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|
|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.