Michael Stone could make sense as a late-summer depth signing
Photo credit:John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
By Mike Gould1 year ago
Five seasons after arriving as the Calgary Flames’ prized trade deadline acquisition, Michael Stone is an unrestricted free agent following the conclusion of his third contract with the club.
Flames general manager Brad Treliving was part of the Arizona Coyotes management team that drafted Stone at the 2008 NHL Entry Draft; he acquired the right-handed rearguard to replace the declining Dennis Wideman during Calgary’s 2017 playoff push.
Stone immediately slotted beside TJ Brodie into the Flames’ top four on defence, averaging 18:51 of ice-time per game down the stretch and tallying six points (two goals, four assists) in 19 games to conclude the season. He signed a three-year contract extension carrying a $3.5 million AAV with the Flames in the 2017 offseason.
After appearing in all 82 games on the Flames’ third pair in 2017–18, Stone missed the majority of the team’s Pacific Division championship 2018–19 season while recovering from a frightening blood clot. The Flames elected to buy out the final year of Stone’s contract on Aug. 2, 2019.
Then, less than two weeks later, this happened.
Suddenly desperate for additional help on the back-end, the Flames circled back to Stone’s camp and agreed to a one-year pact with their former (?) defenceman. He appeared in 33 NHL games in 2019–20, tallying two goals and seven points.
A UFA once more in the 2020 offseason, Stone signed a professional try-out agreement with the Flames on Jan. 3, 2021 and consummated a two-way deal with the club five days into the regular season schedule.
Now, here we are. Stone, 31, is without a contract as training camp nears. The Flames have just five right-handed defencemen signed to contracts for the 2021–22 season: Chris Tanev, Rasmus Andersson, Johannes Kinnvall, Andy Welinski, and Nick DeSimone.
Stone is a big guy (6’3″, 210 pounds) with a cannon of a shot. He’s also struggled with his mobility at times since joining the Flames and posted dreadful results across the board during the 2019–20 season.
At his peak, Stone was a reliable offence-first defenceman for the Coyotes who scored 36 points in the 2015–16 season. Evolving-Hockey assessed Stone’s 5-on-5 offensive play in 2015–16 as being worth 4.0 expected goals above replacement (xGAR); collectively, the same site valued the other facets of his game at -3.4 xGAR.
Stone missed a major chunk of the 2016–17 season after undergoing major offseason knee surgery. He struggled to return to form through 45 games with the Coyotes before being traded to Calgary in February for two draft picks. Stone’s play noticeably improved following the trade and he amassed 2.2 xGAR — mostly via 5-on-5 offence — in just 19 games with the Flames to close out the season.
After being a borderline top-four offensive defenceman with Arizona in 2015–16 and the following year in Calgary, Stone signed his big $10.5 million contract with the Flames and subsequently regressed to being firmly at the NHL’s replacement level.
He primarily skated on a pairing with Brett Kulak in 2017–18 and ranked fifth among Flames defenders with an average of 13:28 per game at 5-on-5; in 82 games with the club, he contributed a mere 0.1 xGAR and provided the majority of his marginal value while killing penalties.
The following year, Stone was often a healthy scratch when not dealing with his blood clot. He averaged a mere 15:56 per game in all situations, his lowest figure since his rookie season in Phoenix. Stone accumulated a very unimpressive -2.4 xGAR despite only playing 14 games in 2018–19; his -0.649 xGAR/60 ranked dead-last on the Flames (yes, even below James Neal).
Stone played approximately half the shortened 2019–20 season, appearing in 33 of the Flames’ 70 games and averaging 14:46 at 5-on-5. Despite counting against the Flames’ salary cap twice, with his $700,000 salary and $1.667 million buyout charge both factoring into the team’s financial equation, Stone continued to provide negative value. He finished last on the team once again with -0.765 xGAR/60, falling five whole expected goals below replacement level solely through his defensive struggles.
With Stone on the ice at 5-on-5 in 2019–20, the Flames created 1.94 expected goals per 60 and surrendered a team-high 2.83 (according to Natural Stat Trick). Despite this, the team opted to bring him back for the 2020–21 season.
How did it go?
Stone was legitimately solid for the Flames in 2020–21, providing tangible value at both ends of the ice and appearing significantly improved from previous seasons. He appeared in 21 games for the club and seemed to quickly earn the trust of new head coach Darryl Sutter.
According to Evolving-Hockey’s standing points above replacement (SPAR) data, Stone provided the Flames with $2.9 million of value against his $750,000 salary cap hit in 2020–21. Conversely, his SPAR data in the preceding three seasons translated to valuation figures of -$2.6 million, -$2.3 million, and -$5.1 million, all among the worst on the Flames.
Stone contributed 3.3 xGAR in 2020–21, his best single-season figure since the 2012–13 season. He scored two goals and four points in 21 games and averaged 16:05 in all situations. Stone averaged a career-high 7.47 shots per 60 at 5-on-5 and also set a new personal best with 0.23 individual expected goals per 60.
With Stone on the ice at 5-on-5 in 2020–21, the Flames generated 2.44 expected goals per 60 minutes and conceded just 1.90. Among Flames defencemen, Stone’s 56.19 5-on-5 expected goals percentage ranked behind only Chris Tanev. The Flames also out-chanced their opponents 139-111 with Stone on the ice.
Has Stone rediscovered his form as a offense-first top-four defenceman? Probably not. He experienced his resurgence while playing sheltered minutes and a 21-game sample needs to be taken with reservations.
Still, the Flames could certainly use another right-handed defender capable of holding his own in any situation. This is a team desperately hurting for defensive help on both sides, particularly after the loss of Mark Giordano. Stone is certainly no Giordano but he could contribute as part of the Flames’ revamped “defense by committee” structure.
Bringing back Stone on a cheap one-way deal would make a lot of sense. He lives in Calgary and is extremely familiar with the organization. He fits a need and would be easy to demote and replace if things were to go wrong. The Flames currently sit nine deals shy of the 50-contract limit and, with plenty of cap space seemingly allocated to make another big move, could use as much capable league-minimum depth as possible.
Michael Stone defied the odds in 2020–21. At this point, another deal between him and the Flames seems inevitable… and earned.
Recent articles from Mike Gould