There is a logjam on the blue line in Calgary, but the team is content to keep it that way. Sportsnet’s Eric Francis recently spoke to Flames GM Brad Treliving who stated that the team won’t be changing it’s current configuration on defense. With the recent recall of veteran Michael Stone from a conditioning stint in the AHL, Calgary currently has nine defenseman on the NHL roster. Treliving doubled down on his commitment to competition on the back end by adding that Juuso Valimaki, currently logging major minutes in the minors, will soon be recalled as well. At that point, the Flames will have ten defensemen and plan to carry that group through the remainder of the season.
With ten defensemen seeking play time, one would think multiple jobs are up for grabs. In fact, Francis writes that only one spot is really available if the Flames are at full health. The grouping of Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie, Travis Hamonic, and Noah Hanifin are all cemented in their top-four roles and the team has no complaints with young Rasmus Andersson on the bottom pair. That leaves five rearguards to battle for the one left-side spot beside Andersson on a nightly basis, while the other four watch from the press box.
The favorite to see the most ice time the rest of the way is trade deadline addition Oscar Fantenberg. Francis notes that head coach Bill Peters prefers to have a balanced blue line between righties and lefties (even though Brodie is a natural left-handed shot who plays to Giordano’s right) and Fanteberg has fit in nicely in his natural position next to Andersson. The former L.A. King was considered more of a depth addition when he was acquired, but has settled into a starting role in the recent weeks. Of course, Stone will also get plenty of consideration as the top veteran option next to the inexperienced Andersson. However, he has also been sidelined since November and may take some time to get back up to speed. Stone is also a right-shot, which isn’t preferred. Oliver Kylington is a left-shot and has played more games for the Flames this season than any of his competitors. At the same time, the 21-year-old has averaged the least ice time per game of the group and may not have the full trust of the coaching staff just yet. Kylington has shown flashes, but is still susceptible to defensive mistakes. The same can be said for Valimaki, who is just 20, but the recent first-rounder has looked strong in recent weeks with the Stockton Heat and logged 22 games with Calgary earlier this season. Finally, there’s stay-at-home defenseman Dalton Prout, who has been used primarily as an extra man over the past few years, but can be a dependable presence in his own zone and a physical threat, albeit with limited offensive ability.
Treliving tells Franics that he feels the numbers on the blue line are not a detriment to the team, but an opportunity for competition to make everyone better. Without a clear No. 6, the Flames will certainly have some competition down the stretch and it may very well result in a motivated winner. However, there is some risk that too much shuffling will leave Calgary without an obvious pick to man the bottom pair in the postseason. With little room for error in the playoffs, a cold defenseman or a choice without the requisite chemistry with Andersson could prove to be a problem. Depth for the purpose of safeguarding injuries is always an asset, but the Flames would be best-served to find a winner of this battle sooner rather than later and turn ten defensemen into six starters and four backups well prior to the postseason.