The rapidly growing “Little Stockholm” neighbourhood of the Flames’ dressing room added another resident on Monday as the team announced the signing of Swedish winger Joakim Nordstrom.
Nordstrom, 28, has never been one to dominate teams offensively, posting just 68 points in his 400-game NHL career (roughly 14 per 82 games). He’s a defensive-minded forward who excels on the penalty kill and who can succeed at even strength if he meshes with good linemates.
Coming in at $700,000, Nordstrom represents a no-risk attempt by the Flames to replace the departed Mark Jankowski and Tobias Rieder on the PK. His presence also gives the Flames some flexibility and mentorship when it comes to easing youngsters Glenn Gawdin and Matthew Phillips into the lineup. If the kids are ready, Nordstrom’s entire salary can be buried in the American Hockey League without costing the Flames anything against the cap. At the very least, he can be used as an extra forward on the roster with the smallest possible monetary commitment.
Nordstrom played some absurdly one-sided minutes for the Bruins this year. Usually, it’s tough to discern much from looking at a players’ defensive-zone starts but, in Nordstrom’s case, his deployment numbers are far too egregious to ignore. Nordstrom lined up for 403 face-offs at even strength in 2019–20; just 64 of them were in the offensive zone. Nordstrom’s offensive-zone face-off percentage at even strength last season was just 25%. Only nine players lined up for at least 100 face-offs in 2019–20 and saw more lopsided deployment.
Nordstrom is also a solid penalty killer. He averaged 1:55 of PK time per night last year and made the most of it, ranking second among PK fixtures at forward (behind only Brad Marchand) in allowing 5.94 expected goals against/60. Nordstrom led Bruins forwards in average PK TOI/game last year and is a safe bet to do the same in Calgary.
With Rieder and Jankowski out of the equation, it looks like the Flames’ four regular penalty-killing forwards this coming season will be Nordstrom, Derek Ryan, Mikael Backlund, and Elias Lindholm. A Nordstrom-Ryan combination would probably make sense: Nordstrom shoots left and Ryan shoots right, and both players bring different physical attributes to the table. Ryan relies more on his skating and hockey IQ while Nordstrom is far more physical and effective along the boards; Ryan previously performed well in all situations alongside Garnet Hathaway, who plays a similar style. The 6’1″ Nordstrom racked up 91 hits in just 48 games last year.
At even strength, the Flames will probably look at Nordstrom in a role on the fourth line. Coach Geoff Ward will probably keep the Milan Lucic – Sam Bennett – Dillon Dube line together in an attempt to recapture the magic of the 2020 playoffs. As the roster currently stands, that would leave Nordstrom and Ryan as the left wing and centre on the fourth line with an open spot on their right wing. It seems unlikely that Zac Rinaldo or Buddy Robinson will be relied upon as NHL regulars with young players like Gawdin, Phillips, Jakob Pelletier, and Dmitry Zavgorodniy pushing for spots.
Of those four players, Gawdin and Phillips shoot right and have both established themselves as top-line AHL players. Stylistically speaking, Gawdin makes the most sense to accompany Ryan and Nordstrom: he’s a responsible two-way forward with decent size and good finishing ability. The NHL is certainly evolving more and more each year but it’s unclear whether or not Phillips, at 5’7″ and 155 pounds, would thrive on a checking line. That said, he’ll get a long look in training camp after scoring 33 points in 38 AHL games in 2019–20.
To summarize, after signing Joakim Nordstrom, here’s a projection of what the Flames’ forwards might look like at even strength and on the penalty kill next season:
Johnny Gaudreau – Sean Monahan – Elias Lindholm
Matthew Tkachuk – Mikael Backlund – Andrew Mangiapane
Milan Lucic – Sam Bennett – Dillon Dube
Joakim Nordstrom – Derek Ryan – Glenn Gawdin
Extras: Buddy Robinson, Zac Rinaldo
Unit A: Joakim Nordstrom – Derek Ryan
Unit B: Mikael Backlund – Elias Lindholm
Extras: Glenn Gawdin, Buddy Robinson