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How should the Calgary Flames set up their defensive pairings in 2023-24?

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Photo credit:© Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Ryan Pike
7 months ago
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Things didn’t unfold in an ideal manner for the Calgary Flames during the 2022-23 season. Several players missed time due to injuries. Several players had to deal with changing roles and new expectations. Oliver Kylington missed the whole season dealing with off-ice challenges. Heck, Rasmus Andersson was hit by a vehicle in Detroit and missed three games.
But due to these challenging circumstances, the Flames tried a bunch of different defensive pairing combinations. With Kylington back in the fold, how should the Flames set up their pairings for the 2023-24 campaign?
The big question for the Flames, arguably the crux of their defensive configurations, is which partner they put MacKenzie Weegar with. We can argue until the proverbial cows come home which Flames defender is there best one overall – a good case can be made for Weegar or Rasmus Andersson – but Weegar was used for big chunks of the season with Andersson, Chris Tanev and Nikita Zadorov.
He performed really well with all three (stats via Natural Stat Trick):
  • With Tanev (590:43 5v5 time on ice (TOI)): 57.79% Expected Goals For (xGF), out-shot opponents 313-220, out-scored by opponents 22-20
  • With Zadorov (452:45 5v5 TOI): 58.18% xGF, out-shot opponents 302-155, out-scored opponents 20-14
  • With Andersson (279:32 5v5 TOI): 56.41% xGF, out-shot opponents 149-107, out-scored opponents 15-9
Let’s assume that the Flames’ seven regular blueliners to start next season are Weegar, Andersson, Tanev, Zadorov, Kylington, Noah Hanifin and Jordan Oesterle. The question of who to play Weegar with also brings with it sub-questions of who’s left to pair of the remaining players.
For example: the Flames could potentially roll out these three fairly balanced pairings:
  • Zadorov – Weegar
  • Kylington – Tanev
  • Hanifin – Andersson
Kylington had his big breakout with Tanev, and putting him with somebody he’s comfortable with to start off the season (after a year away from the game) might be the best way to set him up for success.
But what about loading up the top pair instead?
  • Weegar – Andersson
  • Hanifin – Tanev
  • Kylington – Zadorov
This is a bit more top-heavy, but there’s a clearer subordination of pairings and this may give the Flames the option to more clearly protect Kylington/Zadorov on the third pairing with tons of offensive zone starts and favourable match-ups, especially at home.
What about the third option, a variation on the first set-up?
  • Weegar – Tanev
  • Hanifin – Andersson
  • Kylington – Zadorov
Alternately, wouldn’t it be fun to try out a few relatively untested pairs?
  • Kylington – Weegar
  • Zadorov – Andersson
  • Hanifin – Tanev
Hanifin/Tanev is tried and true, but the other two are a bit more out there. But imagine combining the finesse and mobility of Kylington with the reliability and stoutness of Weegar on the same pairing.
What defensive units would you like to see the Flames try out this coming season? Which units do you think would best set the Flames up for success? Let us know in the comments!

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