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.