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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Determining Calgary’s ideal top six a difficult but worthwhile exercise

What does Calgary’s ideal blueline look like in the playoffs? Assuming good health, the Flames are going to have a ton of options to consider on their back end come April. With the deadline addition of Oscar Fantenberg and the availability of Michael Stone and Juuso Valimaki, Calgary will have plenty to consider, both in terms of personnel and alignment. There’s a lot to consider but an ideal top six does exist, at least from what we’ve seen through 64 games.

THE OPTIONS

Give the Flames credit; they’ve cultivated a deep group of NHL defenceman. After Fantenberg’s debut on Wednesday night, Calgary has dressed 10 different D-men in game action this season. Based on minutes played, the depth chart looks roughly like this:

Mark Giordano-TJ Brodie
Noah Hanifin-Travis Hamonic
Oliver Kylington-Rasmus Andersson
Juuso Valimaki-Dalton Prout
Oscar Fantenberg-Michael Stone

The good news if you’re a Flames fan is if injuries happen come the playoffs, you can be somewhat comfortable with any of the depth players above stepping in. As much as Prout and Stone have been criticized in some circles, they’ve generally been fine in the roles asked of them, while Andersson, Kylington, and Valimaki have all shown plenty of promise.

In saying that, there’s still an ideal look for Calgary’s blueline, assuming the team doesn’t run into significant injuries. We can start to flesh that out by looking at everyone’s underlying metrics, excluding Fantenberg’s one-game sample size.

Player GP CF% HDCF% OSZ%
Mark Giordano 62 56.5 53.4 50.9
TJ Brodie 63 54.9 52.3 51.0
Travis Hamonic 53 53.7 54.8 52.1
Michael Stone 11 53.2 39.7 57.5
Noah Hanifin 64 51.6 51.0 49.8
Dalton Prout 14 50.7 53.5 65.2
Juuso Valimaki 22 50.0 47.6 64.1
Oliver Kylington 35 48.6 48.9 59.6
Rasmus Andersson 61 48.4 48.1 57.0

There’s a few easy decisions here. The pairing of Hanifin and Hamonic has been one of the team’s biggest constants and they’ve played well, so keeping them together is a no-brainer. Obviously, Giordano’s status as the anchor of Calgary’s top pair remains set in stone, too. Beyond that, though, nothing is cemented, which makes for some really fun conversations. In fact, Giordano’s influence on this team plays a big part of how things ideally shake out.

THE GIO EFFECT

Mark Giordano

We all know how well Giordano has played this year. As such, it should come as no surprise he’s significantly elevated whoever has been on his right side. Brodie has drawn that honour most of the year, however we’ve seen Andersson used in that role regularly over the last few games. As you can see, Giordano’s ability to elevate can’t be overstated.

Player TOI with CF% with TOI without CF% without
TJ Brodie 879:51 56.7 207:51 47.2
Rasmus Andersson 101:52 56.5 689:52 47.3

The results with and without Giordano are almost identical for Brodie and Andersson, albeit with different sample sizes, which makes things really interesting. Brodie’s ability to play both sides adds another wrinkle, too. I’ve quite liked Andersson with Giordano, while Brodie’s play on the top pair has been hit and miss of late.

When they’ve elected to bump Andersson up the depth chart, the Flames have moved Brodie from the right to the left side on a different pairing. Because seemingly anyone can play with the captain, I lean more towards using Andersson there as opposed to Brodie. Doing so allows personnel to be spread out in a more even fashion without a drop-off at the top.

CONCLUSION

So now things are starting to come together a little more. At least the way I see it, something like this makes a lot of sense under ideal circumstances:

Mark Giordano-Rasmus Andersson
Noah Hanifin-Travis Hamonic
TJ Brodie-?????

There’s a lot to unpack here, starting with the final piece on the third pair. The thing is, that slot isn’t shot-dependent; because Brodie can play either side, Calgary can go either way there. As of now, it comes down to three potential options for me: Kylington, Valimaki, or Stone. That’s no knock on Fantenberg; I just haven’t seen enough of him in a Flames uniform to form an opinion.

Of the three, Kylington has played the most, but his play has dipped over the last number of weeks. He’s a gifted skater, but I have concerns about Kylington’s play in his own zone, which isn’t an ideal fit for the playoffs. Stone, on the other hand, has a lot of uncertainty surrounding him; he hasn’t played since November thanks to a blood clot.

That leaves Valimaki, and I really think he’s the ideal number six come the postseason. Because they only have three recalls remaining before the end of the season, it’s likely Calgary doesn’t recall Valimaki from Stockton until closer to April. General manager Brad Treliving says he’s back up to speed after returning from a high ankle sprain, but a few more weeks in the AHL should really help Valimaki jump right into playoff hockey.

The best news for the Flames is how many options they have on the back end. Injuries are going to happen, especially if Calgary goes as deep as they hope. Having multiple viable options gives Calgary a great deal of versatility and I’m fascinated to see what decisions they end up making.

  • Inglewood

    Best case scanrio is that Valimaki is our best option to fill out the top 6 at that time. No knock on the others, it just means he’s progressed and ready to go. Compile that with the most upside, and I’m sure swapping Brody with Rasmus would go seamlessly as well. All rookie pairing to round off the D pairings, seeing their 1st playoff action. What an overload of anxious and exciting energy for fans.

  • MDG1600

    My only comment is that I would like to see Gio’s ice time reduced so that he has something in the tank for the playoffs. Its all well and good that he is having a career year at 35 but he is playing big minutes and I do think his age will start to show as the season progresses. I am sure someone will say he is always the fittest Flame but fitness can’t overcame age.

    • Kevin R

      A little too soon yet, 8-10 more games will give us a pretty good idea if we have a battle for that Division Title. Then I agree start reducing ice time & roll the pairings with equal ice time. Same with forwards that might be nicked up.

    • Hockeysense9393

      Gio isn’t like most NHL 35 year olds…we must remember that. He only really has about 10 years of NHL havoc on his career. He is actually quite the young 35 year old as players go in this league. I truly think that he has a good year or two before Hanifin (or someone else) pushes him down the depth chart. Even then he could have 3-5 great years as an actual “defensive” option, because of his high hockey IQ and training. I can’t really mention Lidstrom, because he was just a beast (probably get 60 points today). Comparatively though, he has had a short(er) career. This is mentioned all the time and I am a believer…Gio could be a top liner for the duration of his contract and deserve it.

    • FlamesFanOtherCity

      That’s the direction I was headed. Since Fandenburg can play either side, pairing him with one of Brodie (RD), Kylington (LD), or Valimaki (LD) seems like the obvious choice if you are down a man.

      Gio-Ras
      Hanifin-Hamonic
      Fantenburg(Kylington or Valimaki)-Brodie
      or
      Gio-Brodie
      Hanifin-Hamonic
      Fantenburg(Kylington or Valimaki)-Ras

  • Heeeeere’s Johnny

    Pat I would also consider Dalton Prout depending on the playoff matchup. I don’t think he has looked out of place in the more sheltered minutes that he has gotten, and that his simple game, functional toughness (and nuclear deterrent) may be something worth considering at times. Brodie and Prout have looked good together as well.

    • MOlson

      I agree completely. They may have to play Prout every single series. And if a series requires the presence of Prout, that most likely means the smurfs (Mangiapane/Czarnik) are useless. So, who should be the 7th D playing on the 4th line should be up for discussion? (To cover for Prouts penalty minutes). Valimaki is in the best position to play the rest of the year in Stockton at forward.

    • UpTkachuk

      Fantenberg and Prout could be utilized against heavier opponents. They are both physical and responsible. I doubt you’d get much in the way of scoring from them, but that is not why they are here. Their utilization would be very much dependent on situation and the health of those above them on the depth chart.

    • Lazarus

      If this is in fact true someone should tell Peters as this would be a major game changer.
      Oh wait..Peters, Cherry, anyone with a brain knows Brodie without Gio is nothing

    • freethe flames

      He has been much better on the RHS which is why I suggested playing him on the third pairing with either Valimaki or the Phantom. I would avoid him and Kyler b/c both sometimes can have defensive mind cramps.

        • freethe flames

          Yet both he a Gio are having career years; there is something to be said about them helping each other. I’m not saying that Gio does not help TJ more but Tj does seem to fit with Gio and give him a longer leash. There have been plenty of games in which TJ saved Gio’s butt because of his skating. In no way am I saying that TJ is better than Gio or that TJ is not helped by Gio but this narrative on how bad TJ is grows old very quickly. As quickly as WW bashing Backs.

  • Lazarus

    Peters is slowly phasing Brodie out playing Rasmus in the top slot from time to time. A practice I endorse. Brodie is in his way out and good to see a Coach that recognizes this and is not blinded by his skating which a lot of fans are lol. Those would be the ones still wearing Bouwmeester jerseys

  • Rudy27

    I don’t know if I’d jump on the Valimaki is our best choice for the third pairing bandwagon just yet. He’s only played the first quarter of the season when all the teams are still adjusting to the new season, and sometimes new teammates. Playing during this half of the season with the playoffs in sight and three quarters of the season behind them would be a better indication of his readiness.

  • Orrwasbest

    With Anderson able to play 1st D minutes and Brodie 1st/3rd/either side……… seems to me only one opening and that’s probably a battle between Kyl and Val for the 6 spot. If any of the rookies falter under playoff pressure we have vets waiting in the wings nice scenario to have. To me if you are going to go with your most talented lineup to start the playoffs I think you go with the rookies.

  • Baceda

    Gio – Andersson (assuming he’s not over his head playing top pair in the playoffs)
    Hanifin – Hamonic
    Brodie – Prout (Prout can play a simple solid stay at home role and be a threatening physical presense and Brodie can jump up into plays and try and create offense against the other teams lesser lines)
    depth:
    1 Valimaki
    2 Fantenberg
    3 Kylington
    4 Stone
    5 Adam Ollas Mattsson 😉

  • SeanCharles

    I think the more interesting debate is what happens with these 10 guys come the offseason as you would have to think all 10 will not be back.

    I think the few things we know for a fact are:
    – Gio, Hanifin, Hamonic, Andersson and Valimaki will all be back
    – We should try to trade Stone to free up cap space and a roster spot
    – Re-signing Prout and Fantenberg to cheap deals as #7/8 dmen is not a bad idea

    I think next season the organization will have to make a choice on if they prefer keeping Brodie or Kylington as I don’t know how they can play both in the top 6 when the other 5, mentioned above, are most likely a lock to play when healthy.

    Whatever shakes out in the offseason its nice to have 10 capable guys for the playoffs, I think in the playoffs the top 6 will be:

    Gio-Brodie
    Hanifin-Hamonic
    Valimaki-Andersson

  • deantheraven

    If the Flames have a lock on top spot in the West, play Stone & Vali for a few games to see where they’re at. I’m not as worried about Kyllington as many here but I wouldn’t mind resting and maybe Ras. I think both would benefit, from the rest and the view from above.
    If Vali looks great, I’d sit Brodie for a game or two and let the Young’uns skate.
    But in the end, I’m not know for being risk averse and wonder if coaching and Mgmnt share my optimism. The Phantom and Prout have more experience than all three rookies. It might depend on who the 1st round match up is.