It’s Monday, and longtime Calgary Flames captain and all-around excellent hockey player/person Jarome Iginla is being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame this evening.
To commemorate this, and because it’s Monday, let’s dive into the mailbag!
Stockton defenseman Yan Kuznetsov is in a unique position, as he’s playing in the AHL because he was eligible to after being drafted out of college (and signed by the Flames). He’s 19, so he’s also eligible to play in major junior, and he was drafted by the QMJHL’s Saint John Sea Dogs as an import.
Unless the QMJHL has changed their calendar drastically from prior seasons, the trade and roster deadline is Jan. 6. The X-factor for the Sea Dogs is the import player limit, which is two. Saint John has Belarusian forward Evgeny Sapelnikov as their lone import, and a pair of Swiss-Canadian dual citizens – defenseman Vincent Despont and goalie Noah Patenaude, who apparently don’t count as imports because they have Canadian citizenship. It seems that the Flames could just opt to send Kuznetsov to Saint John if they wanted to without the junior club having to make big changes.
That said, the Heat cut their eighth defenseman (Alec McCrea) this week, leaving them with seven blueliners and seemingly giving an indication that Kuznetsov is doing just fine on the third pairing in Stockton and is there to stay.
It depends on two factors: success and desire.
If the Flames are successful this season, I could see ownership and/or GM Brad Treliving wanting to keep Darryl Sutter around beyond the 2022-23 season – his last on his current contract. But Sutter turned 63 in August and he’ll be 65 a month after his current contract expires. He’s currently the second-oldest active NHL coach aside from Dallas’ Rick Bowness (66). Will Sutter want to bother with the grind of NHL coaching in a year or two?
Five shutouts in 15 games puts the Flames on pace for 27 shutouts, which they will not get. It’s probably safe for the club to aim for around 8-10 clean sheets. That would be the most the club has gotten since 2005-06, when Miikka Kiprusoff got 10 on his own and won the Vezina Trophy.
At this point, the Flames seem like a decent bet to contend for the Jennings Trophy (for lowest team goals against average) this season, though.
Nikita Zadorov is from scenic Moscow, Russia originally, where he grew up and played most of his minor and junior hockey. Since going pro, he’s played in such notoriously cold places as Buffalo, Denver and Chicago. I’m sure he’ll really enjoy Calgary’s relatively mild winters, especially the chinooks.
Honestly, it was probably more or less on target. Remember, TJ Brodie was given all sorts of opportunities at the NHL level during his entry-level deal – the team wasn’t good and had very little prospect depth, so they could afford to do this and were basically forced to due to lack of depth – and he didn’t become a full-time NHLer until he was 23 years old.
Kylington is 24, a year older than Brodie was, and he’s had the challenge of the team trying to become a contender during his ascent. Contenders, or teams trying to be, tend not to put a lot of prospects in because they don’t want to lose games because of a youngster’s mistake. Those situations hurt the team in the standings and a prospect’s development, so the Flames have tended to opt for the Detroit Model of keeping prospects on the farm until they kick the door down or are ready for waivers.
Good news: Kylington has kicked the door down.
The Flames have found a nice balance with how they use their defensemen, in relation to special teams. Let me explain what I mean.
Rasmus Andersson and Noah Hanifin, defensive partners, are the lone defenders on PP1 and PP2 respectively. The Flames tend to use Oliver Kylington and Chris Tanev after PPs as the “bump-up” pair to maintain momentum.
On the penalty kill, the usual pairings are Hanifin/Andersson and Tanev/Gudbranson (sometimes Tanev/Zadorov), leaving Kylington with either Gudbranson or Zadorov on the post-PK “bump up” shift.
Kylington is arguably the team’s most effective five-on-five blueliner, which makes him extremely valuable to the coaching staff in situations after special teams shifts. It also, unfortunately, hampers his ability to get special teams shifts of his own.
Depending on how Carey Price gets back into the swing of things with Montreal, it’s probably going to be him. But if Price isn’t back to his old goaltending prowess, it might end up being St. Louis’ Jordan Binnington.
So here’s the problem: Valimaki doesn’t seem to have a clear role. He’s not good enough defensively – in a pure “lean on guys and go glass-and-out” way – to be a third pairing role player the way Zadorov or Gudbranson have been, and he wasn’t particularly good when used in that role this season or last.
He’s also not nearly as good as Kylington is right now – to be fair, Kylington is a year older and didn’t miss a year and a half of development time due to injuries – and Kylington is far better suited to a top four role right now than Valimaki is.
So, for now, Valimaki is playing the waiting game and hoping somebody plays their way out of the lineup. The Flames have his rights for awhile yet, but I’m sure they’re hoping he gets back in soon and finds his swagger again. But they need to have a clear role for him to fill in order to do that, and there just isn’t a fit yet.
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