FlamesNation mailbag: it is now October

Photo credit:Mike Gould
Ryan Pike
2 years ago
It’s October! The NHL’s annual opening day roster deadline is in a week! It’s time for camps to become serious business, with teams getting down to their major roster decisions in a hurry.
It’s also time for the mailbag!
The sales pitch for Erik Gudbranson, as a player, is that he’s big, physical and can play a defensive style. That was probably the mindset when the Flames signed him: he’s a veteran guy who knows his role and is fine being a heavy defensive zone starts and penalty kill, “glass and out” kind of stay-at-home defenseman.
The issue is that he hasn’t been very good at it so far through pre-season. Playing against rosters that weren’t quite NHL calibre, he’s “rocking” a 37% expected goals for percentage – meaning that the Flames would probably lose a lot of games if he was playing all the time. Sure, maybe he has some rust to knock off, but Oliver Kylington (79% expected goals for) has been excellent, and the duo has played with fairly comparable partners – both with Connor Mackey, Kylington with Chris Tanev and Kevin Gravel (who sort of cancel each other out) and Gudbranson with Juuso Valimaki. (Disclaimer: we only have fancy stats for the games played in NHL buildings, so the Abbotsford game against Vancouver and the Kent game against Seattle aren’t included.)
If this was a job interview, one player is being much more impressive than the other.
Now, does this matter? Well, yeah, probably. This season, teams can bury up to $1.125 million in cap space per player, so even though Gudbranson is on a one-way deal worth $1.95 million, the Flames could bury him in the AHL and keep Kylington (and his $750,000 cap hit) and come out $375,000 ahead. Would Gudbranson clear waivers? Based on his play thus far and his cap hit? Yeah, probably.
At this point, the pressure may be on Gudbranson to prove he’s a better bet than Kylington when the puck drops next Saturday night. Kylington’s done a lot to showcase himself as a viable alternative.
I’ll say this: in the AHL games I saw him in at the end of last season, Walker Duehr was very, very ordinary. He was an AHL filler body. But he seems to have used that experience to improve, because he’s been consistently one of the most noticeable players on the Flames, even when they dress their NHL bodies.
At this point, as one of the last AHL players in camp, he’s definitely going to be in the mix for a call-up if they need an energy forward on the bottom six who shoots right. That would’ve been downright crazy to think about six months ago, so full credit to the player for all the work he put in.
(I assume “that other chap who has been good” is Walker Duehr, who we just covered above.)
If Kylington makes the team, suddenly they have a lot of flexibility. He, Nikita Zadorov and Valimaki can all play both sides of the ice, so potentially Darryl Sutter and Ryan Huska can mix and match their pairings.
If it were up to me (assuming Michael Stone stays as the seventh defender):
Hanifin – Andersson
Valimaki – Tanev
Kylington – Zadorov
At this point, Glenn Gawdin seems a strong candidate to break camp as the fourth line centre. Brad Richardson would theoretically be an extra forward, and Brett Ritchie would either be the 14th forward or send to Stockton so that the team could bank some cap space. Either way, Gawdin has been superb so far and definitely deserves to be in the mix for many NHL games this season.
It’s my understanding that Harvey the Hound spends the off-season working on strength and agility so that he can withstand the long NHL season.
Based on the number of back-to-backs on the schedule and probably just a desire to keep Jacob Markstrom fresh for the post-season, I would imagine we see Daniel Vladar start about 22 to 25 games this season.

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