The Calgary Flames blueline group had a weird 2023-24 season

Photo credit:© Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Ryan Pike
1 month ago
Be sure to check out the latest NHL playoff odds with online sportsbook Betway.
The 2023-24 season was a weird time for the Calgary Flames’ defensive group.
Case in point: of the six defencemen that played in the season-opening game against the Winnipeg Jets on Oct. 11, just two finished the season with the Flames: MacKenzie Weegar and Rasmus Andersson. Jordan Oesterle was waived – twice – and sent to the American Hockey League to finish the season, while Nikita Zadorov (Vancouver), Chris Tanev (Dallas) and Noah Hanifin (Vegas) were all shipped out prior to the Mar. 8 trade deadline.
As a result of some very unique circumstances – including but not limited to Oliver Kylington’s return from a mental health hiatus and three prominent players being on expiring contracts – the Flames ended up using 15 different blueliners in 2023-24, the most they’ve used since 1993-94.
Here’s a quick rundown of how things unfolded in the defensive group.

Most-used pairings

(Via MoneyPuck; data via Natural Stat Trick)

Best pairings

(Via MoneyPuck; data via Natural Stat Trick; minimum 100 minutes played together)

Player usage chart

(via Dobber’s Frozen Tools; up is together opposition, down is easier opposition; left is more D-zone starts, right is more O-zone starts; blue is stronger possession numbers, orange is weaker)
The usage charts don’t include Zadorov, Hanifin or Tanev. Tanev and Hanifin, working as a tandem, got primarily defensive zone starts against tough opponents – they’d be in the top left corner – while Zadorov’s usage was more “mid-range” with more skew towards offensive zone situations.

The rundown

The Flames blueline pairings went through a lot of different phases throughout the season. They began with three pretty straight-forward pairings: Hanifin-Andersson, Zadorov-Weegar, and Tanev with either Oesterle or Dennis Gilbert. Andersson’s four game suspension led to some shuffling around.
After Rasmus Andersson returned from his suspension, they shuffled it a bit to Weegar-Andersson, Hanifin-Tanev, and Zadorov with either Nick DeSimone or Gilbert. After Zadorov was traded to Vancouver, the top four remained constant and the third pairing turned into a bit of mix involving Gilbert, Ilya Solovyov, Oesterle and DeSimone. The lack of balance led to a bit more tinkering and shuffling, though.
Once Oliver Kylington returned and Brayden Pachal was claimed off waivers, they moved to a pretty well defined three pairings: Weegar-Andersson, Hanifin-Tanev and Kylington-Pachal. But once Tanev and Hanifin were traded before the trade deadline, there was additional pairing shuffling until eventually the Flames landed on Weegar-Miromanov, Kylington-Andersson, and Pachal with a rotating partner on the third pairing.
When the Flames had Tanev and Hanifin to lean on, life wasn’t easy necessarily, but they had a pairing they could go back to for stability. But once that pairing was gone, the defensive units were in a pretty consistent state of flux for a little bit and it’s probably no coincidence that the Flames slid down the standings during that period.
It’s hard to really blame Dan Lambert, who inherited the defensive assignments from Ryan Huska, for much of the chaos on the blueline. To be honest, a lot of it was above the coaching staff’s pay grade and they were asked to plug holes in a dam with whatever materials they had available to them. They did what they could, but Tanev and Hanifin were really tough to replace on the fly.

Check out these posts...