It has been apparent for most of the season, and especially in the last three weeks or so that the Flames needed a significant improvement in their bottom three defencemen.
Dennis Wideman hasn’t been getting the job done as the fourth defenceman, and Brett Kulak, Jyrki Jokipakka, and Deryk Engelland have shown promise, but still aren’t guys you want rolling out for the big minutes every night outside of a bottom pairing role.
So when the Flames signed Matt Bartkowski to a PTO on Wednesday, it opened up some interesting possibilities of where things could go should the Flames choose to sign him. There also have been lots of reports that a Bartkowski signing could only be a matter of days away.
First of all, it’s important to recognize that Bartkowski played alongside Dougie Hamilton while they were both with the Bruins, and the he also played under Glen Gulutzan in Vancouver. This familiarity could lead to some interesting lineup combinations.
Best Case Scenario
While the combination of Mark Giordano and Dougie Hamilton has been nothing short of amazing since they were paired together, it’s been a completely different story on the second line as Brodie has been held back by Wideman.
In fact, Brodie scored his first goal in 24 games against the Flyers in his first game since being moved away from Wideman.
With that in mind, could the Flames make some changes that could create two strong lines of defense. While breaking up Gio-Hamilton will be tough to stomach, having the ability to reunite the Gio-Brodie pairing which has been solid for a number of years could be too good to pass up.
With a more conservative style of play under Gulutzan compared to Bob Hartley, the pairing could still drive offensive play while improving on their defensive play from last season.
Then Bartkowski and Hamilton could reunite and hopefully carryover some chemistry from past years. However, that pairing did struggle at times to keep the puck out of the net, but hopefully that can be worked on too.
This would mean the bottom pairing could consist of a mixture of Jokipakka, Wideman, Kulak, and Engelland. I can’t see the Flames carrying around 8 defense for long, so either Kulak could get shipped to the minors or a trade would have to be made.
Next Best Scenario
So it’s more than likely Bartkowski won’t be able to step into a top four role, or at least not immediately. If he was a true top four defenceman, there’s no chance he would’ve been playing in the NHL this season as they don’t exactly grow on trees.
So let’s say Bartkowski becomes a bottom pairing player and plays likely alongside Engelland. That would remove Kulak from the lineup unless some shuffling was done.
Ideally I’d like to see a Kulak-Brodie second pairing but the strange unwillingness to have two left defenders together may hamper this possibility.
Another problem is that if the Flames choose to continue to dress Wideman, Brodie is the only defender he should play with. He’s the only defender that I’m confident enough in to consistently cover for Wideman’s mistakes and slow foot speed. Asking a player like Bartkowski or Kulak to do that may be too much as we saw with the Flyers first goal on Wednesday.
A defensive lineup of Gio-Hamilton, Kulak-Brodie, Bartkowski-Engelland, would be much stronger than the one currently being employed.However, this would probably mean the Flames would have to waive Jokipakka to make it happen or demote a forward.
Or the Flames might choose to send down Kulak to the AHL if they can’t get a deal done.
It Could Mean Nothing
This signing could be nothing more than having a defender to expose in the upcoming expansion draft. However, most indications are pointing towards him playing this year in the NHL, while also still being an expansion exposure.
Brad Treliving hasn’t been a GM to act without cause, so I completely expect him to suit up with the Flames or even the Stockton Heat soon.
The Flames also only have three NHL defenseman under contract for next year, so if Bartkowski happened to not be picked, he could fill a bottom pairing role quite well as some other players leave.
While it’s a lot to ask of Bartkowski, if he could rekindle the past connections he’s had with Hamilton and move into the top 4, it would really benefit the whole team in a number of ways.
If he falls into a bottom pairing role, some movement will have to be made unless the Flames are willing to keep playing Wideman with Brodie.
Odds are that Bartkowski won’t be the top four solution the Flames need, but he’ll provide additional depth and experience for the Flames while helping the Calgary meet their Vegas exposure requirements.
Nevertheless I expect Bartkowski to be offered a contract soon, and from there we’ll see how Glen Gulutzan and Brad Treliving move forward. There are certainly some interesting possibilities.