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Shuffling the deck chairs on defence: Breen replaces O'Brien

Shane O'Brien was sent down to the Abbotsford Heat, and Chris Breen was recalled to replace him. Neither fits in the organization's long-term plans, but it's still a net positive.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Calgary Flames would appear to be done with Shane O'Brien. After the defenceman cleared waivers, he was sent down to the Abbotsford Heat, and it seems unlikely that he'll return:

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Burke on O&#39;Brien: "Obviously the extra year of his contract is the killer so now we’ll see if we can structure a trade ...&quot;</p>&mdash; Kristen Odland (@KristenOdlandCH) <a href="">January 26, 2014</a></blockquote>

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<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>&quot;...we’ll see if there’s a team that would take him if we aren’t part of the obligations."</p>&mdash; Kristen Odland (@KristenOdlandCH) <a href="">January 26, 2014</a></blockquote>

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You don't send down a veteran if you intend to keep him, and you certainly don't discuss trading him, either.

It's no loss, though: O'Brien has the second worst relative corsi out of all regular defencemen on the Flames, meaning the Flames tend to be worse whenever he's on the ice. Only Ladislav Smid's is worse, and Smid faces both tougher zone starts and quality of competition. In fact, O'Brien faces the easiest competition out of all regular Flames defencemen, and the Flames still tend to get outshot whenever he's on the ice.

In short: the O'Brien experiment was brief, pointless, and yet another feather in Jay Feaster's cap when it comes to his ability to make outstandingly bad trades.

O'Brien out, Breen in

With O'Brien gone, the Flames currently have five healthy defencemen on the roster: Mark Giordano, TJ Brodie, Dennis Wideman, Kris Russell, and Chris Butler. Smid missed the last game with what has been described as a "nagging injury". This necessitates a call up, and the Flames have chosen Chris Breen.

Breen last played for the Flames on Dec. 27, when the Flames were "shut out" by the Oilers 2-0. He had 4:24 of ice time. The most he's ever played in an NHL game is 12:06. Most of his time in the NHL has been spent in the press box, back when the Flames refused to send him down for whatever reason, choosing him to be the seventh defenceman who almost never got to dress.

Why Breen?

If Smid's injury isn't that bad, it appears we'll be going back to that, and that's fine. Breen isn't likely to become an NHL regular. His claim to fame is that he's 6'7", but being tall isn't enough. In this case, prospects get to continue playing in Abbotsford, and he gets to collect an NHL paycheque for however much longer.

If, however, Smid is out for a while, then it's Breen who gets to suit up. Other than Chad Billins, he's probably the best option right now. The Flames know what they have in O'Brien and Derek Smith, and neither is going to be with the team long-term.

Otherwise, notable prospects on defence include Patrick Sieloff, Tyler Wotherspoon, and John Ramage. All are first year pros, and all need to be playing in the AHL, not doing nothing in the press box or getting killed for the maybe five minutes they might get to play should they dress for an NHL game. It's not the right time for them.

As for Billins, he's been trusted with even less ice time than Breen: a grand total of 21:05 over two games. Billins, however, put up two assists in his two games, while Breen has been pointless in his five (oh - but he did have a fight against Lane MacDermid for some reason).

This isn't to say Billins might not get another chance sooner rather than later, though. He's the highest scoring defenceman on the Heat, and third overall, behind only Ben Street and Max Reinhart. Depending on how long the Flames feel like trying out Breen again, he could be next to get a shot.

What it comes down to

O'Brien is 30 and done. Breen is 24 and not likely to be an NHLer, but there's always the offhand chance he figures it out and ends up becoming a regular. It's not likely, but it's better than just letting O'Brien, an unwanted commodity, continue to occupy a roster spot.

Breen is the defensive prospect the Flames are most familiar with at this point in time (this is his fourth full season in the organization), so he's the one who gets the chance right now.

Ultimately, the swap means very little. But the little it does mean is better than most alternatives available to the Flames right now.