Every NHL team deals with injuries. But with four players on the injured reserve and none projected to return to action anytime soon, the Flames may be starting to feel the pain of having so many bodies lost.
With actual expectations forming this year – the Flames are in contention to win the Pacific Division, to speak nothing of their place near the top of the Western Conference – a question arises: are they a deep enough team to overcome this, or should they be looking at adding more players?
The Flames are currently missing the services of Mikael Backlund, Michael Frolik, Michael Stone, and Juuso Valimaki. The only other player who’s had the misfortune of going on the Flames’ injured reserve long-term so far this season is Travis Hamonic.
The four absences have resulted in a fair share of AHL call-ups. Depending on the position, things are either going relatively well, or are in a questionable state.
Hamonic’s injury was something of a blessing in disguise: it allowed for Rasmus Andersson to be called up. He played so well he won a permanent roster spot on the Flames, improving the group as a whole.
Something similar may be happening in regards to Valimaki’s injury and the opportunity it’s afforded Oliver Kylington: while Valimaki performed well over the course of his 22 NHL games, Kylington has had several years’ worth of professional experience in North America. It looks like all that time in the AHL is paying off, as Kylington has really started to make an impact over the course of the seven games he’s played this season – and, of all the Flames’ rookie defencemen, he’s had the most dynamic game after being named first star in a 5-2 win over the Predators.
The only time the Flames have really felt squeezed on defence so far this year was during Mark Giordano’s suspension, which forced Dalton Prout into the lineup for back-to-back games. However, Prout is the Flames’ ninth defenceman, and I’m not sure there’s a team in the NHL that wouldn’t have at least some concerns about having to play their ninth best defenceman frequently.
The Flames have lucked out in their defensive injuries in that it would seem every single one of their big three prospects is ready for prime time. Two defencemen on the injured reserve isn’t ideal, but doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a position the Flames should have to worry about upgrading – particularly when four of their top seven guys are all 22 or younger.
Here’s where things get a little dicier for the Flames, if only because of the quality of player lost in Backlund, who has been the team’s fifth best forward all season, all the while playing a pivotal shutdown role.
Coming off of a down year in scoring, the Flames spent most of their offseason bolstering their forward depth. It’s certainly helped: the Flames initially fared just fine when they lost Frolik (and Jaromir Jagr soon after), but their season began to unravel just before he returned from injury. It was a year in which they had no choice but to play Garnet Hathaway on the third line; now, at least, the team has options when someone underperforms, rather than being forced to ask guys to play above their level.
But the Flames’ AHL forwards don’t seem as ready as their defencemen did to step straight in the NHL. Dillon Dube needs time at a lower level; Andrew Mangiapane looks solid, but he’s horribly snakebitten. Alan Quine is looking great over the two games he’s played for the Flames, but it’s only been two games, and he’s a bit older than the defensive call-ups: he’s likely not a long-term solution, but at worst seems to be a serviceable one for the time being.
The forward group doesn’t look like it’s patched together with duct tape, at the least, but it’d certainly look a lot more formidable with both Backlund and Frolik present, whereas replacing Stone and Valimaki with Andersson and Kylington doesn’t seem to be that much of a problem at all.
And so that brings the question: knowing the Flames will be without their four players on the injured reserve for at least a little while longer yet, do you believe the team has the depth already in place to work through their absences? Or would you maybe look to add to it via a trade – something the Flames might be looking to do towards the trade deadline, anyway, as it looks like they may very well be buyers this year? Should they be preparing for any future additional injuries as well, or will they be able to handle those?
How would you get through this spell of injuries? What do you think the Flames should do for the time being?