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.
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.
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
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|
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.
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
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.