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WWYDW: What’s the future of the Flames’ defence?

Let’s take a moment and get a little ahead of ourselves: the Flames have what looks like a stellar group of defencemen, with the added possibility that all of their highly touted prospects work out. That begs the question, then: what will the Flames’ defence look like in the near future?

The Flames struggled to round out their top four for a couple of seasons. Beyond Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie, they really didn’t have much to write home about; later adding Dougie Hamilton helped with that, but having a Kris Russell or Dennis Wideman playing top four minutes hurt the case that they had a formidable defensive group.

Trading for Travis Hamonic during the 2017 offseason was supposed to fix that. Though there have been some bumps along the way, it looks like the Flames finally got what they set out for: Giordano and Brodie have reunited and look just as impressive as ever before, Hamonic has settled in, and Noah Hanifin is looking increasingly strong in a Flames uniform.

But then, there’s the other little wrinkle to the defensive group of the team at the top of their division: their bottom pairing is comprised of rookies. Just rookies.

Juuso Valimaki made the Flames out of camp, and it looks increasingly unlikely he’ll ever play a game in the AHL (barring something like a conditioning stint). When Hamonic got hurt, the Flames were forced to call up Rasmus Andersson; when Hamonic returned to action, Andersson had played so well he’d forced Michael Stone out of the lineup (all this before his recent and extremely unfortunate blood clot troubles).

And now, another injury has thrown things further into the mix. With Valimaki out, the Flames brought up their next best option: Oliver Kylington, a 21-year-old with nearly 200 games of professional North American experience despite barely setting foot on NHL ice. Like Valimaki had the chance to prove himself at the start of the season and Andersson got the opportunity due to Hamonic’s injury, now, Kylington has the chance to show he belongs in the NHL: if not on a full time basis now, then perhaps soon.

Therein lies the slight wrinkle. Of course, you hope Kylington is everything he was expected to be. But if it turns out he truly is an NHLer… what then?

Let’s review the eight main contenders for spots in the Flames’ lineup, assuming everyone’s healthy and okay to play.

Defenceman Age Cap hit Years left on deal
Giordano 34 $6.75 M 4
Brodie 28 $4.65 M 2
Hamonic 28 $3.857 M 2
Stone 28 $3.5 M 2
Hanifin 21 $4.95 M 6
Andersson 21 $756 K 2 (ELC)
Kylington 21 $731 K 2 (ELC)
Valimaki 19 $894 K 3 (ELC)

Assuming everyone plays to their potential, then the Flames are actually set up pretty well for the future. The trio of 28-year-olds all come off the books in two seasons, right when two of the 21-year-olds are due for their second contracts.

Hanifin probably isn’t going anywhere; not when he has so much NHL experience at such a young age, looks pretty good out there more often than not, and has been signed to such a long deal. Neither is Valimaki; he made the NHL as a teenager and no doubt the Flames would like to hold onto him for as long as possible. As for Giordano, while his contract is the most precarious of them all, he remains the Flames’ best defenceman and might actually be ageless at this rate; throw in the fact he’s the captain and it’s hard to see him going anywhere.

For the relatively near future, that leaves three presumed locks: Giordano, Hanifin, and Valimaki, all left shots. (Let’s worry about the threat of an expansion draft at a later date; the Flames could always swing some deal that would make any concerns null and void.) Andersson (right shot) is probably sticking around as well, while Stone likely isn’t (his spot in the lineup had already been taken by a couple of rookies).

That leaves three players for two spots: Brodie and Hamonic as older defencemen who play the right side and may command a raise, and the still unknown potential that is a left-shot Kylington, who will almost certainly be cheaper to retain.

Earlier this might not have been a debate, but both Brodie and Hamonic have been looking fantastic as of late, rounding out that promise of a formidable Flames defensive group. Both have stellar possession ratings with similar zone starts. Both present modest scoring ability, though Brodie has far greater offensive potential. Both are, well, good players.

It begs the question: at this early a stage in the realignment of the Flames’ defence, what do you think you would do? Does handedness matter? Does it make sense to try to keep all seven players in the NHL? Would you rather try to trade someone to address another need or strengthen another part of the lineup (and would it be a veteran or one of the rookies still with potential to fulfil)? Do you finally balk at Giordano’s age? Or would you eventually just let a talented player walk?

If things continue as they have been, then the Flames look like they should be able to boast a formidable defensive group for several years to come. It might be a little crowded, but that’s preferred to the alternative.

There’s plenty of cause for excitement, particularly now that we get to see if Kylington has it in him to finally join this group – but plenty of cause for speculation, as well.

  • freethe flames

    A great about the future of the D core will depend on who they draft over the next few years. Will the players they draft be as good as the last few defenders they draft? Currently the cupboards are pretty bare in the AHL with AOM being the best prospect they have and he is signed only to an AHL deal. Nielsen the guy they picked up in the Klimchuk trade might have some potential.

    Of course you can always sign a ufa or two fill the gap but this preseason we saw the Flames reluctance to add some tweeners that would have bolstered the depth.

  • Flaming Glory

    First deal with kylington at the end of the season. No way he upsets the left side. Second draft like your life depends on it the next few years because it does.

    • Jessemadnote

      Does it though? Worst case scenario, at the end of next season our D looks like this: Gio 37, Ras 23, Hanifin 23, Kylington 23, Valimaki 21. I think cap space is a much bigger problem than organizational depth.

  • Fat Tony

    Step one is to Buyout Michael Stone in the off season. I would like to see him traded at the deadline but if someone gets injured before the playoffs I wouldn’t feel as comfortable having half of our defensive group being rookies when it matters most, whereas Stone has playoff experience. All of this of course is assuming that he his blood clot free by then. After that I believe in the next couple of years one of Brodie or Hamonic will be flipped for a high draft pick or prospect for a salary dump. Any thoughts?

    • freethe flames

      As I have said before a healthy Stone is a good insurance policy. Trading for a guy like Stone at the TD would be costly and I would prefer to keep the guy we have than pay a ransom for someone who does not know our system. Here’s hoping his health issues get resolved.

    • withachance

      I wouldnt say trading Stone in the offseason is a reach. Lots of teams will need defensive depth and he’s definitely a serviceable 3rd pairing guy. OTT might pick him up to appease Mark Stone to sign an extension?

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    I think the timing of the expansion draft plus contract extension talks with Brodie & Hamonic decide all of this for Tre. You make your depth list of your best defenders 1 to 7 or 8, you engage in discussions with Hamonic & Brodie’s agents. If someone is playing hardball you trade them for a pick or work out a deal related to expansion.

  • Burnward

    SO BRIGHT THEY NEED WELDING GOGGLES.

    Juuso: Probable 19 year old first pairing defenseman
    Ras: second pairing fo sho. 21
    Hanifin: second pairing already : 21
    Kylington: 21 and getting better and better. Maybe the best skater on the team.

    None are tiny. All can skate and think and play hockey.

    PLUS gio still has three left, TJ skates so well he could play til he’s 35.

    This Neilson kid is solid depth as is AOM

  • Rob Huck

    Assuming Kylington continues to develop and is capable of making the team out of camp, the best bet is to retain Hamonic and keep him with Hanafin. Then you trade Brodie and move up one of Ras or Valimaki to the top unit with Gio. Keep Stone until the end of his deal.

    • Kevin R

      Not sure about keeping Stone thing, 3.5 mill is way too much for a 7th D. But, I do agree with Hamonic is a keeper for the year after this. Thats a solid pairing & will pay dividends with Hanafin. Brodie is the puzzle. We have seen two pretty ugly seasons from him but he has totally rebounded ut for how long. If we were to trade him last year we would have been lucky to get a 2nd rounder for him, if he keeps up this pace, his value will be max come draft deadline. He would be the one to move me thinks.

      • Albertabeef

        Some people just don’t understand how much changing sides messes a person up. Muscle memory and instincts that have been built for 10+ years get thrown out the window. I completely blame GG for screwing up Brodie’s last two seasons.

  • Sven

    Anyone else spot this?

    “NHL Power Rankings: Calgary looks like the real deal”

    3. Calgary Flames (Last week : 6)

    I can honestly say I didn’t see this one coming at the start of the season.

    They lost the Dougie Hamilton trade, for sure, but right now it doesn’t look that way. Bill Peters is getting saves for the first time in forever, they’re putting up a ton of shots (and giving up too many, but y’know) and they look like they have actual talent throughout the lineup.

    I’m not counting on them to keep it up all year just because of who’s immediately behind them in the division (San Jose and Vegas, both more talented on paper, but not yet playing that way) but they look good, man.

    As a team they’re shooting 10 percent and that’s a smidge too high, but there miiiiight be something here. Especially if Mike Smith only starts occasionally.

    Ryan Lambert
    Yahoo sports / Puck Daddy
    November 27th

    • Kevin R

      Hamonic stays, plays more grittier & has really meshed well with Hanifin. Brodie right now is getting the Gio bump & our captain is increasing the return he is getting for Treliving, just like he did with Hamilton.

    • MDG1600

      I’d keep Hamonic because he is:
      a) Cheaper
      b) More versatile (Brodie seems to struggle away from Gio)
      c) A better penalty killer
      d) More physical (important for playoff hockey)

    • deantheraven

      Hamonic. Stronger, tougher, heart-and-soul player. Say what you want about Brodie’s return from wherever the hell he was last year and the year before, it appears he can only play with one guy. Hamonic has played well with that guy, too. And Brodie would never take a Gudbrandson uppercut to the chin to stick up for one of his teammates.
      If Brodie keeps up his level this year, he’ll be worth more at the deadline than Hammer anyway.
      Of course if he goes, that leaves a hole on the RD side of things that would be difficult to fill, to say the least. And on RD we have… Michael Stone. Is it possible that Ras jumps up to the top 4? Yes. But there will be holes unless we find another Valimaki (that shoots right) this Spring.
      Jeepers, OTW. Why you gotta ask all the tough questions?

      • Kevin R

        You cant trade Brodie now or at TDL, it would have to be at the draft. I wouldnt mess around with the mix right now while things are going good but I agree on all your points.

    • JoelOttosJock

      Hamonic. He is a better 200 foot dman. Brodie (even with the Gio bump) is the worst dman in his own zone, and not good enough offensively for his defensive lapses.

    • Chucky

      Brodie has talents that are hare to find, his puck handling and skating ability is exceptional.
      While I think Hamonic brings a lot to the team he has abilities that can be found elsewhere.
      So logic says keep Brodie, but it looks like Anderson has many of Brodie’s talents and will develop into a top pairing guy. Also the return for Brodie is higher.
      As unfair and unrealistic as the choice might be the a smart team would end up with Hamonic.

  • MDG1600

    I think Rittich’s play for the balance of the year might impact what happens to the D core. If Rittich falters as a #1 I really believe the Flames will have to raid the core of their D in order to get a starting goaltender next season. It could be by trade directly for a goalie or to dump salary to sign a UFA goalie. If Rittich looks like a legit #1 he will be an RFA and they can probably re-sign him at a decent price and give the team more flexability to keep all the D ( although ditching stones salary would be nice…).

    • Kevin R

      If kyllington improves here while Valamaki is out, you almost need to trade Brodie as well at the draft while return is significant. Chucky & Benny will probably cost you around 12.0 mill. If Riitch is our guy, him and a decent backup could be signed with Smith’s cap space we gain back.

  • JoelOttosJock

    In an ideal move, I’d trade gio over the summer, his foot speed is declining, he is too much money for what he brings, and the play of Hannifan, Valimakki, Anderson, and Hamonic is steadily progressing to be a formidable top 4.

      • wot96

        So his value is high? I don’t see this as a counter-argument. Love Gio. But look what happened to Chicago. I don’t think moving Gio should be off the table, especially not with pretty reasonable left side depth remaining..

        • withachance

          My point is why would a team trade its captain whos also a league elite defenceman? No matter which way you put it, you take Gio off this top 4 and the dcorps decreases in quality.

          His deal is done in 3 years for less than 7M, with the increasing cap and defenceman like Nurse asking for 6M and Karlsson asking for 10M i think its a decent contract. It shouldnt be off the table, but the Flames better get elite pieces back or else it sets the team back more than anything

      • Albertabeef

        Funny that every time Gio gets paired with TJ, Gio is a leader for the Norris. Two seasons with Hamy and I never heard anyone say that once. TJ needs more credit.

  • Flamesforever

    LOL when people say we lost the Hamilton trade.. he’s as soft as 2ply. Ferland will not resign with Carolina and Fox won’t sign at all. Giving up a 25 year old dman who just came off a “career” year curtesy of the Gio bump for 2 top 5 studs trapped in one of the worst markets in hockey.. ya I call that a win.

      • Albertabeef

        I love Ferly but where would he fit on the team now? He is a left winger and is most likely playing his natural left side in Carolina. If he came back it would have to be third line because he is not taking Johnny’s or Matty’s spots on the top two lines, at least not on the left side. I don’t see hime scoring 20-30 on a third line. Unless we can dump one of Czarnick Neal or Ryan we don’t have room on the right side either.

    • tank_06

      Yes I agree. Really liking the trade. Hanifan has been great and steady with hamonic. And Lindholm has been a beast so far this year in all aspects of the game.

  • L.Kolkind

    I remember when Kylington was first drafted I was out playing road hockey with my friends for day 2 of the draft because it’s so boring to watch. I ask my friend was looking at the draft where Kylington went and he said 60th… to Calgary and I knew Calgary’s picks and thought he made a mistake, but it turns out Calgary traded 2 third round picks to draft Kylington and that was the most excited for a Flames prospect I’ve been. Kylington’s skill level is, in my opinion, the highest of Valimaki, Hanafin, and Andersson. The trick is where does he fit?

    I think the best option is to have one of our left shots play on the right side and trade Brodie. I’m not sure who would be the best to play on the right-hand side and was thinking maybe Valimaki would be the easiest to convert. His game is more focused on making high IQ plays along with some speed and skill, while Hanifin and Kylington use a lot more speed and skill to their game so being able to skate up the wall on the left side could be more beneficial to them.

    • Korcan

      I remember hearing Peters mention that Hanafin can play right side. Maybe that would be an option, and have Valimaki move up alongside Hamonic, then play Kylington with Andersson.

  • SeanCharles

    The remainder of this season: Status quo

    Next season: Trade Stone; top 7: Gio, Brodie, Hanifin, Hamonic, Valimaki, Andersson, Kylington (and maybe some insurance on farm like Prout etc.)

    Next next season: Top 6 guaranteed – Gio, Hanifin, Valimaki, Andersson and Kylington (assuming he continues to progress). Make a decision between Brodie and Hamonic. IMO I think you really need to strongly consider keeping the guy who is more unique to our group: RHed, gritty, defensive dman who sticks up for teammates. Brodie is great and all but he shares a lot of the same attributes as Kylington and Hanifin. I think Hamonics skillset might be missed more so than Brodie’s and I don’t really like only having one right shot back there.

    Maybe you trade Brodie before next next season in order to get some value (i.e. A second goalie to roll with Rittich)?

    • Albertabeef

      You keep the younger faster skater in Brodie over Hamonic if you have to choose. They both may sign cap friendly deals if we continue to do well as a team. Consider the fact Gio will retire after “next next next season” most likely or be signed somewhere else as an old Dman. We may need to consider keeping Hammer and Broads. That’s the big picture right there.

  • The Beej

    Nothin wrong with 7 good defensemen.

    Stone is gone in a year or two.

    Other than the departure of Stone ai dont know if I would want to make any moves. It would depend on the salary and term you would need to give Brodie or Hamonic as to whether you resign them.

    To trade one of the D to address another area could leave the D really exposed in the event of injury or expansion draft and we are now right out of D prospects.

    Perhaps trading Brodie or Hamonic but I would want a young D with potential coming back or a highly rated D prospect. If you trade one to improve another area you could backfill with a UFA but UFAs are usually not the ideal path to take as you have to overpay. It makes just as much sense to resign Brodie or Hamonic at that point.

    If I was to trade Brodie or Hamonic then for sure I would want a D coming back as we are out of D prospects. In the future I can see Valimaki eventually replacing Gio. But for now I am pretty content not to make a move and just sit back and enjoy watching this Dcore.