above (less Kulak) that get moved in any trades as opposed to Valimaki, Fox, Kylington, Anderssen. The overall culture needs changing here and one or more of our “top 3” of Brodie, Gio, Hamilton will need to go.

  • meat1

    I realize this article has nothing to do with Monahan, but like I mentioned in a previous post, the culture needs changing here. So I think he needs to be traded to whichever team has the opportunity to get Brady Tkachuck at the draft. And I like Monahan but this current group we have isn’t working out and it won’t change next year if some REAL changes in personnel aren’t made. Obviously we need a fresh new coaching staff as well.

    • flames2015

      Monahan should not be the sacrificial lamb. This team is struggling for offense and this guy puts up 20 plus goals every year and the only one to put up 2 30 goal season since the Iginla days. Brady Tkachuk is unproven and unlikely to put up Monahan numbers in the near future. With that said, I don’t think Monahan deserves the ‘A’ and Brouwer clearly does not. That needs to change. There is a long list of players I would ship out before Monahan.

    • BlueMoonNigel

      Not working out? It’s all Gully’s fault. So on a club that is absolutely goal starved, you want to trade its only bona fide goal scoring forward for a rookie? Wow! Meat, you’re a vegetable.

    • Baalzamon

      Another person losing their mind over Brady Tkachuk for no particular reason. You realize he put up worse numbers in the USNTDP than Adam Fox (a defenseman) did at almost the same age, right?

  • FL?MES

    If Brodie is moved we have to get a bonafide NHL player back (i.e., top pairing RW) at a minimum. A first round pick would be nice but it’s not worth the gamble.

    I agree that Stone has to go to make room.

    Harmonic could go but we paid so much for him we need to give him another season to see what’s there.

    Gio is a warrior and I love the way he plays but at some point, sooner than later, he should be moved before his play deteriorates and his contract becomes a burden.

  • Trevy

    Another example of why GG should go and soon. Projected lines for tomorrow night has Foo on the 3rd line with Stajan and Shore while Brouwer is on the top line (if you want to call it that) with Backs and Frolik. Let me guess how this will go. Foo plays about 10-12min has maybe one scoring chance followed by GG saying in the post game interview that he was ok. What do you have to lose!? Play him on the top line and give him a true shot! Are you afraid he’ll cost you the game? News flash, season is over already

    • Rockmorton65

      It would do nothing for his development to get his head kicked in playing against top line competition. First NHL game, needs to be somewhat sheltered.

        • Rockmorton65

          Even in exhibition, for a first ever game, a player should start against 3rd line competition. If successful, bump him up to the 2nd line. Keep going until he gets overwhelmed. Then back him off a bit. Throwing a player into the deep end is only going to kill his confidence. Look at the Oilers, that’s what they’ve done for over a decade.

          Also, it’s never “just an exhibition game” against the Oilers.

  • Hockeyfan

    on a team of nice sweet gentle men, these two are heads above the rest in sweetness. How great s it they have a sweetie swede like backs for too long and too much? But they are really nice guys, who cares if they know nothing about winning.

  • BendingCorners

    A big part of the Flames’ problems this year was the forwards failing to come back and aggressively backcheck. Not all of them, but Monahan and Brouwer in particular. I don’t know if this is by design (bad system) or because they are not listening to the coach, but it needs to change next year if the team is going to succeed. And yes, Brodie and Hamonic should not be a pair going forward.

  • RIPScorch (2014-2014)

    If we aren’t happy with our D men, why don’t we give guys like Spencer Foo and Garnet Hathaway a chance to play defence and show us what they have got. They could be long term solutions!

  • Heeeeeere's Johnny!

    Totally off topic … Dillon Dube was eliminated from the WHL playoffs yesterday. Do we see him with the Flames or with Stockton this year? Or both?

    • Heeeeeere's Johnny!

      I actually think that Colorado would do that deal. The question should be whether we want to do it. This is the first breakout year for MacKinnon. Kulak has top 4 upside. Career to date Monahan for MacKinnon has been a wash on points with Monahan clearly ahead on goals. Offsetting that is that MacKinnon had a breakout or career year this year. If it is a breakout … I want to do this deal. If it is a one-off sort of year then I don’t.

      • JoelOttosJock

        Monahan was put in first line center minutes pretty quick..mackinnon was giving time to learn the nhl game having duchene to take the brunt..mackinnon is dominant, Monahan scores. MacKinnon is and will always be a way better center.

  • Alberta Ice

    So will our D shut down Mc D in the BOA? Hey, it did happen last game when Smith stood on his head. That was the last win for the Flames and the last game that McD didn’t score. Or will the next BOA be like game 1 this year when McD scored three? Only difference from that game 1 is that nobody probably cares now because FORE knowledge begins in a couple of weeks for both teams. Ugly.

  • Sir ryosus

    Flames can’t trade Mony or JH. They will never see equal value. To kids with nothing but upside. Mony needs to engage more an JH will have to play both sides of the puck if we ever gonna win. Hammer hopefully settles in next year way over paid for him so he not going anywhere. Brodie will probably fetch such a low offer we keep him. Stone can go but agree a 3/4 round pick is all we get.

  • Stockton's Finest

    Big Texas trip for the Heat starts now. Rittich in net. Wotherspoon with Robak (I miss Andersson) as top D pair. Top line of Smith between Pollock and Klimchuk.

    More later as the roll out and Brandon calls it.

  • Stockton's Finest

    Lines for the Heat tonight.

    Pollock – Smith – Klinchuk
    Lomberg – McMurtry – Poirier
    Shinkaruk- Pelley – Nowick
    Gazdic – Findlay – Carroll

    Wotherspoon – Robak
    Kylington – Doetzel
    Healey – Yevenko

    Rittich

    Pelley is the goal scorer for the Heat.

  • Skylardog

    Total failure on Pat’s part to explain why the team is so much worse than last year. All stats are 5v5.

    Brodie and whoever his partner is, has basically matched last years +/-. We would like it to be better, but at least it isn’t worse than last season.

    Gio and Hamilton however have tanked compared to last season. Here are the stats:

    2016-17. +22, 45 GF, 23 GA, GF/60 2.83, GA/60 1.45, 953 minutes together
    2017-18. +5, 51 GF, 45 GA, GF/60 2.54, GA/60 2.29. 1203 minutes together

    They are on the ice for goals for at a lesser rate, get scored on 58% more frequently, and have allowed 2x as many goals against as they did last season.

    The Flames have allowed 149 GA so far this season, last year 144. They are on pace for 156 against. That is 12 more than last year. Hamilton and Gio account for 23 more against already, and are on pace for 25 more against than last year. Their deterioration has been a large part of the failure of this team to succeed. If they matched the plus 22 of last season, this team would have a 5v5 +/- of +9, rather than the current -4 we are at. That would do wonders for points and our relationship to a playoff spot.

    The best pair has been our best pair. But they have been no where near good enough this season to lead the team into the playoffs. Your top pair just cannot be only plus 5 in 1200+ minutes of hockey.

    Gio and Hamilton are only 37th best in terms of +/-, yet lead the league in time on ice. There are pairings that have played far less time together and are far more effective in terms of plus minus.

    They should not get a pass by any stretch of the imagination.

    • canadian1967

      Gio has looked like a battler at times.
      He is an “effort” skater and as he gets older it will take more and more effort to keep up.
      Having to think about your feet slows your thinking down.

    • Kevin R

      Skydog, I struggle a little with the numbers here. I think these numbers are a product of no scoring period. When you don’t score…well I can’t see any math that can show well on anyone. Here is the thing. This team is still built in a similar fashion of the Hartley era. & Im not a Hartley advocate but the guy was an experienced coach & actually had systems. Like them or not, but he got results in at least one year. The guy had our fast D involved in the offence & we had pilons back then besides Gio & Brodie. I see absolutely zero involvement from our backend on the fly. We rely on forwards trying to gain the offensive zone, try to retain possession of puck, few bodies going to the front of the net, pucks passed around the periphery & the odd muffin shot through several defenders that hit the goalie, get blocked & taken up on a 2 on 1 or 3-2 break against us, or miss the net. We do it often enough that our corsi looks great, our shot totals are up there but our goal differentials suck & consequently these +- stats are bound to suck as well.

      I feel like Im beating this drum over & over but there was a reason why many anticipated our D to be pretty good. If Hartley had this group, he may still have been coaching cause they fit operandi of attack from the backend & Mike Smith would have been a dream come true for his transition game. This coach has no clue how to utilize & max out the talent the GM gave him on the backend. I know everyone wants some big changes & the way the team has played these last ten games, I have been frustrated with the whole lot of them. But I really would like to see this group perform under a coach that actually knows how to generate offence at the NHL level. The vultures will be circling our carcus looking for bargain basement reactionary deals.