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Photo Credit: Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

Flames vs. Jets preview: defense

The Calgary Flames are facing the Winnipeg Jets in the Qualifying Round beginning on Aug. 1. The Jets have a Vezina Trophy contender in net, which gives them an edge on Calgary in goal. But the Flames are purported to have an edge on the blueline.

How do the Flames stack up defensively with their opposition?

The Flames

Players in Bubble:

Mark Giordano (36-years-old; 893 NHL games, 483 NHL points) – TJ Brodie (30; 634, 266)
Noah Hanifin (23; 389, 138) – Rasmus Andersson (23; 160, 41)
Derek Forbort (28; 275, 53) – Erik Gustafsson (28; 221, 119)
Oliver Kylington (23; 87, 15) – Michael Stone (30; 472, 124)
Juuso Valimaki (21; 24, 3) – Alexander Yelesin (24; 4, 0)

Here’s a quick snapshot of Flames defender usage in 2019-20:

The Flames’ best defender is also their oldest, the reigning Norris Trophy winner. He’s played a lot of hockey and is still quite good. The top pairing is quite good, followed by a youthful second pairing. Giordano and Brodie, and Hanifin and Andersson, are rock-solid pairs (though the kids are a little rough defensively at times).

The challenges for the Flames are on their third and fourth pairings, as Gustafsson (and Kylington) is defensively limited and Forbort (and Stone) is offensively limited. Pairing them together covers up for some rough spots, but also limits their overall effectiveness and results in them needing very specific deployments to maximize their use. Valimaki and Yelesin have been effective in limited use, but still haven’t quite established themselves as strong playoff options.

The Jets

Players in Bubble:

Josh Morrissey (25; 288, 108) – Dylan DeMelo (27; 269, 64)
Dmitry Kulikov (29; 677, 170) – Neal Pionk (25; 172, 85)
Nathan Beaulieu (27; 370, 89) – Tucker Poolman (27; 81, 18)
Luca Sbisa (30; 548, 113) – Carl Dahlstrom (25; 64, 10)
Sami Niku (23; 48, 10) – Anthony Bitetto (30; 183, 27)

Here’s a quick snapshot of Jets defender usage in 2019-20:

Morrissey is great and has found a really nice stylistic match with DeMelo on the top pairing. The second and third pairings aren’t terribly dissimilar from each other, as nobody on those groupings has massive upside but they also don’t have massive holes, either. They’re all capable defenders, which gives Winnipeg some flexibility in utilizing them.

The other four defenders are an interesting mix. Niku & Dahlstrom are probably NHL/AHL tweeners at this point. Sbisa and Bitetto are limited but they’re experienced, capable depth. They’re all a distinct downgrade from the top pairing, but none of them are awful.

The edge

Top pairing versus top pairing, the Flames have a big edge. Top four versus top four, they still have a pretty big advantage. But comparing Calgary’s three pairs with Winnipeg’s, the gap narrows a bit – the limited nature of the Flames’ third pairing (and the fourth pair) gives Winnipeg a bit of flexibility that the Flames don’t really have.

The Flames have the better blueline, but the Jets have some nice depth pieces that make the Flames’ advantage here a little bit diminished.