The Calgary Flames placed defenseman Brett Kulak on waivers earlier today. The move is part of their ongoing negotiations with the restricted free agent for a new contract.
Kulak’s in an interesting position, in that he has one full NHL season under his belt and is on the waiver wire at a time where most clubs have already done their summer tinkering and are merely waiting for camps to open. But Kulak’s also the type of player that doesn’t hit the waiver wire often – a young puck-moving defenseman that can play both sides of the ice and has shown he’s NHL caliber.
Here’s a quick rundown of a few teams that might consider him (in waiver priority order).
The teams listed here have to have a defensive spot available (since there’s no reason to claim him just to sit him as a healthy scratch) and he has to be an obvious upgrade over available third pairing options.
Ottawa: The Senators have a fairly well-established top four, but after that their blueline is a bit of a muddled blob. Kulak would fit in nicely with Ben Harpur, Christian Wolanin and Thomas Chabot, and his versatility would allow the Sens to mix and match their players a bit.
Vancouver: Kulak played his junior hockey there, and undoubtedly the Canucks have a good amount of intel on him from assistant general manager John Weisbrod (who was with the Flames when Kulak was drafted). He’s potentially an upgrade on one (or both) of Alex Biega or Derrick Pouliot, but both of those defenders require waivers to displace.
Detroit: The Red Wings have a fairly set defensive group, many of whom have no-trade clauses for some reason. Kulak might be an upgrade over Nick Jensen, who could conceivably be their seventh defender.
Chicago: The Blackhawks only have six defenders under one-way deals and Kulak might potentially be an upgrade over Erik Gustafsson. With their group getting a bit long in the tooth, they could use his speed.
Edmonton: New Oilers assistant coach Glen Gulutzan has a lot of familiarity with Kulak, and he’s potentially an upgrade over one (or both) of Matt Benning and Kevin Gravel. The Oilers already have six defenders under contract, plus Darnell Nurse as an RFA, so Kulak would need to displace somebody.
NY Islanders: With six defenders on one-way deals, the Islanders’ bottom pair looks to include some combination of Adam Pelech and Scott Mayfield. Both of those players are (a) signed for awhile and (b) probably close to their developmental ceiling. Kulak would give them some depth and flexibility.
Dallas: Kulak is likely an upgrade over 32-year-old Roman Polak and gives Dallas some additional deployment options. The Stars have six NHL defenders under contract for next season.
Los Angeles: Kulak is likely an upgrade over the waiver-exempt Connor Brickley, and adds some speed to a group that includes Drew Doughty, Dion Phaneuf, Derek Forbort and Alec Martinez.
Philadelphia: The Flyers are in a similar situation as the Senators, in that they have youngsters that Kulak can help bring along. He’d give them options to help shelter the likes of Robert Hagg, Ivan Provorov and Christian Folin.
Washington: The Capitals are always looking for inexpensive depth, and Kulak would be a nice addition to the likes of Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey in the third pairing mix. They have six defenders signed, so Kulak would bump one of Djoos or Bowey to the sidelines.
The big wrinkle is Kulak’s pending arbitration hearing on Monday morning. The arbitration schedule is made specifically so that no team, agent or arbitrator has more than two hearings on the same day. The only other arbitration case scheduled for Monday is Minnesota’s with Mathew Dumba, so it’s unlikely that there would be much of a justification for rescheduling the case.
In other words, any team that claims him would essentially have to immediately walk into an arbitration hearing. Players in Kulak’s situation are waived usually once or twice per arbitration cycle, and they’re rarely claimed. But given Kulak’s combination of speed, puck-moving ability and his versatility, teams may think twice about taking a risk on him.
That’s the gamble that Brad Treliving made when he waived him.