Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Flames trade Brett Kulak to Montreal Canadiens for Matt Taormina, Rinat Valiev

Brett Kulak has had a tumultuous offseason with the Flames: from going to arbitration to clearing waivers, the Flames’ sixth defender from the 2017-18 season hasn’t really seemed to be in the team’s plans.

Now, he officially isn’t any longer. The Flames have traded Kulak to the Canadiens for defencemen Matt Taormina and Rinat Valiev.

Kulak, 24, played 71 games for the Flames over the course of the 2017-18 season, a steady, if somewhat unspectacular, presence on the Flames’ bottom pairing. He scored his first two NHL goals and registered eight points, all while averaging 12:59 in ice time. He had a 52.14% 5v5 CF (fourth amongst Flames defencemen, behind Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton, and Rasmus Andersson) with a 51.9 zone start ratio (fourth lowest amongst defencemen, ahead of TJ Brodie, Travis Hamonic, and Michael Stone).

In short: Kulak got the job done, but with the success of prospects like Juuso Valimaki, he was seen as expendable.

Taormina and Valiev, meanwhile, are two left-shot defencemen coming from the Canadiens’ system.

Taormina, who will turn 32 on Oct. 20, is a 5’10, 182 lb. undrafted defenceman with just 59 NHL games to his name. He spent his entire 2017-18 season playing for the Laval Rocket in the AHL, registering 52 points over the course of 63 games. He should be a great veteran presence for a Heat team that’s looking increasingly competitive due to some junior prospect graduations and offseason signings.

Valiev, 23, was a third round pick of the Maple Leafs in 2014. The 6’3, 215 lb. defender joined the Canadiens organization as part of the return in the Tomas Plekanec trade. He only has 12 NHL games to his name to date – 10 in 2015-16, and two this past season – and has failed to make any major impacts on the big league scoresheet. In 45 AHL games in 2017-18, he scored 18 points total.

Both players have one year left on deals with a cap hit of $650,000. Taormina will be a UFA following this season, while Valiev will be an RFA.

Kulak is probably better than both players, but this move does give the Heat more options at defence, and there’s no telling what his and the Flames’ relationship turned into following arbitration – and the Flames and Habs were reportedly exploring a trade option for him over the summer, about the time his hearing was looming, as well.

If Kulak was no longer in the team’s plans, then at least he gets the chance to go somewhere else where he might be.

  • Squishin

    This scenario is always weird to me. Kulak was on waivers all day yesterday. Any team could have had him for free (including MTL), but now Montreal is willing to give up two players to get him? Is this just contract dumping?

  • Baalzamon

    Well that was dumb.

    Why are the Flames allergic to cheap, effective depth players? They either have to be expensive (Stone, Stajan, Brouwer) or awful (Lazar, Hathaway, Glass, Bartkowski). Someone like Kulak comes in and the Flames ditch him because he’s not as talented as a recent first round pick? What were they developing him for for the past six years?

    Taormina should be a good add for the Heat (he scores a lot in the AHL). Valiev is nothing in particular.

    • Bean-counting cowboy

      There’s probably a bit of financial motivation here as well. Kulak was getting paid 1-way money.

      Arbitration did not do him any favours either.

      • Porcupine at a balloon party

        That was my thoughts via a comment I made in yesterdays forums. Flames do not like to bury contracts, which is fair, they are a business and while they spend to the cap, they are not a top 10 revenue team and have to skimp on other things (buyouts (they avoid but not completely), high priced coaches/gm’s, paying NHL salaries in AHL etc…). There was definitely a method to BT’s madness of waiving these guys 24 hours ahead of the flurry of guys hitting the waiver wire today.

    • canadian1967

      I’m not privy to any inside info, but it’s possible that Kulak being traded was a promise by mgmt if he didn’t make the team.

      Obviously 5 Valimaki, 6 Andersson, 7 Stone, 8 Kylington and 9 Prout are now ahead of him, so there’s the depth to cover for the “loss” of Kulak.

      Would you still have made your comment if he had been claimed off waivers? At least they got 1.5 AHL Defencemen to replace him instead of nothing.
      After all he didn’t make The Flames and was being sent down regardless.

        • The Doctor

          I agree that Wotherspoon seemed to offer a bit more upside, especially on offence. Wotherspoon was the more highly regarded prospect. But then Kulak had that really good camp and early season where everyone was raving about him, and he vaulted over Wotherspoon on the depth chart.

    • cjc

      Not really. Kulak managed 11 points in the 101 games he played. Teams can’t keep every player they develop, especially when they have a lot of positional depth (LD). Kulak was 4th, maybe even 5th at the position after camp. He cleared waivers twice and, much like Wotherspoon, most teams have a guy like Kulak in their system.

      Their investment in Kulak’s development resulted in 101 solid NHL games and 2 AHL depth D.

  • Derzie

    More asset mis-management. Valimaki is not ready and better served to play in the A until he is dominant and we know what Seattle can or can’t take. Stone is not good enough to displace anyone, Kulak and Ras are better than him. Lazar is no longer an NHLer. It’s really quite simple. Yet, here we are. 2 more guys to take away D spots in Stockton. I really, really don’t like Treliving’s thinking, or lack thereof.

  • Burnward

    How it’s supposed to work. Guy gets passed by better, younger players. You give him a fresh start and replenish the farm.

    Fair all around, but especially to Kulak.

    • Derzie

      Except the guy who passed him is not quite ready and needs to be managed correctly to avoid losing him in an expansion draft. There’s that as well, which Treliving seems to have ignored.

      • Burnward

        I can understand this one. Two rooks + a Brodie you need to bounce back and prove himself + Hanifin…still a kid himself.

        By the trade deadline they’ll have this figured.

      • The Doctor

        Stone is clearly our albatross contract this year. Last year it was Brouwer #1 and Stajan #2. From that perspective, we’re far less hampered by albatross contracts than we were last year.

        • HOCKEY83

          If 3.5 mil for a Dman that can play in any pairing and would be a top 4 D man on some teams in this league that aren’t too strong at D is the Flames big Albatross contract this season then the Organization is sitting far prettier that most teams in the league.

        • oilcanboyd

          Seems some fans and coilers need someone to brow beat down…enough already! Stone is what he is and there have been worst contracts given out for even worse defencemen…

      • Stu Gotz

        Agree Andersson is better now has has higher upside but patience is required when managing NHL assets. Stone’s value will increase as his cap hit reduces and teams encounter injuries with their veteran defensemen. Worst case Andersson get’s more games in critical situations in Stockton for a few months…..

        • Burnward

          Couple of tips from a wily vet like Taormina won’t hurt either. Didn’t exactly have a skilled vet to learn from before. Could really help Kylington too.

          • BlueMoonNigel

            The guy is a career AHLer! I’m guessing most Heaters want the AHL to be their stepping stone, not their tombstone, so tips from that guy–just consider the source.

  • Mickey O'McGritty

    I’ll bet there was a lot of “irreconcilable differences” going on behind the scenes. The arbitration, and the waiving in the summer. Kulak wasn’t even in the press box for the last pre-season game against the Oilers.

    Sounds like both sides have their noses out of joint. If Kulak was going to cause a stink in Stockton, or Calgary, then maybe it was just best for everyone for the player to move along.

    • The Real SlimBrodie

      A 60 point season and over 50 the following year is not easily done by a defenseman. Nigel I’m sure our rookies can learn a lot from this guy. I’d like to see your ahl resume, since you know so much about hockey.

    • Porcupine at a balloon party

      agreed that neither players coming back will help NHL team, but there is a lot more going on than what you’re seeing on the surface. read between the lines. Culture (disgruntled player), NHL salary in AHL (only so much money in BT’s budget), AHL depth is actually a thing (they want Stockton to do well, not only for winning culture for development, but they also have their affiliate status up for negotiation after this year I believe) etc…. There’s probably more going on behind scenes than I’m stating here too

  • Dopi

    Hey Opi which account is yours on here? Since you are single handily ruining oilers nation I guess we will have to do the same here. Actually never mind I have life. Lol

    Great trade Hey Opi? Or is it Opi-nated? Or is it Damon mace? Or is it oil spilly? Or my favourite “spillies’? Lol wheuuu

  • Porcupine at a balloon party

    Can anyone confirm that Valamaki playing in NHL vs AHL will 100% exempt him from the expansion draft (based on Vegas’ rules). This has been talked about a lot, but my understanding was “2 years of professional hockey” which the AHL is (professional).

    • Baalzamon

      My understanding is that if a player plays in the AHL while still junior eligible (that is, eligible to play in the CHL without being considered an overager) it doesn’t count as a year of pro hockey. (This is why Kylington was exempt for the last expansion draft).

      In practice it’s basically that if the ELC slides it doesn’t count.

      I’ve heard conflicting information on this topic, though. For example I’ve heard some say that Valimaki, Dube, and Phillips are all exempt from the expansion draft. Based on my understanding of the rules last time around, this would not be the case (Dube and Phillips will be eligible, and Valimaki will be eligible if he plays in the NHL). But maybe I’m wrong?

    • Heeeeeere's Johnny!

      Per the CBC prior to Vegas draft:

      Which players are exempt?

      Prospects: All players with less than three years of professional experience are automatically exempt. That means young stars like Edmonton’s Connor McDavid and Toronto’s Auston Matthews don’t need to be protected to remain with their teams. This provision also includes unsigned draft picks and signed players that have yet to appear in a NHL game. A year of professional experience is 10 pro games played under an NHL contract, including regular season and playoffs.

    • SeanCharles

      If the expansion draft happens in th 2020 offseason Valimaki and Dube will be exempt regardless of where they play because they will only be 2nd year pros.

      So it only matters if the expansion draft is pushed back a year from when most people expect it to happen currently.

  • Joeyhere

    I get that Management felt Kulak didn’t fit in but why not hold him for a few weeks, then if your comfortable in How your prospects are doing in the NHL the trade has no consequences. By making the trade now (for spare parts) the Flames have less flexibility in sending Valimaki down if they feel that’s the better long term play.

    Depth is an asset that would allow the Flames more options

  • SeanCharles

    Kristen Anderson

    Kulak on the trade/situation in Calgary/numbers game: “Valimaki came in and I thought he played in really well and that’s what they’re going with. Me and Brad talked about that and I understand that…

    Kristen Anderson
    …He was really good to me and he doesn’t want me to sit and not play hockey. He knows I’m an NHL defenceman wants me to get a good opportunity to play and prove myself more and keep developing as a player.”

  • The GREAT WW

    I have a feeling we are going to regret this “trade” sooner than later.
    Not that Kulak is going to be a superstar, but cheap insurance is never a bad thing…..


      • Jumping Jack Flash

        Tough to get much in a trade when the guy was put on waivers 2 times in the last few months. I think the arbitration was the beginning of his demise especially when he couldn’t back it up at training camp.
        A lot of people felt Kulak would be plucked in the expansion draft but he was never considered.

    • SeanCharles

      We have Valimaki and Kylington available for LD (not including Healey, Hogstrom, Taormina or Valiev) and Stone, Andersson and Prout available for RD.

      You could make an argument we have 8 NHL calibre dmen and Kylington close so I don’t really see why we would regret it that much.

      I liked Kulak but having young guys like Hanifin, Valimaki and Kylington in the organization to go along with Gio indicates he didn’t really factor into the long-term plans.

      Treliving cared more about the player and his future than about keeping a guy around who probably will only play if there is a significant number of injuries ahead of him on the depth chart.

      How important is any teams #9-10 dman to team success? They clearly want to develop the other, higher end, guys in sheltered roles, which is the right thing to do IMO!

    • HOCKEY83

      Not sure how they could possibly regret trading away Kulak. Can’t even imagine the scenario that would have to take place for the team to have to utter the words “too bad we got rid of Kulak”

  • cornwallroyals

    This could also be a salary dump as Kulak still gets $900K in the minors while Taormina is at $350K and Valiev gets $80K in the minors as per Cap Friendly. That’s a saving of $470K for the year.

  • redwhiteblack

    It seems such a waste to watch someone get drafted, develop in junior, the AHL and then with the big club. So many years invested by the organization’s scouts, coaches, trainers, management and fans. Kulak reminds us of the amount of others before him and many after who will be around for years but gone in a snap. Weird business, but so is life in general.
    I wish him luck as he was a part of this system for a long time.

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    The scouting report on Taormina is that “he is not great away from the puck” he was a -31 in +/- which may not be the tell all stat. It is safe to say that he likely does not play with Kjillington. I am guessing he plays with Ras if he Ras goes down.

  • smatic10

    Alright guys, I get that he was serviceable but this is barely a loss. He’s played quite a few games for us but he doesn’t offer any sort of X factor. Valimaki has top-4 potential and on an emergency basis he can already fill in in a top4 role and do just fine. Andersson is calm, cool and collected with the puck on his stick and can make plays. Prout brings physicality and has actually looked ok in the preseason. We have Kylington and now Valiev and Taormina as options. We have more than enough depth. And we can acquire a bottom 6 dman if need be, those are not hard to get a hold of.

    • Porcupine at a balloon party

      I think there’s a bit of an emotional attachment here more than anything. Many here have followed this guy’s career to date and he’s been a good development story, but just not good enough apparently. I’m in the camp that he’s above replacement level, but the fact he’s cleared waivers twice and was subsequently sent to AHL by MTL, GM’s around the league disagree. So we are here… Wish him the best

    • The GREAT WW

      Having a third pairing D buried in the AHL seems like a smart insurance policy…..

      I don’t buy it for one second that BT did this to be a nice guy to Kulak. That sounds like a dumb CHIARELLI move.
      I think negotiations got ugly to the point where BT couldn’t stand the sight of Kulak and moved him…..


      • First Name Unidentified

        Now that would be personal, not so much a professional move. Whereas I do believe good GMs have a history of doing that to resurrect careers. I believe Tre is a good GM. He rectifies his mistakes and gives players opportunity. Heck, Kulak cleared waivers twice, so there’s that.