96Juuso Valimaki
Photo Credit: Candice Ward/USA Today Sports

Juuso Valimaki injury leaves Flames with multiple questions

“Devastating is probably the best word to use here.”

That was Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving on Monday following the news of Juuso Valimaki’s shock knee injury. The 20-year-old defenceman sustained a torn ACL during off-season training in Finland and his indefinite absence leaves Calgary with important questions a month out from training camp.

How serious is the injury?

As of right now, we’re not exactly sure the answer to this one because it’s still so early. Valimaki sustained the injury last Friday and immediately informed the team what happened. From there, the Flames took some time to confer with their medical staff before making an announcement.

“Our staff was immediately in touch with him, in touch with the doctors over there,” Treliving said. “We got imaging done and imaging sent over, so we were unfortunately able to diagnose the injury fairly quickly. We’ll let the knee settle for a few days and then when he’s fit to travel we’ll get him to Calgary and proceed on with the process of getting him…a surgery done and on to the rehab phase.”

Of course, any knee injury of this nature is serious. What we don’t know, however, is how long term Valimaki is going to be on the sidelines for. Will he heal freakishly quick and be back on the ice by December? Or is this a catastrophic tear that’ll sideline him for the entire season. Calgary doesn’t even know that answer yet, which is why Treliving is being very cautious when talking about recovery timelines.

“We’re just saying it’s indefinite. Our medical team has a pretty good idea of what’s going on in there, but until you get in and get the repair done and sort of see exactly what is going on in there, we’re not going to put a timeline on it at this point. I will tell you this type of injury, though, you’re talking months not weeks.

“Having said that, he’s a young guy, he’s had to deal with an injury last year. We know the type of work ethic (he has) and the type of kid he is. Once we get him over to Calgary, once we get the surgical repair done, I think in the coming days and weeks we’ll have a better idea of timelines and what not.”

Who steps up?

“From a team perspective it’s next man up.”

Those words from Treliving might seem cold, but they also speak to the nature of pro sports. As gutted as the Flames are about Valimaki’s injury, all they can do is take the proper steps medically and move forward on the ice. As such, the focus turns to which player, or players, can take advantage of a newfound opportunity.

Valimaki was penned in for most on Calgary’s opening day roster. Sure, he might have been the team’s number six defenceman, but losing him still opens up a spot for someone else. The most obvious candidate to step up is Oliver Kylington after spending most of last season in the NHL. Kylington played 38 games with the Flames last year and enters his fifth professional season in North America at the age of 22.

“Oliver had a really good camp for us (last year),” Treliving said. “When Juuso went down with the ankle injury, Oliver stepped in and really played the majority of the year on our team. He’s a year older, he’s had another summer, he’s a year stronger and wiser and all those things. This certainly is a great opportunity for Oliver.

“You look at young (Alexander) Yelesin, we signed a guy in Brandon Davidson who battled some injuries last year. So internally there’s opportunity.”

If you’re putting together a defensive depth chart and potential pairings, below is a reasonable facsimile of how things might look to start the season, minus Valimaki.

Left Defence Right Defence
Mark Giordano Rasmus Andersson
Noah Hanifin Travis Hamonic
Oliver Kylington TJ Brodie
Brandon Davidson Alexander Yelesin
Rinat Valiev

While Calgary is still fairly flush at the top of their defensive chart, things are now a little more thin near the bottom. With Valimaki’s injury, Michael Stone’s buyout, and Oscar Fantenberg signing in Vancouver, the Flames are without three players they were comfortable using at different points last year. So, while Calgary still has internal options, they aren’t quite as plentiful as they were late last season.

“Certainly with this injury we’re going to be looking at our defence both internally and externally and see what other opportunities might be available to us,” Treliving told me. “That process has obviously started here over the course of the last couple days. We’ll see how this plays out over the course of the next little while here.”

What external options are there?

That was certainly an interesting revelation from Treliving, but you can understand where he’s coming from. The Flames feel they aren’t as deep on the back end as they were for most of last season, especially with Valimaki out for the foreseeable future.

“We’ll be trying to look under all the rocks here to see what may be available to us,” Treliving said. “From the UFA market, there’s certainly a number of players still looking for opportunities. There’s a number of players out there that we’ve stayed in touch with and continue to talk about.

“It’s probably safe to assume discussions specifically on our blueline now will pick up. We’ll talk internally with our staff and our people in the office, our scouting staff, and look at how do we address this now.”

Calgary has one fundamental issue, though: they aren’t blessed with cap space. With Matthew Tkachuk still unsigned, the Flames can’t be adding much salary right now, if any at all. The “take our bad contract” tweets I’ve gotten over the last few days(Cody Ceci, Kris Russell, Jack Johnson, among others) have been amusing, but not based in reality.

Instead, Calgary is likely looking at a reasonably priced (under $1 million) UFA defenceman or a PTO if they’re going down that road. The trade route, on the other hand, would have to see a bigger contract like Michael Frolik go the other way, likely with a sweetener, in exchange for a blueliner with a smaller cap hit. I’m not confident that’s in the cards, though, because I feel they would have moved Frolik already if there was a market.

The loss of a five-six defenceman isn’t the difference between a title and missing the playoffs. That’s where Valimaki was going to slot this season, which is why this loss in a bubble isn’t catastrophic. In saying that, the Flames have taken a hit to their defensive depth in recent weeks. Let’s see if they look to supplement from the outside or put their internal depth to the test.

  • buts

    Kylington played 2 years with pros in Europe prior to coming over I believe then he has had 2 full years in the AHL prior to last year with the Flames. The guy has paid his dues and doesn’t seem to get a lot of support from Peters and some support from BT. The guy deserves a shot, has tons of potential. Before the injury to Vali it seemed in wasn’t in the plans. What’s with this management, Byron, Kulak even Fantenberg, they let go of good players for nothing.

    • cjc

      I don’t think there is a tonne of evidence that he doesn’t get support from Peters (or BT). The question is always who he should displace and fact was he was the 4th best LD on the team. Instead of having him be the 7th D he played in Stockton and got the call once Val and Stone went down. It’s hard to see how he would play ahead of Gio, Hanifin or Valimaki. He’s got a huge opportunity now – perhaps he’ll even outshine Hanifin?

      Kulak was arguably going to be passed by Kylington on the depth chart – and it didn’t make sense to keep him around as a 7D, particularly since he would have required waivers. They recouped a couple of AHL bodies in Taormina and Valiev. Inarguably Montreal got the best player there, and you can argue that the return wasn’t great, but it was clear that Kulak wouldn’t crack the top 6 in Calgary.

      Waiving Byron was a mistake, but given that they were rebuilding and they wouldn’t have got much back in a trade it wasn’t a huge mistake.

      Fantenberg wanted a situation where he’d play full time. Calgary couldn’t offer that, so he walked. Also recall that Fantenberg was brought in so they wouldn’t need to rely on Kylington in the playoffs – Fantenberg essentially knocked Kylington down the depth chart. Had they retained him, it’s likely Kylington would be facing a tough fight for a roster spot. By not retaining Fantenberg, it gives Kylington more of a shot.

    • HarveysFleaCollar

      None of those players were very good. Fantenberg is a #6/7 dman. Kulak was a tweeter while here and still is only a 6/7 dman. As far as Byron, he is terrible. Outside of his speed, he is an AHL player. Who would you have any of these 3 bump from the Flames?

      • Flint

        Paul Byron has 22, 20 and 15 goals in his last three seasons. The last was injury shortened he had .27GPG which is another 22G season in 82games. You’re right he has tremendous speed, but he also has scored at a pace of 64goals in 3 seasons. I don’t think that’s the description of an AHL player who is “terrible”

        • Kevin R

          Byron did nothing but miss the net when he was here. Glad he landed well in Montreal & things came together for him. How many years ago was this, time to throw dirt on this one.

          • TheBigChef

            The point is also that regardless of how good or bad or bad Byron was it was yet another example of poor asset management (which ties into the original post from Buts) in that even though Byron hadn’t broken out yet like he did in Montreal, he was still a useful player and we lost him on waivers for nothing because Treliving didn’t know what to do with the three headed goalie monster of Hiller, Ortio and Ramo (yikes).

            Kulak was less of a blunder because there was no room for him as a LHD but also annoying that they gave him up for nothing when it was obvious his value was higher than what they got back and seemed to be more so a retaliatory move as a reaction to him taking them to arbitration.

            It is true that Fantenburg is a #6/7 and will likely never be anything more, but if you hadn’t noticed we are now looking for a guy like that with Valimaki hurt and no cap room and we let him walk for nothing when we gave up a fourth round pick for the guy so that he could play a total of 15 games.

            It’s not that any of these three would make us a drastically better team but it’s fair to call out poor asset management when you see it.

          • The Red Knight

            Yes Byron was not capitalizing on his chances as a Flame but still he was creating grade A NHL chances to score , the potential was there and Flames should have giving him another contract.

          • The Red Knight

            Kent Nilson, I was comparing st.lious to fluery before he was traded and I was not surprised at all that he become a star player , who made that trade anyway? Would we take Byron over czarnic right now ?

      • Cfan in Van

        Although Kulak couldn’t break through our depth (don’t blame Tre for trading him), he’s now playing top 4 in Montreal, and thriving from what I’ve heard. He’s a good player who was on a team loaded with D, and just now breaking through.

      • Seabass

        Kulak is more than a 6/7 man now. Watching him play last year, he really stepped up and was Montreal’s 3rd best defenceman. Having said that, The management honored what they told him the year before and he was given that chance, he took it and made the most of it. I was sad to see him go, but i didn’t think he had what we saw last year. Good on Kulak for making the most of it. Having said all that, I think mangement has done a good job with assessing talent internally and around the league over the past number of years. Byram and Kulak both hurt when you see them doing so well, but you can’t cherry pick the examples, we have to look at the whole picture. I would say Carolina is not loving seeing Lindholm and others succeed, but just one example. Overall, D group still looks very good this year.

    • MiamiRedhawks

      I haven’t seen Kylington develop out of the bad turnovers as a result of poor decision making. Love every aspect of his play except that. The reason that is so concerning is that he is the last guy next to the goalie and it creates a lot of odd man rushes.

  • CalgaryBornandRaised

    Was really looking forward to watching Valimaki play this year, hope he gets well soon

    My guess is they play Kylington to fill the roll, althought I’m not sure about playing him and Brodie together

  • Sea of Redd

    More injuries are going to happen throughout the year, unfortunately the Flames don’t seem to have the depth right now. It’s not about 1 player getting injured (as much as I like Juuso). Kylington will do just fine as the 6th defenseman. What scares me is what happens if/when there’s another injury.

    • Kevin R

      All the teams are fighting this issue. You let the young unprovens get a chance & hold your nose & pray or if the injuries are bad enough, you suddenly have cap space to make a few bandaid trades. Nature of the beast in hockey.

      • Kent Nilsson

        We were a relatively healthy team last year compared to most, we haven’t played a game yet and have lost an important piece who will have to be replaced perhaps by trade, and also have two important pieces to get signed! I hope we don’t repeat the past by trading away valuable picks and drafts as it could be a long year and it hasn’t started yet. Not sure how much cap space might be left over after signings for bandaid trades.

    • cjc

      It does seem odd that they’ve haven’t expended a single draft pick since Valimaki on a defenseman. Maybe the thinking is they take longer to develop, so it’s better to grab them as free agents? Unfortunately that does mean that the system is paper thin where it comes to D. I am not sure I can stomach the idea of Davidson/Valiev/Yelesin getting more than a handful of games this season. If there isn’t a trade now, Treliving will probably look for someone like Fantenberg again at the deadline.

      • deantheraven

        Let’s see what they look like in camp. If Tre doesn’t go after a bona fide NHL LD this month, all those guys know they have a shot at cracking the line up. They should show their best.
        I’m just preparing a sacrifice to Jobu, asking what he needs to insure the Flames have a proper NHL defense.
        I’m starting with a Cuban cigar on the altar.

        • CantstandyaOilers2

          Still don’t get it why Treliving signed Neal knowing he had Tkachuk to sign and manage the Cap with potential injuries…he has done a lot of good things since he arrived here, Neal was a bad decision knowing what was at stake in the near future! Valimaki is a 5-6 D, not the end of the world on the ice but Cap wise it adds more challenges

  • MDG1600

    Frankly I think Treliving is being a drama queen over this injury because it exposes what a crappy job he has done managing the salary cap. First off, Valimaki was going to be a 5/6 defenceman this season so lets not act like the D corp has been decimated. Second, the Flames have Kylington available and he is still a promising prospect who has already played 38 games as a 5/6 defender and didn’t really hurt the team at all. Yes, the injury hurts the depth on D and yes it hurts Vali’s development.

    Lets be honest, if the Flames had some cap space they could go sign any one of a dozen players for $1M AAV and it would be problem solved.

    • Albertabeef

      Valimaki played 24 games and was on the ice for 18 goals against.
      Kylington played 38 games and was on the ice for 12 goals against.
      I don’t see an issue here. No Flames Dman who played 20 games or more had less goals against than Kylington(Fantenberg had 6 in 15 games).

      • deantheraven

        Exactly, A-beef! People here seem to be victims of confirmation bias, leading to the ol’ Self-Fulfilling Prophecy.
        Kjller grew a lot last year and i see no reason why he doesn’t take another step this season.

        • Albertabeef

          I did the research a few months back but from what I remember the Flames had a higher winning percentage with Kylington in the lineup vs out. A quick pause for verification lol. Okay, last spring I compared a bunch of our D. This time it’s just Flames winning percentage with and without Kyl-er.
          Flames total record 50-25-7 .610 win% .652 points%
          with Kylington:24-8-6 .632w% .711pts%
          w/o Kylington:26-17-1 .591w% .602pts%

      • everton fc

        I absolutely agree. If we don’t lose him in the Expansion Draft, Kylington will be a big contributor here, down the road – this, coming from one his earlier detractors.

  • drogon

    It seems that TJ Brodie is safe for a few more months.
    Alexander Yelesin could be a big surprise… many attributes: skills, speed, hard shot, hits, fights,…

    • Baceda

      I hope he really steps up and makes Brodie expendable. He seems solid skill wise and I’d love his toughness and big hits that I saw in some of his highlights. Keep those other teams on their toes

      • everton fc

        Yelesin won the hardest/fastest shot at last season’s KHL All-Star game. He’s got a shot. Gotta love that. And, he’s got some “truculence”…

  • drogon

    Unrelated… Sidney Crosby and his #87…
    Born in 1987, August 7 (8/7)
    Contract AAV of $8.7M
    1,216 points in 14 years, avg of 86.857 points per year, 87 rounded…

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    Every month I travel to Vancouver and get my fill of Vancouver sports radio. I use this time to get an understanding of how other markets view the Flames. Today was interesting and re-affirmed my opinions on what many feel about the off-season. The general consensus, at least in this market, is the Flames don’t scare anyone. Now when a fan base like Vancouver is not impressed with the Flames…that says something. Vancouver is a bubble team at best and they are painting us with the same brush as the Oilers. This is based on both teams having goalies that desperately need bounce back seasons. Both teams have high priced projects that could easily disappoint. It pains me to say their fan base is not entirely wrong.

    The Valimaki injury caps off an uneventful and disappointing off season. The truth is Kjillington should not have to use Valimaki’s injury as a platform to crack the line up…he should have been eased into the line up before this.

    Here is a player that has great wheels and offensive instincts that is consistent with the trending of the new NHL. We looked slow against the Avs, Kjillington can match this pace where players like Ras and Hamonic struggle.

    I consider myself a hockey fan first and foremost but this off season I find myself emmersed in the hype of the Toronto Blue Jay Young guns. Players like Bichette, Biggio, and Guerrero are exciting prospects that are addicting even to the non baseball fan.

    I may be alone but I don’t want to see any external options until I see that Kjillington, Jankowski, Dube, and Parson’s and even Gillies can’t do the job.
    I have not seen this yet.

    • everton fc

      It’s a fair assessment. The Canucks have Ferland and Roussel – they’ll be a pain in the but to face, and they have a great young coach, in Travis Green. But Lucic is a bad dude. He’s tougher that Roussel (who I wish was a Flame) and equal to Ferland, mitts off. All that said, take a look at the Canucks roster. They shouldn’t be too over-confident, as one could make the same assessment of them – meaning, no one is scared of the Canucks. Another fair assessment.

    • Cfan in Van

      I think it’s based largely on the fact that the Canucks had a winning record against the Flames last season. Same goals-for in aggregate, but they won more games. That, and the playoff record tarnishes everyone’s view of the Flames.

    • Rockmorton65

      Jack, you seem to contradict yourself. You say that you’re disappointed that no moves have been made, but then say you want to see what we have internally. Maybe the Flames are seeing it the same way.

  • drogon

    I don’t know about Kylington, something doesn’t add up. He’s an exceptional skater with offensive skills but a bit weak defensively and a lack of toughness. But many NHL defencemen have the same issues. Still, he doesn’t seem to be part of the long term plans. Could it be something else, like attitude, chemistry with the rest of team?

    • Cfan in Van

      He was better defensively last year than in years past. He can definitely keep improving that aspect of his game, so I wouldn’t write him off. This could be his breakthrough year, and change their plans moving forward. Big potential opportunity for him.

      • Brian McGrattan's Salute

        Definitely agree. Kyl has got to play.

        Keep in Ras didn’t exactly light it up points wise last season, tho we know he is going to excel.

        Now that both have had a year to process the NHL, they will come back much better prepared.

        • deantheraven

          I don’t think Kjller lacks toughness. Grit Factor maybe, and he’s not one to run anyone through the end boards, but he has the strength and aggressiveness to clear the net front. He may never drop the gloves (on purpose) but he’s going to more than make up for PIMs with points this year, if he’s put in a position to do so.

    • MiamiRedhawks

      Let’s try him out as a wing. As for toughness, I’m not putting any judgement on the players for lacking toughness. It seems the plan was to play fast and clean.

      • Baceda

        I know this is something that is almost never done, and the idea is usually met with jeers, but I’m curious about seeing how it would play out as a short term experiment in preseason.
        The dudes got wheels and really good offensive flair, why shouldn’t it work?
        If Peters isn’t going to trust him as a D, maybe he’d get more trust and opportunity as a forward.
        Obviously not going to happen now with Valimakis injury.
        Maybe I’m just a fan of trying unorthodox things.

        • MiamiRedhawks

          Completely agree, I think a lot of people disagree because it is unorthodox and want to give him a chance… This idea comes from watching the kid play in Stockton for years. When you see the same mistakes being makes year in and year out. Something has to give. He has too much talent in others areas to toss him aside. People don’t want to consider what we see in Stockton.

  • Trevy

    Eklund on Hockeybuzz, always good for a humorous giggle, has the Flames going hard after Gardiner. Again, not sure how they would squeeze his salary in, but stranger things have happened. Personally, I’d go the McQuaid route as Everton mentioned

    • everton fc

      Thanks. I like the McQuaid option – if we could afford him, can you imagine Lucic and McQuaid, on the ice, keeping the peace? It’s still part of the game, and it’s all many here post about, when they try and analyze why we got bounced by the Avs, so quickly, and so easily. (I, for one, and for all I posted above, don’t think lack of physicality, or “truculence”, got us bounced in Round One, but I’ll leave it at that, for now).

  • Budgie

    Prout, Stone, and Fatenburgh are gone along with the ‘depth’. Davidson looks like a smart addition-pressure is on for a trade now-Tkachuk is dictating Calgary’s lineup. Brodie stays and if Frolik does get traded-RW is short-no depth on RW except prospects that after training camp might earn a spot if Frolik is traded. Everything points to a trade-Cap Space for Tkachuk and Mangiapanne—plus some roster adjustments are needed-Big strong RW with speed needed if Frolik goes. Kyllington can be the 6th. defenceman-or someone who steps up during training camp. I am more concerned about RW than defence

  • Seabass

    While I will miss Ras with Gio, I think we will see Ras with Oliver and Brodie with Gio. Oliver and Brodie would just be too exposed together. We know Brodie can still play with Gio and play well there. Ras has played a lot with Oliver over the years and they were dominant in the A their last year together there. Finally, He will help him develop much better than Brodie would. A bonus would be Vali coming back by the deadline, making Brodie expendable then and if he’s played the season with Gio, his trade value is upped significantly. +- may be an outdated stat, but there still a number of GM’s in the league who don’t ignore it.

  • Jobu

    have to see a bigger contract like Michael Frolik go the other way, likely with a sweetener, in exchange for a blueliner with a smaller cap hit.

    Perhaps Valimaki is that sweetener. Hard to say goodbye to a potential future stud, but with his injury history perhaps it might be time sell high… but only if its really REALLY high.

        • Albertabeef

          That unfortunately correlates with Vegas odds maker’s putting Flames over/under at 96.5 points on the season. If the Flames can avoid a lengthy skid this season they should be okay enough to get about 100 points. Too many variables for me to put money on that though. Might need to see what September brings first.

    • Budgie

      Valimaki can be put on LTIR, he will be paid his full NHL salary because he was injured in off-season training and he played over 50 games for Calgary. Insurance will pay him, his Cap space is 890,000 so it doesn’t give a ton of wiggle room-he can be on LTIR if Calgary is Cap compliant by Oct.1..Trevling is quoted as being in the market for a Left handed shot Defenceman–I’d love to see Calgary get their hands on Jamie Oleksiak from Dallas-LHD 6’5″ 255 lbs. 2.75 million salary, Dallas has zero Cap Space though. Trevling might be able to find a home for Frolik for a young Defenceman and gain some Cap Space.