With the NHL in a holding pattern until the floating start of next season, let’s start evaluating the 2019-20 season position by position. Today we’ll jump in on the blueline and grade the four players currently under team control that spent significant time with the Flames last year. While the marks aren’t as strong as they were the season prior, there were a couple notable performances.
Mark Giordano: B+
Coming off a Norris Trophy, Giordano was bound to take a step back from his A+ 2018-19. Posting a career season, especially one of that caliber, at the age of 35 is unheard of. Doing it twice in a row was too tall an ask. What wasn’t unreasonable, though, was for Giordano to remain a high-end defenceman and the best guy on Calgary’s blueline. I would suggest he did that…in the regular season.
For me, there was no question: Giordano was the team’s best blueliner prior to the pandemic pause. Sure his points were down from 74 the year prior, but 31 over 60 games is nothing to sneeze at. Giordano’s underlying outputs above (courtesy Natural Stat Trick) were strong, specifically considering he faced elite competition every night. Averaging more than 23 minutes per game, Giordano was still one of the league’s better d-men. Additionally, he and TJ Brodie formed a top-ten pairing by many metrics.
All of those things would suggest Giordano’s final grade should be higher than a B+, I agree. The problem is, things dropped off dramatically in the NHL’s Return to Play, which carries heavier weight. Much like the 2019 postseason, Giordano went from being an elite blueliner to, well, not. Statistically, everything took a step back, and that correlated with the struggles we saw while watching him in Edmonton. As such, an A regular season grade drops back a couple steps to B+.
Rasmus Andersson: B+
Andersson’s game keeps on progressing in the right direction, and the 80 games he played last season kept that trend going. Because of the interchangeable nature of Calgary’s deep blueline during the regular season, Andersson wasn’t a “top four” defenceman all season. Instead, we’ll put him in the “top five”, because five players were all within a minute of one another in average even strength ice time.
On merit, Andersson was a top four defenceman, though. His on-ice possession rate was third among Flames blueliners, trailing Giordano and Brodie. Andersson’s high danger scoring chance rate was best at his position and ranked fourth on the team. The guy is starting to impact the game positively everywhere on the ice and his rapid progression in part allowed Calgary to say goodbye to Brodie, Travis Hamonic, and others this fall.
Like many other Flames players, Andersson’s playoffs numbers don’t look anywhere near as good. While I didn’t think he looked particularly bad in ten postseason games, his pairing with Noah Hanifin spent a lot of time defending. Part of that was due to Hanifin struggling, no question, and I will say I really liked Andersson’s ability to step into the attack the way he did in August.
Noah Hanifin: C+
When doing this report card on Sportsnet 960 radio, I gave Hanifin a C, but I’m upgrading it to a C+ a couple days later. I thought Hanifin was right there with Giordano when talking about disappointing playoff performances; I thought Brodie propped up Gio on one pairing, while Andersson did the same with Hanifin on the other. That said, Hanifin was definitely the more consistent half of his regular season duo.
Much like 2018-19, Hanifin spent the majority of his five-on-five time (647:13) with Travis Hamonic, although the latter’s injury issues meant a little more time was spent with Andersson (391:40). While Hanifin-Hamonic was very steady in year one, it wasn’t anywhere near as automatic last season. Both my eye and the numbers would suggest, however, that was more due to Hamonic’s struggles than anything else.
What keeps Hanifin in the C’s is the frustrating defensive miscues and bad pinches that remain a consistent part of his game. I do like a number of things: he’s a very strong skater, which helps the team’s transition game, and tends to jump into the rush at the right time. I thought Hanifin had a solid regular season and a bad playoffs.
Oliver Kylington: C
The only body of work we have for the as-of-yet unsigned Kylington is the 48 regular season games he got into. Perhaps a C is too generous, because he really did struggle more often than not. But I’ll admit I’m grading on a curve, because we’re still talking about a 23-year-old with just 87 NHL games to his name. That said, continued results like last year will become more and more discouraging.
Kylington still struggles immensely on the defensive side, as evidenced by his mediocre shot and chance rates compared to a high zone start ratio. Among Flames regulars, no one started in the offensive zone more than Kylington, yet he did very little with that high ground. Sheltering a young, developing defenceman is normal, but Calgary needs to start seeing more progression.
Kylington’s raw skills are outstanding: he’s an elite skater, has good offensive upside, and has produced at a high level in the American League. Kylington remains a liability defensively, which is why the Flames are understandably uncomfortable pencilling him in as a regular next season. There’s still something there with Kylington and I don’t think it’s time to give up. In saying that, it’s hard to justify anything more than a C for last season, even on a sliding scale.