What do the Flames have in Noah Hanifin?

With no disrespect meant to Elias Lindholm, Noah Hanifin is the more fascinating player acquired by Calgary in their blockbuster trade with Carolina over draft weekend.

Still just 21, Hanifin has already played three full NHL seasons and has an impressive 239 NHL games under his belt. In saying that, though, Hanifin has yet to prove he’s a bonafide top four defenceman. The ceiling is high for Hanifin, so let’s take a look at what the Flames have now and in the future with their newest blueliner.


Comparing Hanifin to the departed Dougie Hamilton straight across isn’t the most productive exercise. There’s no question Hamilton is the superior defenceman right now but also has almost double the NHL experience. Forgetting off ice innuendo for just a second, Calgary is going to miss Hamilton. He made a significant impact on the ice and helped the team create shots, chances, and goals.

Hanifin’s value, on the other hand, is rooted far more in the future and what he projects to be, which we’ll address later on. Right now, though, Hanifin doesn’t seem to be ready to play top pairing minutes, at least based on his first three seasons in the league.

Season CF% OZS%
2015-16 49.8 54.9
2016-17 50.9 61.1
2017-18 56.2 62.8

From an underlying perspective, Hanifin has improved incrementally in his three seasons but has also seen some of the most offensively loaded time in the league. The last two seasons specifically have seen Hanifin fed a ton of offensive time; he saw the ninth-most offensive starts amongst NHL D-men in 2016-17 and that jumped to sixth last season.

There’s nothing wrong with that necessarily, specifically knowing Hanifin’s skill set. He’s a gifted skater and his offensive upside was one of his main positive attributes heading into the 2015 NHL Draft. In a lot of ways, Carolina was playing to his strengths in how they used him. It’s not unusual to see sheltered minutes for young defencemen; in reality, there are few 18- and 19-year-old blueliners who aren’t protected.

With that said, Hanifin has underperformed compared to his zone starts for three straight seasons, which is expected but also not ideal. The encouraging sign is his 2017-18 campaign. Yes, Hanifin saw a steady dose of offensive starts, but his possession numbers were strong. Ironically, only Hamilton and Mark Giordano had better even strength shot rates than Hanifin did last season.

2017-18 was also Hanifin’s best season to date impacting his team’s offence. With him on the ice at five-on-five, Carolina created 274 high danger chances compared to 224 against, good for a 55.0% rate (courtesy Natural Stat Trick). So, while Hanifin doesn’t look ready to play top pairing minutes come October, the evidence suggests he could be that player at some point down the road.


Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Bill Peters is the only NHL head coach Hanifin has ever played for, and that obviously won’t change this season. Peters has made it clear his plan is to put Hanifin on a pairing with Travis Hamonic to start the season, which presents some interesting conversations.

Does that mean Peters is planning to shelter Hanifin a whole lot less? Under Glen Gulutzan, Hamonic’s pairing with TJ Brodie played the toughest minutes on the team (by a slight margin), even though they were badly outperformed by the Giordano-Hamilton duo. Hamonic’s offensive start ratio was 50.0% last year, so I’m curious how a pairing with him and Hanifin will be deployed if indeed that remains the plan.

It would stand to reason we’ll see Hanifin used as a true top four defender at even strength, at least if you look at his ice time breakdown the last three seasons.

2015-16 17:54 15:27 2:22
2016-17 17:55 15:51 2:02
2017-18 18:52 16:59 1:48

While his overall minutes have gone up each year, it’s the even strength minutes that are more important for me. Among Hurricanes defencemen, Hanifin has gone from sixth to fifth to finally being a true top four blueliner last season. Knowing how much of a jump he made in year three, I would suggest we’ll probably see that trend continue in his first season with the Flames.

Where Hanifin has yet to make an impact is on the penalty kill; in his three seasons with the Hurricanes, he never averaged more than five seconds per game on the PK. Knowing he’s going to be coached by the same guy again this year, I don’t think we should expect Hanifin to be a shorthanded staple.

It’s impossible to project what Hanifin is going to turn into, because, well, projection is hard. From a physical standpoint, he’s got impressive tools that could absolutely see him round out into a top pairing defenceman. Could remains the operative word, however, because he’s not there yet.

What we do know is Hanifin has improved offensively and analytically in all three of his NHL seasons, which is encouraging. What’s unknown, and completely unpredictable, is when things level out. The Flames hope that’s not for a while, at least not until he’s entered the same tier as the defenceman he’s (kind of) replacing.

  • Mickey O

    Hot off the presses in Twitterland. leahflame retweeted this:

    Ryan Reaves soon to be a Flame??

    He’s currently having dinner with Tre, McGratts, and Conroy and a few other suits. What do you guys think he’s worth?? What does this mean for Brouwer?

    Love it! Go out and get one the best enforcers out there. Sign Derek Ryan and Ryan Reaves then Tre is done. Yeah, and what about that Troy Brouwer character?

    • MarbledBlueCheese

      Ryan Reaves would be great, because:
      -who likes having 4 fast and skilled lines? Not the Flames style, that’s for sure.
      -I don’t want to see any of those young promising guys on the team this year, yuck!
      -I have heard a rumour that games will be decided not by goals this year, but by fighting majors.

      For all those reasons and more, bring on the 3 year inevitable Ryan Reaves signing which will require a buyout after 1 or 2.

      • McRib

        I always blamed Brian Burke for Hunter Smith, Troy Brouwer, Brandon Bollig, etc, but now I am starting to think that maybe it was Treliving all a long, because he wasted our first pick on Martin Pospisil (instead of Aidan Dudas, Cole Fonstad, etc) with much younger and more skilled players and now these terrible rumours.

      • SGRietzey

        This and piscera.infada’s comment above are the most accurate assessments of a potential Ryan Reaves signing. Hoping the rumour from Reddit is just somebody trying to stir the pot.

      • PlayitagainSam

        Didn’t help Vegas against a way bigger team in Washington. The whole team has to be bigger and tougher, and we just traded away our toughest player.

        • Kevin R

          They were in the SC final, with Engellend who was run down as a corsi pylon here & Reaves. Not sure about you but watching those playoffs they were dirty, hard hitting cheap shot games. The team we had last year maybe might have won 1 playoff game.

    • Mickey O

      Brouwer is the biggest tough guy that the team has. He knows what he’s doing in a fight too. But $4.5 million a year for a tough guy who doesn’t want to play that role makes no sense. Troy Brouwer figures himself as Cam Neely or Tim Kerr.

      C’mon Treliving. Swallow your pride. Sign Reaves and get rid of Brouwer.

      • Speed Kills

        Antoine Roussel (28) is a LS-LW / 5.11– 195 Not exactly a powerhouse.
        But ya, way more points in his career, 413gp 64/77=141.
        Ryan Reaves (31) is a RS-RW/ 6.01– Weight 225 Much bigger presence.
        His points, 498gp 31/30= 61

      • Mickey O

        “Best of Breed” stock market analogy. The Flames need an enforcer somewhere in the line-up. Ryan Reaves is as good as there is at his job. Roussel is an effective player, he’s a pain in the ass that gets into fights. But he’s not going to intimidate anyone.

        • The GREAT WW

          I am a little afraid that BT is on tilt, poker analogy.
          He is starting to do some strange things…..
          If he brings in a Reaves, it had to be for the right $ and term, and it HAS to mean that Brouwer is gone…..


          • Mickey O

            Agree that Brouwer has to go if Treliving signs Reaves, but disagree that he’s tilting. He’s surely tried to move Brouwer somehow, and nobody wants him even at 50% retained. About the only trade partner is Edmonton, just because of the Gulutzan factor, but they can’t afford him.

            There are at least a couple of boards out there where Troy Brouwer is the top candidate to be bought out. The debate on FN is not if Brouwer should be bought out but WHEN. That’s depending on when you think you need the money, and if he’s still on the books for 2 years or 4.

            If the question is when you should buy-out someone, then you’re way past the point of no return. Admit you made a costly mistake, cut the cord, and move on.

      • Off the wall

        I seem to remember Reeves scoring the winning goal to oust the Jets in game 5?

        He’s hardly a plug in terms of his defensive play. Even Sullivan (Penguins) praised Reeves for his reliability.

        Interesting how Crosby has been injured after Reeves left. Teams seem to take liberties on stars when there’s no police man around.

        I imagine Gaudreau will feel very safe now, if this rumour is true!

        • SGRietzey

          Dave Bolland scored a Stanley Cup winning goal once, too. Yet, it was pretty much universally said that signing him to the contract Florida signed him to a year removed from that would be a mistake – lo and behold, it was, and Bolland was a better player than Reaves is. The fact that Reaves scored a series winner is a nice story for him, but ultimately a moot point.

          I’d suggest coaches gravitate towards the complimentary when it comes to their roster, even in cases where they’re essentially blowing smoke. Reaves has been referred to in the past as an “effective two-way” player which is suspect at best given a) reliability does not equal defensive prowess, and b) it certain doesn’t equal offensive ability in Reaves’ case since it’s essentially nonexistent, as it has been through his entire career. I’m not a fan of Tom Wilson, but he’s a guy who can, admittedly, have a decent impact and capably play more than the 4th line, vs. Reaves who is at best a 13th forward to be used sparingly (if at all).

          Finally, not sure where you’re getting your info on injuries. Crosby played all 82 games (which means however many after Reaves was traded), plus all 12 of the Pens’ playoff games this year (and scored 21 pts in the playoffs in the process). There is no point to be made here.

  • Sterls

    Lebrun says the ask for O’Rielly is currently a 1st a 2nd and a good prospect. Just curious what people think. Trade our 1st next year and our second in 2020 with one of our prospects? I’d do it so long as the prospect isn’t either Valimaki or Andersson. I’d prefer it isn’t Dube, but I would accept it as we would be very deep at left wing and Center.

  • oddclod

    TBH that heavy voice in the dressing room was missed sans Engelland and aside from the Engelland hate early in his stay here all over FN, the Defence & team literally played a foot shorter. However it Landed us Hanifin, a Swede and a new coach so it was worth it as the team was not a contender anywhoo

  • everton fc

    Totally unrelated… But can you imagine us picking up Panarin, moving him to RW (he’s a “RHS”) and having a first line of Gaudreau-Monahan–Panarin?

    We need to hit one out of the park. Someone bigger than Hanifan and Lindholm. And be careful at the cost.

    • Speed Kills

      Just a Rumor but still, Elliotte Friedman was on the NHL Network talking about the Columbus Blue Jackets situation with Artemi Panarin. Friedman believes Panarin would like to play in Los Angeles, New York (Rangers or Islanders), or Florida (not sure if Panthers and/or Lightning). Supposedly his GF is a model and would like someplace more friendly to her career.
      Speaking of LA… just a second thought here on Shore’s release, There is a good chance that Shore didn’t want to play in Calgary and would like to explore FA options before circling back to the Flames. BT said he doesn’t want anyone here who isn’t fully wanting to be here.

  • oddclod

    Via TSN: ‘Peters teased the idea of putting Lindholm on the team’s top line Saturday, but said Matthew Tkachuk will get the first crack at playing that role.’

    That leaves him Lindholm with Backs? Two swedes and Frolik. Not bad. Mangipane full time with Sam & Jankowski. Like. Dump Brouwer now and shore up that 4th line with some punch.

  • Mickey O

    Treliving still has a position open for a prospect if he signs D. Ryan and R. Reaves. Conditional on buying out or moving Brouwer…with Hathaway and Lazar fighting for a spot in the line-up, if at all.

    Gaudreau – Monahan – Tkachuk
    Frolik – Backlund – Lindholm
    Bennett – Jankowski – Foo
    Lazar – Ryan – Reaves

    There’s a whole whack of ways the line-up can play out, but by adding 2 C/RW players it gives Rebar a ton of options. Peters like pairings, so Backlund and Lindholm could be a pairing that he wants to try, instead of Backlund and Frolik.

    Frolik is valuable because he can play both wings in the middle of the line-up. Peters reportedly changes up his lines all the time, nothing is really set in stone with him.

    • idbr

      Below would work for me. Want to see Tkachuk and Backlund together as a gritty offensive pairing that nobody wants to play against. Lindholm could be part center on a line with them. Would like to see Dube and Mangiapane with good linemates. Could pass on Lazar if someone else is ready.

      Gaudreau – Monahan – Lindholm/Dube
      Tkachuk – Bennett – Lindholm/Dube
      Mangiapane – Backlund – Frolik
      Lazar/? – Jankowski – Reaves/Foo/?

        • idbr

          We need guys who can skate, particularly, in the top six. We have some young guys that can do this. I really believe Dube has the skillset and the maturity to play already. I guess a year on the top line in Stockton wouldn’t hurt. He’s got skills both offensively and defensively and can do center or right wing. Mangiapane has earned the chance to play and I can’t think of anyone better for him to play with then Backlund. I’m not opposed to a guy like Reaves on the team to keep opponents honest. I just wouldn’t overload with bad contracts on mediocre older players as I’m pretty sure we’re planning to do. If we get a free agent lets make it someone good or with big upside that we can harness. If I were GM I’d still be thinking trade. I’d be looking for a competitive sniper with speed, to play on the first line and I’d be willing to give up assets to get that. I noticed you have no Brouwer on your roster either. I really think that situation needs to be dealt with prior to next season to open up a roster spot.

    • Kevin R

      Wonder, Ottawa are so cheap & will probably need to get to cap floor, could Tre package a 50% Brouwer & Stone for a couple of say 2019 & 2020 3rd round picks?