“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|
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.