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Calgary’s blueline changing of the guard is underway

For the last few years, many have considered Calgary’s group of NHL defencemen an area of strength. That remains a fair observation heading into the 2018-19 season and, thanks to some savvy drafting, the team’s organizational depth at the position is also strong. As a result, when you take ages and contracts into account, the Flames are set to have a very different looking blueline group in the very near future, and it could start as early as this season.

THE PRESENT

Calgary’s NHL personnel for the coming season is similar to last year, albeit for one significant change. The Flames essentially swapped Dougie Hamilton for Noah Hanifin in June, which gives us a decent idea of how things might look to start the season.

Mark Giordano-TJ Brodie
Noah Hanifin-Travis Hamonic
Brett Kulak-Michael Stone

That grouping isn’t set in stone by any means, which is our first indication the winds of change are blowing. I would suggest neither Kulak nor Stone are holding down solidified spots in the everyday lineup, thanks to competition further down the depth chart.

The Flames’ 2015 second round pick Rasmus Andersson enters training camp with high expectations after a strong sophomore professional season. As a right-shot defender, Andersson likely threatens Stone’s spot in the top six most immediately, and the former looked good in 10 NHL games last season. It would be disappointing if Andersson wasn’t in the mix for an opening day spot, at the very least.

Then there’s 2017 first round pick Juuso Valimaki, who is set to enter his rookie professional season. After getting an extended look a year ago, much is expected in Valimaki’s second NHL training camp, even if there isn’t high urgency to get him into NHL action. If Valimaki proves he’s ready for big league action, I’m confident the Flames will make room for him on the left side. If not, there’s zero negative to starting Valimaki in Stockton.

PROJECTING THE FUTURE

Rasmus Andersson

Here’s where things get interesting. Broken into left and right shots, Calgary’s organizational breakdown on the backend is charted below. Included is current age (as of Aug. 27, 2018) and their remaining contract status. Because he’s projected to move back to the right side, we’ll consider Brodie a right shot for the sake of this conversation.

Player Age Contract Player Age Contract
Mark Giordano 34 4 years, $6.75 TJ Brodie 28 2 years, $4.65
Noah Hanifin 21 RFA Travis Hamonic 28 2 years, $3.86
Brett Kulak 24 1 year, $900,000 Michael Stone 28 2 years, $3.5
Juuso Valimaki 19 3 years, $894,166 Rasmus Andersson 21 2 years, $755,833
Oliver Kylington 21 2 years, $730,833 Dalton Prout 28 1 year, $800,000

What strikes me immediately is what happens in a couple years: that’s when Brodie, Hamonic, and Stone see their current contracts expire. So, even if management doesn’t have their hand forced by Andersson or Valimaki in the next 24 months, the Flames are almost certainly set for significant change come the summer of 2020.

Taking their on-ice work out of the equation, it is unlikely Calgary would re-sign an entire trio of 30-year-old defencemen. It becomes even less probable when you factor in declining performance for all three in recent years. Even with bounce back seasons in 2018-19, it would be a surprise if any more than one of Brodie, Hamonic, or Stone stayed beyond their current contracts.

Giordano currently has the most term remaining on his deal while also sharing the team’s highest cap hit. That’s fine in the present because he’s the team’s best defenceman. As we’re all aware, though, Giordano turns 35 to start the season. He’s been freakishly defiant in the face of Father Time, but at some point Gio’s performance is going to decline.

The best case scenario for the Flames is multi-faceted. The team needs younger blueliners to develop so they have multiple bodies ready for October 2020. That would allow Stone, Brodie, and Hamonic to depart at the end of their contracts, if not earlier. The final piece of the puzzle is a slow and graceful decline for Giordano, which could give Calgary a blueline that looks something like this in a few years:

Juuso Valimaki-Noah Hanifin
Mark Giordano-Rasmus Andersson
Brett Kulak-Oliver Kylington

The projection above doesn’t allow for trades or free agency and also moves Hanifin and Kylington to the right side, which isn’t ideal. But it gives you an idea of how the Flames could fill coming vacancies from within, and do so without a great deal of difficulty.

Of course, it’s anything but a guarantee all three of Valimaki, Andersson, and Kylington develop into full-time NHLers, but that’s okay. With their contract structure, Calgary has options and could easily re-sign Hamonic or Brodie to keep the right side in good shape.

Flexibility is the key word, here. The Flames are only locked into Giordano and likely Hanifin for more than four years. They also boast three promising blueline prospects the organization projects as everyday players in the near future. Change is already underway, and depending on how those prospects perform, we might not be waiting until 2020 to see Calgary’s changing of the guard.

    • TurkeyLips

      That would be insanity. Giordano is one of the best all-around defencemen in the league. Take a look at perennial favourites the Boston Bruins, their #1 defender in Chara is 42 years of age and he is still kicking ass and taking names. Why would we think any less of Gio?

    • Korcan

      Unless his game completely falls off a cliff, which there is no indication that it will, I would hold on to Gio for his leadership and apparent ability to mentor young D (e.g. Brodie, Hamilton). Gio has intangibles that will keep his value high even as his game begins to decline — just let him slowly slide down the depth chart if need be, but please don’t get rid of the guy.

      • LannyMac

        I think Gio is probably a heck of a teammate very supportive. He divulged his views on being a leader in an interview with the Fan this summer. He talked as though Tre had let him know that a captain has to kick some ass from time to time in the dressing room. I believe for many years now this organization has lacked a captain and preferably appointed be him ACs that will take charge of the dressing room and change the group direction/ focus or lack there of. If Giordano is a true leader he has to be a guy that is open to all but is also if a guy needs to be taken aside with his assistants for a chat even if that creates tension if it’s warranted it needs to be done. When the entire team needs to be called out then he has to stand up. For the last no. of years that I believe has been done by the coaches. Eventually that falls on def ears and it’s also BS if a bunch of millionaires need a coach to motivate them. I know that’s how it is these days but it’s not how it was done in 1989. Need I say more about leadership and the ideal.

    • Oil Spilly

      As an Oiler fan…. can’t believe I am saying this but Gio is a frickin gamer. Plays every shift like it’s his last which is pure leadership. If he stays healthy he could go a few more years at a high level. I don’t think he will be as affective as chara at 41. However being 9 feet tall could have something to do with charas lengthy success. Gio is all heart. So yeah if you guys want to leave him unprotected I’d be ok with that 🙂

    • Hockeysense9393

      I’m sure that will be happening WW. If all works out? A second pairing end to his great career will be quite prudent. Here is hopes that a Gio availability is quite a normal course of action with the Flames, when expansion hits lol.

      • Hockeysense9393

        Gio will be too old for a pickup, but he is the type of player that won’t be affected…cuz it’s about the team to him no matter what. The team will be good enough to expose him, but will most likely have better (younger) players to pick from. A small deal even? Like a 3rd-4th round to not take him, just to make sure? This won’t be to hard folks.

  • Rudy27

    What jumps out at me is that the left side looks like a tougher position for someone like Kylington to crack. Anderson should have a much easier time of it with the line up of right hand D.

  • cjc

    I think a lot depends on how this season goes. If they are not in the playoff mix by the trade deadline, then I would expect Brodie to be traded. Treliving could be fired if they miss the playoffs. A new GM would have no attachment to Stone, and he could be bought out. That would leave the team with Gio, Hanifin and Hamonic as locks for 2019-20. As good a soldier as Kulak has been, he will need to have a big showing to stay ahead of Valimaki and Kylington on the depth chart.

    I might be in the minority here, but I don’t think Valimaki will get his 9 game cuppa this year (so his contract can slide another year), and I don’t think Andersson will get a full season in Calgary. That’s because benching Stone, who would still have over a year remaining on his contract, will be unappetizing. Think the team will still want Andersson to get a lot of games in Stockton. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Kulak as a 7 D given how acrimonious his negotiation was and the push from below.

    If they are in the playoff mix, then things get interesting. They won’t have much cap space to work with, but they also might want to upgrade on the back end. They’d need to find a partner willing to take Stone though.

  • DoooieStevens

    I hope Peter’s uses Hanifann(if ready, obviously) as the #1 defenceman. I would really like to see him paired with Brodie. Put Gio at #3 with either Andersonn, depending on who earns it and have Kulak, and Valimakki fight out for a spot with Hamonic. Trade Stone right away.

  • Jessemadnote

    The more I look into Hanifin the more I think he’s poised to break into the NHL’s elite defenders. For defensemen that played at least 1200 minutes, Hanifin had the 3rd lowest scoring chances against/60 in the league. Right between Ryan Suter and Mark Giordano. I know he’s given some easy minutes but man that is really impressive shut down hockey for a 21 year old.

    • Neddd

      @Jessemadnote
      “The more I look into Hanifin the more I think he’s poised to break into the NHL’s elite defenders. For defensemen that played at least 1200 minutes, Hanifin had the 3rd lowest scoring chances against/60 in the league.”

      FYI, you may not be aware of this but Hanifin received the highest percentage of offensive starts out of all defencemen in the entire league in 17/18. In addition, he had the lowest percentage of time facing tough competition of all defencemen on Carolina last season…… Something to consider, especially because Carolina was not considered to have a very strong defence line up.

      • Jessemadnote

        1) You conveniently left out the second part of the what I said.
        2) Sergachev, krug, shattenkirk and kronwall all had higher offensive zone starts than Hanifin. All of them allowed more scoring chances /60 than Him.
        3) Carolina is considered to have one of the strongest young D core’s in the league. Slavin received Norris votes in each of the past two years. Faulk has more goals than Hamilton in the past 4 years, and Pesce is widely considered a top tier shut down D.

  • Kevin R

    Pat good analysis. I think it goes to show that Flames consider Hanifin as one of their top pairing D in the not so distant future & is why the new deal is taking so long. At 21 years of age, I can see Tre wanting to get at least a 7 & maybe even an 8 year deal out him. This also tells me the time line is ticking down quick & we really need to see Kulak, Valamaki & Andersson get NHL minutes & see what we have.

  • Alberta Ice

    Getting eager to see how this team gels together in time. On another note, great to see the season opener is not in Edmonton again. The last two years had so much hype in and for Edmonton (new arena two years ago and their saviour both years), that Calgary was a forgotten media after thought. Yep, some very good changes all ready for the Flames in this upcoming new NHL hockey year. GFG.

  • freethe flames

    It looks pretty solid for the next few years. However after that the cupboard is bare, especially on the right side. Next spring they will need to start restocking the D cupboard.

  • redwhiteblack

    I am excited about almost all of our the skaters right now. If they can help tilt the ice away from Smith he can have a good year. Backup tender is the only clear weak spot, but maybe Rittch or Gilles step up. Would be sweet.

    • Brian McGrattan's Salute

      Totally. Our goaltending will improve with our defense, and perhaps more importantly, system. I’ve heard Bill and co want to play a more aggressive checking style defense, which works way better for our d-core.

  • brodiegio4life

    Not that worried about Gio declining anytime soon. The guy is a fitness freak. Guys like Lidstrom, Chelios and Chara were all still effective into their late 30’s.

    Reminds me a lot of Cristano Ronaldo. With his big budget move to Juventus this summer as a 33 year old people were calling it a bad move to spend over 100 million bucks on a 33 year old. Then the World Cup fitness testing results came out and revealed that he has the fitness of a 25 year old and scored the highest fitness test in the entire World Cup. Tom Brady as well, these guys take care of their bodies much better than the regular athlete. Gio is one of those guys.

  • MDG1600

    I hope the Flames blueline lives up to their potential this year. The previous few years they have looked good on paper only. And yes – I think the Flames will leave Gio exposed in the next expansion draft because there will be little risk Seattle will take on that kind of contract for a 37 year old player.

  • Neddd

    @Jessemadnote
    “The more I look into Hanifin the more I think he’s poised to break into the NHL’s elite defenders. For defensemen that played at least 1200 minutes, Hanifin had the 3rd lowest scoring chances against/60 in the league.”

    FYI, you may not be aware of this but Hanifin received the highest percentage of offensive starts out of all defencemen in the entire league in 17/18. In addition, he had the lowest percentage of time facing tough competition of all defencemen on Carolina last season…… Something to consider, especially because Carolina was not considered to have a very strong defence line up.

    • Jessemadnote

      I replied above. You are uniformly wrong in every claim you’ve made. I forgot about the claim that he had the easiest competition as corsi, TOI and xGF% of competition show that Hanifin faced tougher competition than Van Riemsdyk, Roland Mckeown and Hayden Fleury. Go do some research before you start your debates man.

  • HOCKEY83

    I think the author is wrong on this one…5 spots are in set in stone. The only way Stone doesn’t have a gauranteed spot here is if he gets traded away. Kulak’s spot and the 7th D are the only spots up for grabs.

    • BlueMoonNigel

      Agreed. I have this weird feeling that Andersson or Kulak will start the season as #7 with Stone functioning in a netherworld as Tre wants to move him but is holding out for the best possible deal. Neither Andersson nor Kulak should be that 7th guy as both need to play regularly. I’d like to hope that Tre clears this matter up long before opening night but this was the club that not so long ago began the season with three goalies, and last season’s opening night roster included Barty and Glass, while training camp MVP Mark Jankowski was wowing Mr. and Mrs. Stockton’s Finest. Weird clouds form in the prairie sky.

    • Greg

      Kulak’s spot is very much up for grabs if Valimaki shows he’s ready. I like him too but they won’t hesitate to make him the 7th D rather than block Valimaki.

  • SouthernFlame

    I don’t get the hate that Stone gets, he has the hardest shot of the team. He is a solid 3rd line D and yeah he might be paid too much and could be a useful trade tool late in the season.

    • Brian McGrattan's Salute

      We focus too much on money for some reason on this site, as if it was coming out of our wallet.

      Stone is a good 3rd pairing dman. He does his job. He isn’t flashy, but he plays his role well. The catch is that we all want Ras to play this season, and so we are perhaps being unfair with Stone in our desire to see Ras here.

    • BlueMoonNigel

      Because he is blocking progress. If Ras comes up it is at the expense of Stone or Kulak. Ras doesn’t grow spending a third year in the AHL and Kulak doesn’t grow sitting in popcorn row on game night.

      Then there is the goaltending question. All is good now, but next season, when Smitty is long gone and Rittich is back playing in Bratislavia and Gillies is still starring in “Big Little Man” and Parsons is still trying to figure it out. If the Flames have to buy a seasoned goalie on the open market and pay Chucky his well-earned mega contract, bucks will be tight here, so Tre will be forced to move the likes of Stone and thrust a very inexperienced rookie defenceman into some major NHL minutes. Lesson here is to never put yourself into a spot where you have to be pressured into making decisions. Tre can easily avoid the problem by moving Stone prior to the start of this season. It gives Andersson and Kulak lots of buddy time this year and perhaps allows one of them to move to the second pairing next season, thus opening a spot for the highly-regarded Vilimaki and making one of Hamonic or Brodie expendable–more money available to lure a goalie and to reward MT.

  • slyall41

    Nobody talks about Kylington but I believe the real battle this year is between him and Kulak for that 6th spot. I say this because of the looming expansion draft and the ability to slide JV’s contract another year. I like Kylington’s speed, mind you he won’t have the luxury of a long leash due to him being waiver exempt.