A deep and reliable blueline has been a strength of the Flames in recent years, and that should remain true for the coming 2020-2021 season. Calgary has reshaped their defence over the offseason and there are a few important questions to be answered as a result. That said, I still have the Flames near the top of the North Division on the back end.
So far, I have Flames near the top of the Canadian pack in net and looking at their overall forward depth, while I have them a little further back when stacking up their top forwards. Let’s see how crazy you think I am as we take a closer look at the blueline.
The scouting report
Since last season ended, Calgary has said goodbye to defencemen TJ Brodie, Travis Hamonic, Erik Gustafsson, Derek Forbort, and Michael Stone. At the same time, the Flames have added Chris Tanev and Nikita Nesterov in free agency, and Juuso Valimaki via his return from a major knee injury. With all that taken into consideration, the NHL depth chart looks roughly like below.
With everyone healthy, Calgary still has a solid blueline, albeit not as rife with proven depth as in past years. The loss of Brodie can’t be understated, as his ability to eat huge minutes and play up and down the lineup, and on either side, was important to the Flames. Brodie’s departure opens the door for Rasmus Andersson’s permanent promotion to the top four, however. That, along with the addition of Tanev, should be enough to mitigate Brodie’s absence.
There are a few things we can be pretty sure of. Andersson is ready for more responsibility and all signs point to him thriving with increased ice time. And, despite discussions about trading him, Noah Hanifin is passable at worst in a second pairing role. I have question marks from there, though.
More than anything, I’m unsure about what to expect from captain Mark Giordano for the first time in about a decade. He was still the team’s best defenceman during the regular season, but his ten Return to Play games left a lot to be desired by his standards. Knowing what we do about Giordano, I still think there’s a good chance he’s back to regular form come January, even at 37. But my doubt level is higher than it has been since Giordano burst onto the scene ten years ago.
I have depth question marks that play off one another, too. Will Tanev be able to stay healthy over a full season? History suggests no, as he’s never played more than 70 games in a season. That said, he was on pace for 82 last season prior to the shutdown. If he does miss time, some relatively unproved depth is going to be put to the test.
That starts with Valimaki, who enters training camp with the hype train at full speed. Valimaki is fully healthy, a highly touted first round pick, and is fresh off 19 outstanding games in Finland. But while I’m confident about Valimaki in the big picture, we still don’t know what he is right now as an NHLer. Oliver Kylington and Nikita Nesterov are significant unknowns, too. The latter hasn’t played in the NHL since 2017, while the former is a veteran of just 87 games.
So, yes, there are numerous question marks surrounding Calgary’s blueline entering the season, which kept them out of the number one spot. But the Flames also have a great deal of potential if a few of the above questions are answered positively. That potential, and the the team’s still-solid depth, puts them in the top tier of North Division bluelines.
Quinn Hughes is a stud. If he’s not the best defenceman in the division, I think he will be very soon. That was the big tipping point for me in putting the Canucks at the top of this list, along with the solid acquisition of Nate Schmidt. I don’t mind Alex Edler and Tyler Myers in the middle of a depth chart, but the third pairing stands out as Vancouver’s largest weakness.
Much like our other position rankings, the gaps from team to team are relatively small. Toronto and Montreal join the Flames and Canucks in my “top tier”, and you could make an argument for any of those four at number one. For instance, the addition of Brodie to Morgan Rielly and Jake Muzzin give the Maple Leafs a really nice trio in their top four.
Montreal, on the other hand, brings very strong depth to the table. If Shea Weber has another season like last, the Habs have their number one with solid depth behind him. Jeff Petry, Joel Edmundson, Brett Kulak, and Ben Chiarot are all NHL defencemen, which has Montreal neck and neck with Calgary for the deepest overall back end.
There’s a bit of a jump to the next grouping of Winnipeg, Edmonton, and Ottawa. I think the Oilers have the best depth and the highest ceiling of the three, even with the season-long loss of Oscar Klefbom. Thomas Chabot is just ahead of Josh Morrissey as the best defenceman in this grouping, but the Jets have slightly more proven NHL depth, which keeps them just a hair ahead of the number seven Senators.