70Juuso Valimaki
Photo Credit: Candice Ward/USA Today Sports

WWYDW: When should Juuso Valimaki make his return to the NHL?

The Flames have an impressive defensive group this year, but there’s one player who’s missing: Juuso Valimaki.

Valimaki last played in the NHL on Nov. 23, when he sustained an ankle injury playing 17:47 in a loss to the Golden Knights. He missed two months of action before he was sent to the AHL, and dressed for his first game back on Jan. 25 for the Heat. Since then, he’s played 13 minor league games, scoring two goals and putting up nine points in that time.

Also recall that the Flames love Valimaki: he was a player they were absolutely not willing to part with, which took them out of the running for a trade deadline deal to acquire Mark Stone. Considering Valimaki’s ceiling – and remember, he’s still only 20 years old – it was a smart long-term move. There’s very real potential for him to take over as a top pairing defenceman one day.

But that’s the future. For the now, the Flames are all but officially in the playoffs, and working to solidify home ice advantage (and perhaps to avoid a nasty first round divisional matchup, as well). They currently have eight defencemen at their disposal:

Giordano Brodie
Hanifin Hamonic
Kylington Andersson
Fantenberg Prout

And that number should go up to 10 once Michael Stone returns from his conditioning stint, and whenever Valimaki gets called up.

Which begs the question: when should Valimaki get brought back up to the NHL?

There are a few factors to consider here: in the AHL, Valimaki gets to play top pairing minutes and continue rounding his game back into form. He’s been impressive, but we have to remember this is still just his first year as a professional; missing two months due to injury takes its toll and there’s no sense in overwhelming him this early in his career. Furthermore, though the Heat’s playoff hopes look poor, they’re still alive, and Valimaki undoubtedly helps them a fair bit.

On the other hand, with all apologies to the Heat, but we know for a fact the Flames will be in the playoffs, while the Heat would have to perform something of a miracle to get there. Valimaki will almost certainly be spending his spring in Calgary as the Flames look to contend not just for the future, but right now. He’s a rookie who made the NHL out of training camp and increasingly looked like he belonged until he was injured, and he’s someone the Flames, in all likelihood, will want to have available for the playoffs.

If Valimaki is in the NHL postseason, then he’ll need to get some NHL games in beforehand – if not just for his own sake for reacclimatizing to the competition level, then for the Flames’ sake so they can reevaluate him and determine if he’s a preferred option to someone like Oliver Kylington, who has taken over his spot and has already played 36 NHL games this season compared to Valimaki’s 22 (not to mention the fact that he simply has more professional experience).

There are 16 games remaining in the Flames’ regular season, nine of which will be played in Calgary. In other words, very little travel fatigue should be affecting the team through March: they have a back-to-back in Vegas and Arizona, one-off nights in Winnipeg and Vancouver, and then a three-game trip through California to close things out.

Along the way, the Flames face a number of weaker opponents who won’t even be fighting to make the playoffs: nine of their remaining games will be against teams that are pretty much done, including seven of their last nine.

Stone will likely be back in the NHL in time for the Flames’ game against the Blue Jackets on March 19, their 10th last game of the season. Would that be a good time to call Valimaki up, as well: a time when the group already knows they have another player to try to get back up to speed, with a relatively easy schedule from that point onwards? (A potential bonus: might Valimaki and Stone be partners in Stockton?)

Or would that be unideal for the Flames, who will likely still be fighting to try to win the Pacific Division crown, to have two defencemen playing in the lineup when pivotal points are probably still on the line? Would alternating them between games work instead? Would such a move be fair to, say, Kylington, the most likely of the present regulars to draw out of the lineup? Would it even make sense, considering how Rasmus Andersson has already passed Stone on the depth chart; is there an expectation for him to draw in at all – and should he get ice time?

For that matter, should Valimaki, or has that ship sailed for the season?

When would you want Valimaki playing in the NHL again, if at all? Is he someone the Flames should look to dress in the playoffs, and if so, what would your plan be to get him back up to NHL speed? What would you do?

  • Orrwasbest

    Again why did we trade for Phantom? He is 5 on my depth chart for LD and shouldn’t see the ice again this season except for injury. Valimaki has the highest ceiling and should be playing right now in the NHL as he is better defensively then Kyl. We have 4 really strong LD in my opinion and should rotate all except Gio to see who is the ideal pairings. I am not sold on Hanifin being better then Valimaki or Kyl.

  • cjc

    It’s probably prudent to see if Valimaki is up to speed and whether he’d be an upgrade over Kylington. If that means that Kylington rests for a few meaningless games at the end of the season, no big deal. Kylington’s underlying numbers are slightly worse than Valimaki’s, though there is not much in it.

    A few things though – Doesn’t Stone need to come up after his LTI stint? In which case, who goes down? Kylington is waiver exempt, but maybe it’s Prout instead? Where does Fantenberg fit in? Has looked good in his two games, and I can see him getting more of a shot, if only to help settle the team down defensively. Does Lazar get sent back and the team carries 9 D? Lots of moving parts here.

    • Skylardog

      No one needs to go down. The roster is unlimited after the TDL, but you do have to come in under the cap by season end. The Flames had built up a reported $4.5 million in excess cap space. It is actually counterproductive now to send anyone up as bringing them back will cost us one of the 3 remaining callups.

      Stone is already a cap hit for us and has been all the way along through his injury.

    • Dougiefred

      Correct me if I am wrong but believe that after trade deadline the number of players on the roster does not matter. However the team must remain cap compliant. Thus the reason for accumulating cap space thought the season.

  • Skylardog

    Regarding the idea of running a playoff hockey pool

    I checked out Officepools and it looks good but has a $20 fee, not a huge problem, but I am thinking we should try and run 2 or 3 pools for the playoffs. I have never used the site before and have mainly stuck to the ESPN site which is free. But it only would allow for a draft style pool.

    1. We definitely need a box pool where everyone could pick their guys from checkboxes. An unlimited number of players could play in this format for overall FlamesNation bragging rights. Everyone would have to sign in using an email address. This can be done on office pools. Could run it as a free pool for everyone.

    2. On the last night of the NHL season, Saturday, April 6, the Flames play Edmonton in the 8 o’clock game on HNIC. My thought is that we head to a good spot to watch the game and run a draft for those few that would like to enter. The nice thing is, that with both ESPN and Officepools, online draft tools are available meaning people could be included even if they can’t make it to the site. It is always fun to play for money on these, but who do we all trust and know to hold cash until a winner is determined? If anyone has a solution to this problem, please let me know. I am thinking of Shanks South although it may be too busy. I would also have to confirm they has adequate access to WiFi.

    3. Officepools also offers a roster type pool where you could pick a lineup of say 12 players. Unlike a draft, each player can be chosen on multiple, or even on all entries. It would allow an unlimited number of people to play. I would look at having people submit new rosters for each round if possible.

    Note that no playoff pools are yet appearing on these sites as it is too early.

    Thoughts?

    • Ari Yanover

      I don’t have anything to add to this right now, just wanted to note I’m reading all of these suggestions and taking them into account, and will absolutely be working on getting something good and proper set up.

      This is a really unhelpful comment from me, just don’t want anyone to think FN is ignoring these ideas as they come in!

      • Skylardog

        We don’t think that at all. We know you said something would happen later in the month.

        I have time on my hands. I am at home for the week, and should be doing taxes and a few other tasks. But FN is a great way to procrastinate.

        • Skylardog

          I have a less used email that I would use to run this if it falls on me. You may have issues with me having your info. You will have to decide. I will take emails and then do invites based on interest.

          The other way is to have a large pool as discussed, and have a sign in code we could make available. At the end of the day, someone is still getting your email info.

          I am prepared to post my less used email if it comes to that. For the most part it would serve no other purpose.

    • HOCKEY83

      I use office pools all the time and have been running a playoff and regular season pool for 35 years. The format should be open pool not box pool. as an example my playoff pool is pick any 20 players…no goalies
      goal – 1point
      assist -1 point
      short handed goal – 1 extra point
      game winning goal – 1 extra point
      gordie how hat trick – 2 extra points
      hat trick – 3 extra points

      • HOCKEY83

        Office pools offers a link so anyone can go in and create their own team. It’s quite easy you just type in the first couple of letters of the player name you want and in most cases in automatically populates that players name for you. You just have to have a designated administrator to run it. It’s so simple as I said I run both regular season and playoffs from office pools.

  • Kzak

    I think we stick with our main 5 and cycle in Stone, the Phantom, and Kyller for the remainder of the season. As far as Vali goes, he should go down to the AHL to get himself back in top condition and ready if we need him in the playoffs.

    • wot96

      He could as easily get injured playing big minutes in the AHL as the NHL, though. Perhaps more easily with the not good enough to be tweeners running around trying to make big hits.

  • cornwallroyals

    Just a thought regarding the upcoming Seattle draft. If Valimaki only plays a certain number of games this year at the NHL level, does he still need to be protected or does it not matter and he would need to be protected regardless? Anybody know what his status would be?

    • JMK

      I thought I saw somewhere at the start of season that if he played more than 9 games he would need to be protected but I also remember some confusion around it. So sorry that is not a very definitive answer, I’ll see if I can find anything on it.

      • Ari Yanover

        Pretty sure you’re right – the first year of his ELC was burned this year, and next season, he’ll have played two years. He’ll need to be protected.

    • JMK

      Sorry I’m wrong Valimaki is not eligible no matter what happens. As per Ryan Pike:
      “Not eligible for expansion selection, due to having completed two pro seasons by the expansion draft, are Juuso Valimaki, Dillon Dube, Glenn Gawdin, Nick Schneider and Matthew Phillips.”

      • Albertabeef

        Pike is wrong. Considering all those players will have played at least 3 pro seasons they will all be eligible to be taken at the expansion draft. It’s two FULL seasons away. 2021!!!!! We are guaranteed we are loosing someone, but only one someone. 3 summers away seems like wasted stress from this fan’s perspective. Also not worth stressing about when you know back door deals can be made. TDL is gone, all we should do is enjoy whatever ride we get now this season, and worry about the expansion sometime closer to summer 2021.

        * All first- and second-year professionals, as well as all unsigned draft choices, will be exempt from selection (and will not be counted toward their club’s applicable protection limits).

  • Off the wall

    I love Valamaki. I’m a bit concerned with the amount of injuries he’s sustained in his young career.

    I don’t think we should throw him into playoffs, where he could potentially be injured again.

    Let him play out in Stockton this season, build up some strength and let him start next season fresh.

    I don’t trust Kylington for playoffs either, he can be exploited defensively. The Leafs already showed us that.

    Hopefully Stone,Fantenberg and Prout will be enough for the postseason. All have experience and are the type of defence we’ll need. Simple, hard checking and tough.

    Kylington sits, he’s not ready for NHL playoff hockey yet…

    • Skylardog

      Ky bashing will get you in huge trouble with the faithful OTW.

      So to take the heat off I will give you my D list I want to see for the playoffs.

      Gio-Ras
      Hani-Hamo
      Fant-Prout/Stone

      That should put you back in the good books right away. And no, I did not miss anyone…

    • Albertabeef

      I don’t trust Hanafin or Hamonic for the playoffs either. Maybe we could cancel the playoffs till next year. Gio only has 8 playoff games experience(4 in the last 10 years), we clearly can not trust him either. STFU! Let em all play and gain this valuable experience.

    • Albertabeef

      Roster yes, does not mean they HAVE to play him. He is a physical player so he could be useful come playoff time. He may also be a liability come playoff time too. Good that we have options though.

  • Bawcos

    Love this guy, but, should never had played game 10. One more slide year means he gets his first post ELC, the same year Gio’s deal expires. Love Gio, but this makes for perfect cap management. Plus how good is Kylington? Was it really worth it?

  • I am in the camp again of proper roster/cap management. Val shouldn’t have played 10 games. Now that his first year is burned what is the point of keeping him in the AHL? No offense to Stockton’s Finest but who cares about playoffs for the AHL if we can have him up helping the NHL team win games?