114
Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

What is Brett Kulak’s place in the Flames’ lineup?

As of this writing, Brett Kulak has been through his arbitration hearing: the first Flame to have gone that far in the process since Lance Bouma in 2015. Bouma, then, was a depth player coming off of a shooting percentage-inflated season and very quickly proved not worth the three-year deal he received before the arbitrator handed down their ruling; Kulak, now, is a depth player the Flames are focusing on re-signing for cheap.

And when you go through the Flames’ defensive depth chart, it’s pretty easy to see why: Kulak can help the team, but he isn’t too likely to play above the third pairing – and that’s if he’s a regular in 2018-19 at all.

Here’s the status quo lineup we can expect, assuming no trades and no prospects breaking into the NHL:

Giordano Brodie
Hanifin Hamonic
Kulak Stone

This leaves out who will be the healthy scratch. Right now we seem to be trending towards Dalton Prout taking over the much-coveted role of Matt Bartkowski.

Unless…

Andersson makes the NHL

If Rasmus Andersson forces his way into the NHL, then he’s gotta be playing. Nobody wants him to make the big league just to sit as a healthy scratch more often than not; sure, he’ll make more money in the NHL, but actually playing is probably his goal, too. It might not be right away, though. Remember how Kulak himself forced his way onto the roster full time, but didn’t start cracking the lineup regularly until late October.

But if Andersson is in the NHL, he’s playing more games than he’s sitting. And so, here’s a potential lineup with him in play:

Giordano Brodie
Hanifin Hamonic
Kulak Andersson

Kulak and Andersson were partners in Stockton, and when Andersson was called up in 2017-18, both expressed excitement at getting to play on the same pairing once again, this time at the NHL level. And, indeed, Kulak was Andersson’s most common partner through this past season: they played 57:43 5v5 minutes together.

Andersson also played 49:52 with Bartkowski, and 14:04 with Michael Stone.

Speaking of Stone, then, what happens to him if Andersson makes it? In that case, he continues to provide depth. Someone is probably going to get hurt again; Stone had to fill in top four roles on occasion throughout 2017-18. Furthermore, even if Andersson is in the NHL, he probably won’t play all 82 games – only five Flames did that year.

So on occasion, Stone would probably be taking Andersson’s spot in the lineup. And if Stone is better than Kulak, well, then he may be taking his spot as well – and relegating Kulak to the press box.

Valimaki makes the NHL

This scenario is a little more pressing to Kulak’s situation, as both are left shots. With that in mind, here’s a new potential lineup:

Giordano Brodie
Hanifin Hamonic
Valimaki Stone

The same circumstances that apply to Andersson apply to Valimaki: if he makes the NHL, he’s going to be playing. He also has a much higher ceiling than Kulak, which effectively sees Kulak pushed out of the lineup.

If this is the case, though, then there’s still a bright side: Kulak, even as the extra guy unlikely to play much, is still a more reliable player than Bartkowski. So even if he isn’t playing every day, the Flames will have a better option for their seventh guy – though it does suck for Kulak personally.

Andersson and Valimaki make the NHL

Will two defensive prospects make the Flames’ lineup? It’s certainly possible, though it seems unlikely. Not only do coaches tend to have a difficult time entrusting too much responsibility in rookies, but rookies playing defence, at that? And potentially both on the same pairing? That’s a very big leap of faith we don’t see too often.

But if both force the Flames’ hands, and nobody else gets traded, then you’ve got to think the two of them will rotate in and out of the lineup with Stone. This situation leaves absolutely no room for Kulak, and he could be back in the AHL to start the year. He may not spend it there – he’s good to have just in case somebody gets hurt, or a prospect underperforms – but if he gets passed by then, well, he gets passed by.

Third pairing?

No matter who does or doesn’t make the lineup, it’s really hard to see Kulak jumping up into the top four; at least not right away.

The Flames traded Dougie Hamilton in part because of a hope that TJ Brodie’s game would recover to the near-elite level it was at when he played alongside Mark Giordano. And they certainly didn’t just acquire Noah Hanifin to not play him in a prominent role – and it’s the same deal for Travis Hamonic, too, in all likelihood.

But, as we know from the Hamonic-Brodie pairing this past season, things don’t always go to plan. In that case, can Kulak step into a top four role?

Over the others, it wouldn’t be a smart bet to make. He hasn’t shown as much offensive potential as Andersson or Valimaki, let alone established NHLers (Stone perhaps aside, but his experience is going to trump Kulak’s easily). If the top two pairings don’t work out – and switching them up doesn’t work out, either – then it should probably go to Andersson or Valimaki to fix things first, because one, or both, could be playing a top four role sooner than we think. But for Kulak to end up in the Flames’ top four, it’s probably going to require neither Andersson nor Valimaki making it, and something going very wrong on the top two pairings.

And it’s totally fine that Kulak doesn’t project to be a high scorer or top four defender in the NHL: he’s still a valuable player to have because, from top to bottom, teams need reliable depth, and he provides just that. It doesn’t make for a great arbitration case, but it does help the overall team.

  • Heeeeeere's Johnny!

    I think this pretty much sums it up. Seeing it this way I would keep Stone and sit him more nights than not. I’m finding it harder to convince myself to trade Stone because having no depth at D is one of the surest ways to underachieve.

    • The Fall

      Of NHL D Kulak: has the lowest TOI by over 1:30 per game, third lowest PPG, a 2.7 S%, and 8 points. What is it about these stats make you think he has earned more than league minimum salary?

        • The Fall

          Sure yeah, deployment means something here. But it’s not like Kulak is in the middle of the pack; he’s the lowest TOI in the league by a significant margin.

          I’m not trying to pile it on the kid. I’m just pointing out that he didn’t play much, and he didn’t do much with the time he got…

  • Derzie

    Ras will make it this year. Valimaki is a longshot. Either way, Kulak is an every night 3rd pair and can move up to 2nd if injuries happen. Treating him like a scrub is bad business. As a fan I hope things smooth over. As a fan of karma, I hope this blows up in Treliving’s face. He’s making Calgary a place players won’t want to be in.

    • Loud_voices

      Kulak is a 7th D at best. Maybe down the road he becomes a more reliable guy. But as of right now He hasn’t played well enough to truelly be considered a consitent NHLer. The 6th spot is better suited for valimaki or andersson (or even possibly oliver kylington) and have kulak as a 7th. Oh and anybody who would prefer kulak over Stone is on crack. Stones a proven NHLer who has spent a decent amount of time playing in a top 4 role. He doesnt get a whole lot of points but thats not what hes paid to do. And how has Treliving made calgary a place where players dont want to play? If anything he did the opposite. Hes turned a team that was garbage into a playoff competitor, if anything making it more attractive for players to come here, not to mention the young core is also attractive for alot of players because they know there is a wide open window to win.

    • cberg

      What part of The Fall’s previous comment do you dispute? Yes, Kulak was an everyday 3rd pair D, on a not great Flames team that needs to upgrade. That sounds pretty league minimum or slightly better to me.

      • Korcan

        I don’t dispute what he says regarding Kulak’s last season, but i do believe Kulak has potential simply through the natural development that comes from experience (he was a rookie, remember) to be a solid 5, maybe even second pairing player. His ceiling is higher than Stone’s, imo.

          • LannyMac

            I know the Derz can be negative but i am one who believes that BT put the screws to his players and is ruthless during negotiations it is going to start changing allegiances in the dressing room. If the troops start rallying against Tre look out. Not now maybe but he is playing some hard ball. You may want to call it big business but most of the players are premadonnas and they may get there feelings hurt. It can create a divide team vs mgmt.
            By the way why does everyone think these kids that flourish in the minors are going to be the next best thing. Janko was phenomenal in the A but was serviceable last year albeit a very bright future. Hathaway high scoring power forward in the A barely noticeable in the N. So why do most think that Valimaki and Kylinigton are going to sweep us off our feet. I like Andersson but he is no savior I’m not sure he should be ahead of stone on the depth chart yet. All have made great strides and that probably will continue but they are not saviors people pull back on the reins.

    • Rudy27

      NHL is big business at it’s finest. The GM has to make critical decisions on personnel and wages for the betterment of the team. There are a lot of moving parts considering both the Flames and Heat rosters. Decisions have to been made with the brain more than the heart.

    • Redleader

      Trevling isn’t giving away roster spots ! He got more depth for a reason,so that this team isn’t filling holes with scrubs , Kulak was not stellar , he does not deserve a free ticket .

      • BlueMoonNigel

        Sure he is. Brouwer is a lock to make the club, and it sure isn’t performance based. Still think Tre sees something in Lazar so he too may very well make the club also for reasons not based on his play.

        • DoooieStevens

          Brouwer is a great fourth liner. Yeah Treliving lost the bidding war to obtain his services and over paid for his usefulness, but Brouwer is undeniably a very serviceable 4th line and PK guy. GG was the biggest issue with Brouwer, playing him in spots that should have been reserved for others.

          • Brian McGrattan's Salute

            There is no way in HIGH HECK Brouwer should be on the PK. He was HORRID last year on it. Also, he is not a good forth liner. He put up way too few points last season, even with all that PP time. He’s likely only going even more downhill.

            You wanna talk about a good 4RW that can kill penalties? Hathaway is your guy. But not Brouwer.

          • DoooieStevens

            No dice. Hathaway is useless as tits on a boar. Fourth liners are not to put up a bunch of points. Momentum changers. Physical play. I suspect, Brouwer used in the right way will be a very effective 4th liner on the this team. If you are judging how good a player is based on points, especially in a bottom 6 role, you should go back to Chel 18 bro

          • Brian McGrattan's Salute

            Momentum changer, physical play, effectiveness. All things you say make a good 4th liner. I don’t disagree, but I see none of these in Brouwer. I see someone who can’t keep up with the pace of the game, isn’t nearly physical enough, and most certainly can’t play the energy line/momentum shifter role.

          • KKisTHEproblem

            Does no one remember Skylar’s PK analysis last year. Brouwer was our WORST penalty killer based on goals (and shots too if I remember correctly) allowed per min of PK time. Janko and Hath were better by a mile and in fact were two of our best but that was based on smaller sample size. But Brouwer was awful, get him off the PK

    • T&A4Flames

      How exactly is Treliving making CGY a place players don’t want to come to? By doing his job? If he just caved to every player and gave them what they wanted, we wouldn’t have the money to sign players if they wanted to come here anyway.

  • cjc

    Dress seven defencemen. Tampa did this from time to time and it payed dividends. You can double shift more talented forwards down the lineup, and give regular minutes to good, promising defensemen. It is an idea whose time has come in the NHL.

    • Intercourse the Penguins

      Dress Dalton Prout as the 7th D or as a rover for very short shifts of hard forecheck like (the late, lamented) Deryk Boogard. Target the opposition’s breakout with a steamroll check and see if any of them step up.

  • Boring Flames Fan

    I eat a lot of toast.
    Butter with toast is good.
    Peanut butter with jam is really good.

    I never eat plain toast.
    Kulak is plain toast. Stone is toast with butter.

    Valamaki and Andersson are peanut butter and jam.

  • Boring Flames Fan

    I went to Costco to buy peanut butter and jam and bread.

    They give out lots of samples.
    I asked if they had a sample of peanut butter and jam toast.

    They said,” No”

    Costco sucks.

  • That's Old Time Hockey

    We probably won’t see Valimaki this season because of the looming expansion draft. If we let him develop in the AHL this year he is exempt. And I’m not sure about you guys but I’d rather not give away free assets (ie a better player because we need to waste a space protecting valimaki)

    • Loud_voices

      Even if Valimaki played the full season he still would not be eligible to be picked up in the draft. All first and second year proffesionals as well as unsigned draft choices are exempt from the expansion.

    • cberg

      If Valimaki is clearly better than he should play. Aren’t you interested in the Flames succeeding this year? What the Flames should be doing is improving the team, not hiding assets because 3 years down the road perhaps it might be an issue.

      • That's Old Time Hockey

        Cberg of course I want to see them succeed. But From a GM standpoint they will want to protect our long term success especially with a huge question mark in net with smith and an untested backup. We technically aren’t all in (win now) mode

        • #1fan

          Of course we in win mode. Better be if we not in draft mode, or we stuck in pergutory. Backups BEEN tester. Last year with smith out for months, all for him to come back and choke. We need a #1, smith a proven liability/choker just like louongo

  • Zalapski

    I love Kulak. But he doesn’t have an “elite” skill like some of the other prospects. He’s a solid everyday player, but he doesn’t have the Kylington speed and offensive prowess, Anderrsson has a great shot and elite vision, Valimaki is a 5 star prospect and Hanafin is a 21 yr old NHL vet who is JUST starting to find his game!!! Stone may be a little slower and more over paid, but he has an incredible offensive weapon in his shot and is a lot more physical on the D side of things.

    When Kulak started rolling the dice a little more offensively last year I liked it, and you don’t notice a lot of defensively lapses in his game, he’s a gifted skater but doen’t have a great shot and his lack of high-end playmaking ability makes him the lesser to Brodie.

    I’m glad he’s on the Flames and think he could develop into more a nightly contributor, but I’d rather have Anderrson or Valimaki or possibly even Kylington getting time because they all have the ability to take over a game. The good comes with the bad, but now is the time. Peters loves young Dmen.

    • The Real SlimBrodie

      Yeah that’s what I meant 😉. You have such a way with words. I just figured I’d continue with the other guys toast theme. Then you go and write a comment that makes sense.

    • piscera.infada

      The one thing I did notice in Kulak last season was that he really needs to work on gap control when the opposition is gaining the offensive zone. He’s particularly bad in that area. He basically just lets it happen. It got so bad towards the mid-part of the season, that teams were focusing on that when Kulak was on the ice–they were purposely entering the Flames’ zone away from Stone.

      I like Kulak. He does a lot of things well, but he’s not as polished as a lot of people seem to want to make him out to be.

  • W21

    I dont think it would be too much of a surprise to see both Valimaki and Andersson make it out of camp and have Stone being #7. Although i do like Kulak Peters has never shyed away from giving youth with potential opportunity to shine.

  • The Real SlimBrodie

    Does anyone know when we find out the ruling? How much kulak will make? I still feel something in the trade winds, depending on how these cases go.

      • The Real SlimBrodie

        Thanks I feel this should be an easy case for the arbitrator. I just cant wait for hockey to start. It’s been a while since I’ve felt this starved for hockey. It’s such a shame we dont have penticton to look forward to. I guess I’ll do what I do every year and buy an expensive roster update for nhl. Just wish college players were included.

        • Trevy

          I believe the Flames and Oilers rookies will be playing each other twice in Red Deer in lieu of Penticton this year. Not sure of the details yet, but makes for a much easier destination to watch the young guys play

          • The Real SlimBrodie

            Yeah but unfortunately I moved to Bc years ago and lost abbotsford and now penticon. This province is unbearable with no flames hockey. Listening to Canucks fans and ww🙄

        • Brian McGrattan's Salute

          Real slim: me too! I feel that it will be a good season. Lots of excitement to be had in any case! And I think we’ll have a new third jersey to play in as well, so hopefully those will be dope! Lots to be excited about. I’m also hoping Tre is now free to do his thing without Burke here, which, so far, is looking pretty damn good.

          • The Real SlimBrodie

            16 hr drive from Merritt to stockton, looks like a great drive along the coast. Or 288 round trip🤔 I might have to go to mr and mrs finest’s barn for some beer and hockey 😏

          • The Real SlimBrodie

            We didn’t go original. 🙄 before we had kids I had Iggy and kipper. Now we have Marley (the dog) kitty purry and gunner(our cats we like) and a big orange whiney cat I call poo head or Wayne the whiner.

  • everton fc

    They’ll sit Kulak, over Stone. Not sure why anyone would think they’d sit Stone, especially after they waived Kulak. I don’t agree w/the way Kulak’s been treated, but BT will remain loyal to Stone. That’s how I see it.

      • everton fc

        I know it’s BPs bench. I still can’t see them benching Stone, for Kulak, after the recent waiver fiasco. And BT will remain loyal to Stone, unless Stone’s traded, which he should be (preferably to Ottawa, as part of a package to get Brady Tkachuk, but a package that doesn’t cost us unneccesarily).

    • Chucky

      It would be nice to see them trade stone for some draft picks. He just does not fit into the future. Right now they have two guys that look like they can compete for Giordano’s place in Hanifin and Valimaki and two young depth guys in Kulak and Kylington so the left side is set well into the future. Brodie and Hamonic have the top two right side positions or the next two years then Anderson will challenging. Stone is the same age as Brodie and Hamonic and has proven that he will never develop into a top 4in the Flames lineup but at $3.5 million is overpriced for a bottom 3. Find a team that needs a top 4 guy that can use Stone’s abilities and they will be able to justify the cap hit. Third pairing or popcorn eating is for guys who have a cap hit under $1.2 million. Five teams had 5 defencemen over $3 million last year two made the playoffs and three didn’t. Time for the Flames to make it 4 teams.

      • DoooieStevens

        Add Frolik to that list to trade. Frolik and Stone shipped out. Let Kulak , Valimakki, Kylington, Andersson and Prout battle it out for 5 -7 spots on the big club. Let Czarnik, Foo, Mango, Dube, Lazar, Brouwer, battle for 4th line and maybe 1 spot on theb3rd line. This opens future space for Tkchuck and Bennett. Both are going to be owed upwards of 5 per after this season. Also by grabbing picks gives the flames currency to flip picks for a goalie if need be or stock the cupboards.

      • #1fan

        If anyone needs to go its gio, missing the playoffs last year falls just as square on him as gg. Trade his overpaid ass or atleast rip that c off his chest. We need leadership and someone that can rally troops.

  • Trevy

    I’ve never been a huge fan of Kulak. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a decent defenseman, but he doesn’t display any outstanding or stand out features about his game. He does everything a defenseman is required to do at a 3rd pairing level. He’s a good skater and passer, is not really physical or offensive. Nothing is exciting about his game and unfortunately, guys like him are a dime a dozen. I love your articles Ari as they always make us pause and think of the different possibilities. However, based on Peters work with Carolina’s young dmen and what he’s accomplished with them, I can’t wait to see who he rolls out on opening night. It wouldn’t surprise me to see a couple rookies in the lineup given his reputation, especially if Tre manages to tweak the back end in the following weeks

    • BlueMoonNigel

      For cripesake, the kid has a grand total of 101 games! He has only played a single NHL season. Frankly, I doubt anybody knows where he tops out as.

      As for Billy Peters working miracles with young defencemen, why can’t he sprinkle some of that pixie dust on Kulak as he is still just 24?

  • MDG1600

    If the Flames don’t like the arbitration award I believe they can walk away and make Kulak a UFA. I do think this is a possibility if the award is >$900K.

  • Mickey O'Reaves

    BP: “Yeah Todd, listen. Dalton Prout came down with a bout of food poisoning. He won’t be playing tonight, so take it easy on us okay, bro?”

    TM: “Sure thing, Bill. Hockey is a gentlemanly game afterall. I’ll tell Looch not to run Smith, and Nurse definitely won’t crunch your star player Gaudreau multiple times. Kass will be on his best behaviour, and no way that JJ is going to start anything. Trust me.”

    • LannyMac

      EXACTLY! loook out flames fans you can slash the captains legs and he will skate away then you can punch the goalie and nothing happens. Then for good measure when a middle weight tries redemption you can pummel him to. I’m a flames fan but ouch that was tough to watch. I don’t think that scenario is going to change this year. one word look out

      • The Real SlimBrodie

        Yeah but when the other team scores more than the one playing dirty…its still a win. I doubt prout will have food poisoning every game and I’m sure Smith will hit first next time. Even if we do get embarrassed on the body it more embarrassing losing the game. Gfg

        • LannyMac

          Embarrassed on the body means intimidation and injuries. Guys who run around nervous to touch the puck rarely come out on top on the score sheet. Just Saying

      • Mickey O'Reaves

        The players were already mailing it in under GG late last year. But mailing it in turned into outright fear when Reaves completely blew up Brodie and gave the latter a concussion.

        The players knew there would be no response, and that nobody really had their backs when things get downright ugly because there was no intimidator/enforcer available.

        Outside of Dalton Prout there is nobody on the current Flames roster that can keep a lid on things. People can draw up pretty line-ups all day long…but that doesn’t mean squat if there isn’t anyone to keep the flies off.

        #couldahadreaves

        • Brian McGrattan's Salute

          I agree with ya Mickey, but just you don’t have to be a Prout to elbow Lucic in the snout.

          If more guys jumped into the fray, didn’t put up with sheet, and had each other’s backs like brothers, we would be a lot further on our way. We got guys who should be able to join the scrum, push and/or toss guys outta the crease, and just generally stick up for each other.

          It’s this team cohesion, “don’t f with us” mentality, and the buy in of everyone that makes a contender. It’s leadership, and it’s confidence in yourself and your group.

          Lets hope that we can foster some of that.

          #couldahadreevesbutwillstillbeokay

        • BlueMoonNigel

          Don’t disagree with you, but the ship has sailed on RR, so to bemoan not signing the guy is too much like all the tears still being shed here for the loss of wee Paul Byron.

          That being said, I fully support Tre going out and trying to trade for a monster who can keep law and order out here in the wild west.