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Juuso Valimaki’s entry-level deal starts running Thursday night

Three times in recent years the Calgary Flames have opted to keep a youngster in the National Hockey League long enough to start the clock on their contracts. Defender Juuso Valimaki will become the fourth on Thursday night when he plays against Pittsburgh.

The first round selection by the Flames at the 2017 NHL Draft, Valimaki has been a steady presence on the backend since the first day of the season. He has played close to 20 shifts a night, typically logging between 13 and 17 minutes of ice time. He’s paired with Michael Stone, a heavy defensive player whose simple meat-and-potatoes style allows Valimaki a chance to jump into the rush here and there because Valimaki knows Stone will stay back to cover him. He scored his first NHL goal, the eventual game-winner, on Oct. 17 against the Boston Bruins.

Valimaki’s early October birthday gave the Flames two interesting bits of CBA flexibility:

  • Since the CBA logs player ages based on how old they are on Sept. 15, Valimaki was a “CBA 19-year-old” and so his contract was eligible to slide for another season if he didn’t play 10 NHL games.
  • Since he turned 20 before the end of December, Valimaki was also able to play in the American Hockey League this season if the Flames felt he needed the time to develop.

In other words, his first contract would run from 2019-20 to 2022-23 if he didn’t play 10 NHL games, with this year being a “free” contract year in the minors.

Fortunately (and unfortunately) for the Flames, Valimaki’s been a reliable presence on the blueline to the point where they’re giving up their contractual flexibility by keeping him in the NHL past the 10-game mark. If he’s on the roster past the Flames’ 40th game of the season – whether he plays in all 40 games or not – he’ll also accrue a year of service for unrestricted free agency purposes.

Valimaki’s the fourth youngster in recent years to crack the roster and stick around past the 10 game mark. Sean Monahan (2013-14) and Matthew Tkachuk (2016-17) both made the Flames out of training camp and impressed enough to stick around. Sam Bennett (2014-15) was recalled for the Stanley Cup playoffs after his junior team was knocked out and he ended up playing 10 games between the regular season and the playoffs.

In each of those three previous cases, Flames management felt that the benefits of having the particular player on their NHL roster outweighed the risks they took by using up the first year of their entry-level deals right away rather than sending them back to junior to allow their deals to slide. While management has been fairly consistent with noting that the NHL is a tough league to play in as a youngster, they’ve also been consistent with their messaging that if a young player is good enough to be with the Flames, they will be.

  • BendingCorners

    If Brodie moves back to the left side when Hamonic returns then Valimaki becomes demoteable. Not sure I’d do it but it might be something the Flames look at.

    • Porcupine at a balloon party

      Not sure why all the trashes. It is a logical plan. Brodie plays with stone on 3rd pairing. Valamaki gains more experience and Stockton gets some much needed help on blue line. That being said, if there’s an injury, he’s almost certainly going to be called up and get his tenth game. If they can avoid the 40 game mark, could be worth it. Don’t think there’s a substantial drop off in defence capability in this situation, but it seems pretty much impossible they all stay healthy for rest of season, and I certainly wouldn’t want Prout to become a regular in lineup

  • Justthateasy

    Really. Entry-level starts tomorrow? Dare I suggest we send him down? There just might be an accumulation of too many rookies on this team. They need the help down there anyway. Let him be a big fish in a little pond at the pro level.

  • Puck Head

    Assuming that Kylington pans out, we may be kicking ourselves for not sending him down when the expansion draft arrives. If the same rules apply and the team protects 3 defencemen, I would wager that they would protect the young guys (Hanafin, Ras, Kylington?) and expose the older guys (Gio due to his age and contract – he’s still our best Dman though). Seems like a shame to expose a young guy when it could have been avoided. That said, Valimaki is playing well and should probably stay based on his performance. Who knows….it’s a gamble either way.

        • Derzie

          His weakness is his brain. He has not shown great improvement there. In the lower leagues, his skating makes up for it. In the bigs, he gets exposed. May be a maturity thing, may be who he is.

      • Baalzamon

        Late bloomer? People talk about Kylington like they think he’s 25. He’s 21. This season for him is analogous to Brodie’s 2011/2012 season (in which he started in the AHL before cracking a much shallower defense corps full time).

        Do you hear Oilers fans giving up on Ethan Bear (who by the way is much worse defensively)? Of course you don’t.

        • Stu Gotz

          Not sure about Oiler fans and Ethan Bear but my my focus is on Kylington. Always liked this kid. NHL speed, skill & quickness. Peters & others really worked hard on this kid’s defensive game in camp. Hopefully he can continue to develop in Stockton. My personal view on young prospects is that unless you are a 1st rounder you need to be knocking on the door at 21. I’ll give goalies a few more years. My view may be different than yours.

      • Porcupine at a balloon party

        Wouldn’t say he’s a late bloomer or have a narrow window. He’s 21. Pretty typical for defenceman to take longer to develop. I’m pretty confident he can make NHL. Whether that’s as a top 4 PP QB specialist or as a Puck moving 5/6 guy, tough to say, but guys with his puck and skating skill sets are not high in supply. It’s just a matter of putting it all together for him, which there’s still a lot of runway for him to do.

    • BendingCorners

      Expansion draft rules don’t distinguish between NHL and AHL experience. They are both considered professional leagues. Valimaki will be exempt if the expansion draft is in June 2020. He will not be exempt if the draft is in June 2021, unless he returns to Junior before he plays his 10th game.

      • mrroonie

        It would be foolish to send him down now based on the extremely low probability that there could be construction delays that prevent the Seattle arena from opening in 2020. That is the only possible scenario where the expansion draft would be in 2021.

  • The GRAND BALLSUCKER

    I used to be with it, but then they changed what “it” was, and now what I’m with isn’t it. And what’s “it” seems weird and scary to me.

  • Skylardog

    Vali has been fine, however one stat sticks out like a sore thumb.

    He is 0 GF and 5 GA when on the ice with Mony and JG.

    It might be time to manage when he goes out on a shift making sure it is with any one of the other lines.

    Is it Vali’s bad play, or a lack of defensive help from the 1st line guys when they are together? Not sure.

    • Puck Head

      You know that the idea of breaking up Mony and Johnny is viewed by many as blasphemy. That said, there are heretics in the crowd who buy into what you are preaching.

      • Falung_69

        While Sid is in town
        Can Anyone tell Johnny To Ask Sid
        How he has dealt with all the bashing he has dealt with
        And….
        Actually led the league and won sum cups
        And….
        Still Got
        Hacked
        Bashed
        & Cheap shotted
        On the way to
        WINNING !!!!!
        Quit whining kid
        Stick Up for me
        Is not what a winner does
        Ask Sid

        • Atomic Clown

          While I agree Johnny does tend to whine a bit, there’s stark differences between him and Crosby. One’s a genuine generational talent, probably one of the 3 beat players to ever play hockey. He’s also built like an oak tree, is 6 feet, and has phenomenal lower body strength. Crosby is the the world’s most talented grinder, Johnny is a smaller dude that relies on agility and quick hands. And don’t forget, during the first couple years of Crosby’s career, he was called a baby for how much he whined. I’ve never seen a more old school way of thought in any sport other than hockey

  • Luter 1

    Obviously going to be a good player but trading Kulak forced you to burn a valuable year of contract. Will he make that much of a difference in his first year? Probably would have benefitted from a year in Stockton and let Ras and Kulak who were partners in Stockton play together then dump Stones contract at year end. Short sighted

  • Kensington

    When you are playing as the 5/6 d man it makes more sense to send him down to the AHL. Only if you are playing a top 4 role on d should you be kept up. A dman of his quality could be making a wide range of salaries once his first contract is up and the savings of ie:2-4 million in any year on the salary cap adds an extra player (or better player) when it comes to signing Free agents or your own players. The smart decision is to not waste these “gift” years!

  • TKO

    first of all – has anyone noticed how Giordano is still at the top of his game? to all those talking of his age, the man is still one of the best defenders in the league
    next – Brodie has to be on notice by now, with Rasmuss taking his place along Gio becoming a real possibility. the thing with Brodie – he does great until he doesn’t, then his one mistake ends up in the back of the net. his decision making… is like, WTF

    • everton fc

      Trading Brodie makes us very thin on “d”…

      Unless you are bringing back someone like Borowiecki… Or Gudas… Unfortunately, both are on teams that need them.

      Keep Valimaki here. And, as much as I like Lindholm and Hanifin… Moving Ferland will prove costly. It already has.