Photo credit:Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Where does Oliver Kylington fit in the Calgary Flames’ plans?
8 months ago
There isn’t much better news than a professional athlete feeling comfortable enough to come back from personal leave and play for your favourite team. No matter the sport, it’s important to remember that these are people too, and the fact that Calgary Flames defenceman Oliver Kylington feels ready to come back to the NHL is only a good thing. However, that does mean there are decisions that have to be made, and after writing about being happy that he’s back, it’s time to get to the business side of things.
The Flames have some important decisions to make when it comes to their roster for the upcoming season and beyond. With the general manager position now held by Craig Conroy and lots of players on expiring contracts, there’s no time for rest.
The last time that Kylington played in an NHL game was 2021-22, when he played 73 games and scored 9 goals, 22 assists, and 31 points while averaging just over 18 minutes of ice time. He was a very valuable member of the 2021-22 team, being someone that could be relied on to move and transition the puck smoothly and effectively.
According to the defensive pairings page on Evolving-Hockey, Kylington spent a total of 1056 minutes paired with Chris Tanev in 2021-22, which was the second-highest total only behind Noah Hanifin and Rasmus Andersson. They also had the 10th highest expected goals for percentage (xGF%) of 57.54 percent among all the defense pairings across the league that played at least 300 minutes together at 5v5.
Below are the defensive pairings from the final game of the regular season against the San Jose Sharks:
There are decisions to be made with the contracts of Hanifin, Tanev, Nikita Zadorov, and Dennis Gilbert, which likely requires shipping one or multiple of them off to clear cap space and free up some of the defence spots. Conroy and his team also have to worry about whether or not they want to bring back someone like Troy Stecher, as he’s a current free agent and made some solid contributions to the Flames down the stretch. He also became a fan-favourite defenceman primarily playing with Zadorov on the third pair.
Once Kylington is back up to speed, the expectation is likely that he will be a top four defenceman. Whether the new head coach (whoever that may be) decides to pair him with Tanev again is a separate question all together. However, he is good enough to make a return to the top four, but who is he going to kick out? With the addition of MacKenzie Weegar, that’s one extra defenceman the Flames didn’t have to worry about the last time Kylington was in an NHL game.
In theory, we could see a defence core that looks like this to start the season.
MacKenzie Weegar – Rasmus Andersson
Noah Hanifin – Chris Tanev
Oliver Kylington – Troy Stecher/Nikita Zadorov
Kylington coming back certainly makes these decisions harder. Stecher played on the right side with Zadorov last season, and he has the kind of attitude the Flames could use at this junction. However, relegating Zadorov to the seventh defenceman role after a career year doesn’t make much sense either. And if Kylington finds his footing, why wouldn’t he deserve to be in the top four?
All of this to say, it’s going to get complicated for Calgary on the backend, and the best solution may not come for a while. Management needs to gauge whether or not some players with expiring deals are going to come back, and if they’re not, they should be gone yesterday.
An abundance of quality NHL-level defencemen within their roles is never a bad thing. However, it’s a dilemma that requires due diligence and, most importantly, time. So, as of now, it’s still up in the air where Kylington fits in the defence core. However, the one guarantee is that he’s looking to make people’s jobs harder and force his way into a top spot.
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