The other day I made my projections of the Flames' forward lines for their opening night match up against the Edmonton Oilers. Today, we are going to take a look at the rest of the line up: the defence pairings and the goaltenders.
This article is going to be a little different than how I wrote about the forward lines. In my mind, there is a stark contrast between how I would really like to see things shape up, versus how it seems that it will play out. Let us dive into it!
How I Would Like to See the Defence Pairs
How I Think the Defence Pairs Will Look
The Top Pairing: Giordano-Brodie
Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie are bound to start the season together. That is good news for us. Together, the "Brodano" pairing forms one of the best top pairings in the entire NHL. They have been that way for years and while Brodie-Hamilton is likely the pairing of the future, there is no reason to separate Brodano to start this season. They take on the toughest match ups, put up strong relative possession numbers and produce a lot of points from the back end. The Flames need to get off to a much better start this season than the past one and the best way to ensure that transpires is by having Giordano and Brodie together. This is what I would like to see, this is what I think we will see.
How I Would Like the Second Pair: Wotherspoon-Hamilton
This pairing might be a bit obscure to some. It may be presumptuous to place Tyler Wotherspoon with his 26 games of NHL experience on the second pairing with Dougie Hamilton. However, the potential is there for this to be a really solid pairing. Wotherspoon has put in his time in the minors (3 seasons, 162 AHL games), with a little stint in the NHL each of his pro seasons. Every time he has come up, he has looked more capable than the last time. Last season, in 11 NHL games, he posted a 53.17% CF, in sheltered minutes. A respectable number, considering how disastrous the Flames defensive structure was at times last year. I think pairing a defensively minded, responsible player like Wotherspoon with Dougie Hamilton could be beneficial for both parties. Hamilton would have more freedom to create offensively with Wotherspoon backing him up. Hamilton and Wotherspoon have played together before, as they were a pairing at the World Juniors a few years back. Wotherspoon-Hamilton would be a young, somewhat unproven defence pair, but with Giordano and Brodie anchoring the top pair, it is an option that could be worth a look.
How the Second Pair Will Probably Be: Jokipakka-Hamilton
While I am advocating for Wotherspoon-Hamilton, Jokipakka-Hamilton is not such a bad option either. Jokipakka had a solid start to his tenure in Calgary last year, with 6 assists in 18 games. His possession stats were not stellar, but he was adjusting to a new system and as mentioned earlier, the Flames as a whole had struggles in this department. We need a full season of him in Calgary to give a fair verdict on what he can contribute to this team. Jokipakka may not have as much upside as Wotherspoon, but he could still provide a solid stay-at-home complement to Hamilton.
How I Would Like The Third Pair to Look: Jokipakka-Nakladal
It would be just wonderful if the Flames could (would) resign Jakub Nakladal. It is early August and they still have not signed him, but he has yet to join another team, so a Nakladal return is not out of the realm of possibility. The Flames need to clear roster space for Nakladal to rejoin the squad, by moving either Wideman or Engelland and placing Ladislav Smid on the Long Term Injured Reserve. Jokipakka and Nakladal got some playing time in together last year and it was the best look that the Flames' third pairing has had in quite a while. Nakladal posted strong possession stats and displayed a booming shot from the point. This is a pairing that has some solid upside and would be very cost efficient in sheltered minutes.
How I Think the Third Pairing Will Look: Engelland-Wideman
This is the worst-case scenario third pairing option for the Flames to open this season with, but it unfortunately is quite a likely one. Engelland can provide value to the Flames in certain ways: the intangibles of grit, leadership, muscle, etc. The reality is, his defensive game is quite poor, his offensive game does not exist and he drags down the players he is placed with. Engelland would be a good option as a spare part for the last year of his contract, getting in certain games where the "grit factor" may be particularly necessary, but should there really be a place for him in the every day line up?
As for Dennis Wideman, I know I am not alone in the assertion that it would be terrific if the Flames could somehow send him elsewhere. However, this task was always looking like it would not come to fruition and the more that the summer progresses, the more likely it is that we have to come to an acceptance that he will be back next season. Between his huge salary, atrocious defensive play, a big decline in counting stats and that little incident you may have heard about between him and linesman Don Henderson, it is not surprising that Wideman is viewed as a toxic asset around the league. It sounds like the Flames would love to move him, but it just does not seem likely. Should Wideman remain with the Flames, he should be able to contribute in a role similar to last year, which can still help the team in particular situations, but it would just be best for everybody if the Flames were able to move on from him.
In this scenario, Tyler Wotherspoon or maybe Jyrki Jokipakka would end up as the extra defender, or even placed on waivers to be claimed by any other team. Jakub Nakladal would remain unsigned by the Flames. It would be unfortunate to lose out on the opportunity to move forward with these younger players with more upside, due to the fact the Flames are currently saddled with declining veterans with big contracts.
What About Ladislav Smid?
Another factor that has yet to be touched on in this piece is Ladislav Smid. There still is no confirmation as to whether he will be available to play this upcoming season after being shut down once again last season due to his recurring neck injuries. It has been an awful run of luck for Smid health wise and his play has not been up to par when he has actually ended up in the line up. It appears it would be best for the Flames and Smid if he focused on his health and did not play this upcoming season. This would allow the team to place Smid on the Long Term Injured Reserve for this last year of his contract, not taking up a roster spot or salary cap space. If Smid is cleared and willing to play, things get even more complicated and less beneficial for the Flames defensive core.
Does that not look beautiful to you? Not much needs to be said about how the goaltending situation. Instead of wondering which goalies are going to be in the NHL and never knowing who will start the next game, we have a clear-cut tandem. Brian Elliott is the big offseason acquisition, finally with the opportunity to be a number one goaltender. He will start opening night, the Flames paid a high second round pick to acquire him and he has a track record of being a top notch NHL goaltender.
Chad Johnson is a solid number 2 option, coming off a season where he played a career high 45 games and posted a .920 save percentage. He should play well when called upon; giving the Flames a solid fallback option should anything happen to Elliott. While we have not seen these goalies play in the Flames colours yet, just looking at their potential together inspires feelings of optimism compared to the travesty we saw unfold last year.
The goaltending situation appears straightforward this season. That sounds like a miracle compared to what transpired last year.
On the defensive side of things, there are some really solid pillars to rely upon. Mark Giordano is still the man around here, while Brodie and Hamilton will continue to progress forward. After that, who knows what will happen. Any combination of Jokipakka, Wotherspoon, Engelland, Wideman, Smid, Nakladal and perhaps others could end up rounding out the defense on opening night. I would like to see the other 3 as Wotherspoon, Jokipakka and Nakladal, but there are so many possibilities. Just over 2 months until we find out.
So, here is my ideal opening night line up for the Flames. What does yours look like?
Scratches: F. Hamilton, Hathaway