44
Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

It’s time to reward Brett Kulak with a one-way deal

Brett Kulak is a really good development success story for the Flames. Once thought of as somewhat of a “project”, the 2012 fourth round pick is coming off his first season spent entirely in the NHL. At 24, Kulak has proven he belongs in the NHL full-time as he heads into summer contract negotiations. As such, the pending RFA is very much deserving of his first one-way NHL deal.

Today’s breakdown of Kulak’s contract situation serves as our second free agent profile this summer; we took a closer look at pending RFAs Jon Gillies and David Rittich last week. In Kulak’s case, he has a decent amount of leverage heading into the summer, at least as far as RFA depth defencemen go.

MEASURABLES

Kulak played 71 games with the Flames last season and, in reality, it probably should have been more. For whatever reason, Calgary’s coaching staff opted to dress Matt Bartkowski in favour of Kulak for the first seven games of the season. To no one’s surprise, Kulak proved to be the superior option almost immediately upon being inserted into the lineup and never really looked back. Despite seeing the least ice time of Calgary’s blueline corps, Kulak is coming off a solid campaign.

TOI/G D-Rank CF% D-Rank OZS% D-Rank
12:59 7th 52.3 3rd 51.6 4th

There’s no question Mark Giordano and Dougie Hamilton were head and shoulders above the rest, but there’s an argument to be made that, in his role, Kulak was the team’s’ third most effective defenceman last year. Granted, there needs to be context applied to that statement, as Kulak’s matchups weren’t as difficult as those of Travis Hamonic or TJ Brodie. Still, as a third pairing guy, there wasn’t a lot to dislike from Kulak’s 2017-18 campaign.

Player TOI/G CF% OZS%
Brett Kulak 12:59 52.3 51.6
Travis Hamonic 20:42 51.4 50.0
TJ Brodie 23:41 50.8 50.0
Michael Stone 16:45 49.7 51.0
Matt Bartkowski 13:21 46.4 52.5

It’s probably most useful to compare Kulak to Stone and Bartkowski as their usage was very similar. When looking at both the underlying numbers and the eye test, it’s clear Kulak was the best of that bunch last season.

Kulak’s greatest strength is his skating, which is something he’s used to his advantage more and more. As his comfort level has grown, Kulak has become more confident in skating the puck out of his own zone and jumping into the rush. Yes, he’s not overly physical, but Kulak’s gaps are solid and he angles well, which helps him suppress entries effectively.

On the other hand, I’m not sure how high Kulak’s ceiling will end up being. While he put up solid offensive totals in his latter junior years and in the ECHL, we haven’t seen much in that regard at either the AHL or NHL level. We also haven’t seen him consistently play against top six opposition, which serves as a question mark going forward.

A NEW DEAL

Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

While we’re not talking about a player on the cusp of a long-term deal, I do think Kulak has done enough to be rewarded with a little stability on his next contract. Kulak is coming off a one-year, two-way deal that carried a $675,000 cap hit and he’s done enough to get a bump across the board.

There’s plenty of value to having Kulak in the fold going forward, even knowing he’s due a raise going into next season. Because his offensive totals are relatively low, Kulak’s next deal will probably keep him under the $1 million mark annually. To have a capable and consistent defender at that price is important for Calgary’s cap going forward, which is why something longer than a one-year pact makes sense.

Something in the range of two or three years at around $900,000 per season on a one-way deal makes a lot of sense here. The Flames can be comfortable Kulak will give them decent, consistent minutes, even if there’s a plateau in the next few years. And, because he doesn’t demand a big price tag at this point, there’s plenty of flexibility if he’s overtaken on the depth chart.

Kulak is a homegrown product that gives Calgary exactly what a team needs from a depth defenceman: reliable minutes at a low price tag. While it never made a lot of sense to sign Stone to a three-year deal at $3.5 million to play on the third pair, signing Kulak to a contract similar to what’s mentioned above seems like a really solid investment.

  • Korcan

    I agree. I really liked Kulak last season and see him as a really good 3rd pairing dman for years to come. If Brodie gets traded this summer, I won’t be surprised if Brett is given an opportunity to play alongside Hamonic to see if he can handle 2nd pairing minutes/matchup, but IMO this will only be a temporary deployment because as soon as Valimaki looks to be ready that will be his spot, of this I’m sure.

  • T&A4Flames

    Hey Pat, I’m really interested in your opinion as to whether you believe Kulak could be effective on the 2nd pair with Hamonic, thus freeing up a Brodie trade for some scoring help?

    • We only saw it a couple times late last season, but I liked Kulak when given more ice time and tougher matchups. If they do end up trading a guy like Brodie, I could see Kulak being a decent option playing with Hamonic.

  • cjc

    Kulak’s Primary pts/60 at ES were better than Brodie’s this year (and nearly as good as Brodie’s were when he was 23 – Brodie was Calgary’s #1 D then, and he was playing mostly with Giordano. Kulak had to play with Stone).

  • rusty_shakleforde

    I really love his wheels. I think he has the potential to be an effective Brodie 2.0. When he jumped up on the rush, or decided to make a play into the o-zone on his own, he looked real good. I think the thing for him is confidence. I saw him make these plays, and we all know how he skates. I don’t know his ceiling, but I know hes got more in him.

    • rusty_shakleforde

      Plus, I really think it will be great to be around Gio. Maybe they get some PK time? Anyways, Gio is a great leader, and exemplifies a lot of good directions of play that Kulak can aspire to with his skill set. And he’s cheap. And gives us the security to trade Brodie. And is young.

  • DMac

    Brett Kulak has grown, has improved as a player incrementally since he was drafted. He isn’t going to grab your attention with an end to end rush, but he is a responsible defenceman who plays the man well, can thump the opposition into the boards when the opportunity presents and solidly gets the puck out of the zone. I do think, though, that partnering him with someone like Rasmus Andersson would provide the Flames with balance in all three areas of the ice, two young guys who continue to improve.

  • Garry T

    Suggestion. Instead of working your top D right into the ice, subjecting them to injuries because they are overworked and tired platoon your 7 D on a regular basis moving your D partners around when resting players. Other than that there will be injuries so your 7 D will see action. Wotherspoon is the man. Finally I would not move top D out. I would trade Stone for a 7-12 man improving our depth. Brodie if played on the right side will return to his old self. Think differently and do not worry about guys being sat all the time.

    • supra steve

      “Brodie if played on the right side will return to his old self.” It may be worth a try, but I am not at all confident that it will make a difference for his level of play…unless perhaps Brodie is paired with Gio, but then Hamilton’s play MAY suffer.

      Additionally, we will have Hamilton, Hamonic, and probably Andersson as RHD next year…which one of those guys do you suggest moving over to the left with Gio and Kulak?

    • freethe flames

      He is already under contract for next year; this likely can’t be undone as I can’t see them buying him out.
      The article is on Kulak; if the Flames can get him signed for 2 years under a Million a year the this will be another one of those cases where BT wins. Personally at this point if the Flames can get him for little longer at just over a million a year I would consider it a win. 4 years at @1.25m I would see as a good deal.

      • ALowry

        Player likely believes he can make more than that, I’d love the 4 year deal, but I don’t see him taking that. Either way, no brainer to re-up Kulak. A good capable stop-gap while Andersson/Valimaki/Kylington are left to season wherever, and he can slide into the top 4 in case of multiple injuries.
        I think the bigger question is we’re going to have too many NHL calibre defenders/prospects in the near future if not by next season. Kulak is there already, Andersson too, with a higher ceiling. Kylington is not far and will push, and Valimaki remains a question mark but I see if he has a good camp then what? A year in the AHL never hurts but he’s knocking on the door too. This is why I don’t mind a Brodie or IDEALLY Stone deal to free up a spot for one of the young guys who can play.

  • paperbagprince

    Anyone read 30 thoughts where Friedman says “I could see the flames promoting Huska”?!?! We all know how Wally feels, but what’s everyone else’s take?

    • Baalzamon

      He just wasn’t that good. He got a lot more hype than Kulak, for some reason, but Kulak was always objectively the better prospect (though there was that one season where Kulak had a brutal start that saw him sent to the ECHL for over half the season. But by the end of the year he actually had slightly better AHL results than Culkin, not that anyone noticed).

      Basically the bottom line is Kulak progressed as a pro, Culkin didn’t.

      • cberg

        Wrong, Culkin had a major wrist/hand ligaments injury and lost over a whole season. when he came back he never regained his form and by that time Kulak had started to progress and passed him by. A couple years ago Culkin was dropped in the major prospects purge by the Flames.

    • FLT

      He was tracking ahead of, or at least in pace with, Kulak until he suffered a pretty brutal injury…wrist if I remember correctly. He had another injury very early the next year, and I don’t remember hearing from him after that.

  • Garry T

    I want to start a Fix the Flames thread, Have posted on Kulak.
    Sign free agent Michael Grabner, has size speed, skill and tenacity to play with Johnny and Monny. First line fixed. Trade with Ottawa. Magnus Paajarvi to Calgary for Michael Stone who joins his brother in Ottawa. Now have a second scoring line with some high end skill on it. Magnus would come out of his funk instantly playing with those guys and he has the size and speed we need. Edmonton did their best to ruin the guy but he can play.
    Send Jankowski and Bennett to spend the rest of the summer with Dougie Gilmour to work on the mental needs of the game and source scoring and positioning skills for both. Third line would be a joy to watch in Jankowski with Bennett and Tkachuk. Third skilled scoring line. Fourth line would be Shore between Ferland and Foo. I think the 4th. could add some feistiness to the team . Forward spares made up from camp. D looks like Gio and DeHaan. Gio can play either side.
    Hamilton and Kulak. Kulak has the wheels and smarts to cover for Dougie.
    Hamonic and Anderson. Anderson can play either side. doesn’t panic and could cover for Hamonic if he wants to get offensively aggressive. Seven spot is Wotherspoon. To avoid injuries to D core via overplaying them as all Coaches have done in the past, you set a schedule of a day off for each of our D once or twice a month with Wotherspoon going into 3 pair and guys moving up to fill in resting player. This allows for Anderson and Wotherspoon to develop properly. And it will give W the ice time he needs to feel as being part of the team. I want to pick up Bernier as backup this year and top goalie the following year(s). That allows us to move some of the following players for picks, prospects or positive additions to the roster.
    Brodie, Stone, Rittich or one of the other prospect goalies. We are hopefully not going to sign the many UFAS and there will be some weeding and feeding regarding Stockton I would assume. The above changes the attitudinal mix as well as fills the holes we have been looking to see to for some time. No big draft picks given away. Some added. Plus with all of the Europeans taking jobs from Canadian and US Players, we can go out and sign what we think are value added picks we did not have in the first three rounds this year.

    • freethe flames

      Both your upgrades? are LW; not sure how this addresses the teams needs. Magnus is a FA so why would you trade an asset for him; I doubt there will be much a bidding war for him.

    • everton fc

      You’ll demote Ferland, a 20-goal scorer, to the 4th line? Then, you’ll give his spot in the top 6 to Paajarvi, who is not even a 3rd line wing on this team?

      Why do people continue to post about trading Ferland, or demoting him to the 4th line?? Ferland scored 20 goals and probably had a lot to do, I think, with the success of his linemates, once plugged into that line.

      • Afterburn

        Because he folded like a cheap tent for the last 30 games of the season when we needed him to step up. Lost opportunity for Ferland. Good player but definitely expendable.

  • Chucky

    If Treliving starts the conversation with Kulak at under $1M, Brett is going to say WTF and head for the door. If Stone is worth $3.5M and Hamonic $3.87M Kulak has to be at least $2M. A #5 defenceman is worth over $2M and it is not evident that he is capped at #5.

    • freethe flames

      He has one full season in the NHL and did not put up big numbers there is no way he gets $2m a season. If he does it is because he signs a long term deal and the Flames are paying for FA years. I would be happy with him at 3 x$1.25-1.5m.

  • herringchoker

    Ive been thinking about this team alot. For sure Kulak gets a nice raise. I believe in my heart that the big move this off season will be at D. Somebody will be saying good bye. From there its hard to say what will happen. Pre-season last year all the analysts were gaga over Edmonton. I remember telling my someone….no way are they going to duplicate those high shooting percents plus Talbut had a career year. The only direction is down……which they did. The Flames are the opposite. Low shooting percentages and a rookie goalie who faltered because he went from barely playing to FT. Plus with lots of big injuries. Theres no way but up. Based on that thinking…..Im betting a D for a RW will happen. Not for a 1RW but a 3RW. I could see a switch Ferland for MT. I think the Flames will chase a young RW who is on the verge of a breakout to play with Bennett and Janko like Reinhart or Lindholm. I also wouldnt be surprised if Frolik gets moved for a pick to make room for a Foo or Mangiapane. I think our 1RW will be Internal.

    • herringchoker

      Im not going to lie, Bennett has break out this year. Janko has to progress. If Ferland stays 1RW he has to find consistancy and progress. MT needs more PP time at a min as does Dougie. Based on simple math……all but Bennett have shown year over year progression. I dont think any have capped out yet.

    • freethe flames

      To get significantly better the Flames need to add 2 forwards to the top 6 and significantly add to the bottom line, The injuries you speak of and I can only think of 2 Smith and Monny both hurt a lot but both were significant b/c of lack of depth at center and having an inexperienced back up. I fully expect Janko to continue his progress but am less hopeful about Bennett.

      • herringchoker

        I dont disagree that we need to add but I also want to be realistic. If we get one young RW, plus the new direction at coaching thats a win for me. Tre can only afford to move one defenceman. That will get you one RW. If Frolik is traded that gets you a pick. Thats it. Thats all that makes sense. Brouwer will 100% be here next year…..like it or not. I think Tre has to stay away from all FA because that hasnt worked for us. I think a change in coaching is enough to get us back in the playoffs. I think natural progression and an uptick in shooting percentage will make us more dangerous. Adding a young RW with top 6 potential will make us dangerous. Our depth needs to come from the natural progression of players from the farm. In order for them to progress they need NHL experience…..period. Hockey is a team sport unlike any other. You cant just add anyone and expect to get better. A team needs to fit like a puzzle. We need a forward add more than a defenceman loss. We need to change our culture and the compete level. If players dont want to raise their compete then they should be traded.

  • everton fc

    If they can get Kulak at $1.75mill/season, it’ll be a steal. 3 years would be nice. But I see him getting $2mill/season, and I don’t see Kulak taking more than 3 years term. Why would he?

  • freethe flames

    The question of how to change what is wrong with this team is interesting to me; there are 3 ways that BT can approach the various problems. One option is strictly through FA and while there are no superstars to speak off that meet the Flames needs other than Tavares I think there are enough guys who could upgrade the Flames top 9 and fill the needs in bottom 3. This is a short term solution allowing for the younger guys to develop.
    Second option make some trades and use our surplus depth to fill the needs. This only should be done if the guys we get back fit the right age groups for this team. Do not trade for old guys; we can get them via FA.
    3rd do a bit of both sign a couple of free agents for short term depth but fill the real needs via 1 or 2 hockey trades. Trades that fit both teams needs.