The Flames have been mostly healthy to start the season, but for one glaring exception: Travis Hamonic, who suffered a facial fracture after fighting Erik Gudbranson in the Flames’ season opener on Oct. 3.
According to Bill Peters, though, Hamonic could be back rather soon.
Peters also says Travis Hamonic’s return could be “as early as late next week”.
Gives the team a little time to figure what they’re going to do when that happens. #Flames
— Pat Steinberg (@Fan960Steinberg) October 22, 2018
That would likely peg his return for early November, should the best case scenario come to pass. The Flames play the Avalanche Nov. 1 and the Blackhawks Nov. 3 at home. They have five more games between then and now.
A fair bit has changed since Hamonic went down with an injury, however. In that time, the Flames called up Rasmus Andersson, sat him as a healthy scratch, dressed him on an all-rookie pairing with Juuso Valimaki, bumped him up to play second pairing with Noah Hanifin, and even had him play on the top pairing with Mark Giordano for much of Sunday’s game against the Rangers. While Giordano and TJ Brodie are expected to reunite, it still sends a clear message: Andersson has been playing well.
The problem? With Hamonic’s return, the Flames will have to demote a defenceman. Neither Andersson nor Valimaki require waivers to be sent down, but also, neither is worthy of demotion. Assuming Valimaki continues to dress, he’ll play his 10th NHL game Thursday against the Penguins, which will officially burn the first year of his ELC; sending him down after that, unless his play declines enough to warrant it, would be bizarre. Valimaki and Andersson have also averaged 15:00 and 15:26 a game, respectively; they’re getting solid minutes and not looking out of place.
Dalton Prout, the Flames’ most frequent healthy scratch on defence, would be the candidate to demote then, and would likely give Stockton some much-needed help on the blueline.
The question, then, would turn to who would take Prout’s place as healthy scratch? If Valimaki and Andersson are in the NHL, they should be playing. Giordano obviously isn’t going anywhere, and apparently the goal is still to keep playing Brodie with him. There’s absolutely no reason to scratch Hanifin, and a returning Hamonic would need to get his minutes in (not to mention he’d probably help what’s been a struggling defensive group).
Signs point towards Michael Stone being the unlucky one to draw out, but it wouldn’t necessarily be a regular thing (sometimes rookies have bad games and get benched, you know?). It would be somewhat unprecedented for the Flames to park such a high cap hit in the press box; on the other hand, there are worse ways to go about building a defensive group than to have Stone as your seventh guy.