Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie are very good and have been for awhile now. Brett Kulak looks like he has potential to be a solid NHL defenceman. Tyler Wotherspoon can probably provided respectable depth for the organization.
But those are the only defensemen of value that remain from the Darryl Sutter and Jay Feaster eras. Frankly, those are the only defensemen of value that were in the organization in the 2013-14 season.
Defensemen that suited up for the Calgary Flames in the 2013-14 season included:
- Mark Giordano
- T.J. Brodie
- Chad Billins
- Chris Breen
- Chris Butler
- Mark Cundari
- Shane O’Brien
- Kris Russell
- Ladislav Smid
- Derek Smith
- Dennis Wideman
- Tyler Wotherspoon
Hard to believe they were one of the worst teams in the NHL, eh?
That is the group that was assembled for Brad Treliving when he was hired to be the General Manager of the Calgary Flames. A very strong top-pair and then a mishmash of third pairing defensemen and guys that should not be NHLers. With no prospects that looked like they would play any significant role in the NHL in the future.
Today, the story is much different.
Championship Teams Generally Need a Strong Defence
Yeah, this year’s Pittsburgh Penguins do not quite fit that archetype, but they have a lot of other things going for them.
Their opponents, the Nashville Predators, had probably the best defence in the league. The Blackhawks had a strong group in their recent championships, as did the L.A. Kings.
You can win without a high calibre defence, but you have to like team’s chances a lot more when they have one.
It looks like Brad Treliving is very cognizant of this reality.
Brad Treliving Has Built a Top-5 Defence in the League
Treliving realized who was of value when he took over and made sure to keep Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie on long-term deals.
He spent premium assets to acquire a young star in Dougie Hamilton and then signed him long-term. 2 years later, nobody can argue that it was not a tremendous move.
This summer, he spent similar assets to the Hamilton deal, to bring in a strong, more defensive oriented player, on a terrific contract, in Travis Hamonic.
That has the makings of a tremendous top-4, one that can probably only be rivalled by the Nashville Predators, Anaheim Ducks and Minnesota Wild. That is good company.
I don’t love the Michael Stone contract, I truly don’t believe he is a great player and I think there is a prospect in the organization that could be ready to make the jump (more on that later). However, if Stone is in a third pairing role, that is solid depth for a bottom-pair and penalty killing and gives you someone to draw on, should injuries hit.
Treliving also kept the only D prospect of value from when he joined the organization, keeping Brett Kulak around. Luckily, Vegas ignored Kulak in the expansion draft too. Kulak has been coming along nicely, putting up strong numbers in a top-pairing role in the AHL over the past couple of years, while also fairing quite well in 30 career NHL games. In fact, he made Deryk Engelland a better player than Brodie or Bartkowski did. He has value.
All factored in, a completely healthy top-6 defence for the Calgary Flames looks like:
(Bartkowski/Wotherspoon as 7th defenders)
That is a very skilled, mobile defence, with not many weaknesses. It is built to play in this era of the NHL and is locked in under contract for the next 3 years. Not too shabby.
The Next Wave Has A Ton of Promise as Well
When Treliving took over, Tyler Wotherspoon was the top prospect on D, while Brett Kulak had a very good WHL season.
Otherwise, it was not a very pretty group:
- John Ramage
- Pat Sieloff
- Ryan Culkin
- Keegan Kanzig
- Eric Roy
- Rushan Rafikov
- John Gilmour
It was a very poor collection, none of the guys listed above look like they’ll be NHLers, Culkin and Sieloff only had a bit of promise at the time, while Tyler Wotherspoon does not look like much more than a depth defender today.
While building the NHL defence, Treliving has done an excellent job of building a prospect pool on D. There is a significant group of premium prospects, with bright futures that are viewed with value around the hockey world.
The cream of the crop includes:
Rasmus Andersson (53rd Overall in 2015)
A right-shot D from Sweden with good size, with great offensive production and offers reliability in all three zones. Had two very productive seasons in the OHL and just had a solid rookie season in the AHL. Was viewed as a first round talent by some, but fell due to conditioning concerns. Looks like that may not end up being a big issue.
He may not be that far away from pushing for an NHL spot.
and yes - Rasmus Andersson looks like a stud. 2nd youngest of the group, best defensive results, 2nd biggest gap in QoC vs QoT, decent eTOI— Stephen Burtch (@SteveBurtch) June 30, 2017
Oliver Kylington (60th Overall in 2015)
Just a few picks after Andersson, the Flames picked up another Swedish defenceman with sky-high potential. Kylington was at one point viewed as a top-5 pick in the draft, but fell all the way down to 60th due to a draft year of inconsistency, injuries and intensive questioning about his defensive ability.
Ultimately, the Flames took the chance on his elite skill set and they may be rewarded for it. Only having just turned 20, he already has 107 AHL games under his belt. This past season, as one of the youngest players in the AHL, he put up 27 points in 60 games. His defensive game is a work in progress, but the Flames have the depth to be able to ease him along and work with him to round out his game.
He has a lot of value and could turn out to be something special.
Adam Fox (66th Overall in 2016)
Last year, the Flames picked up another defenceman who many viewed as a steal (there is a recurring theme here). Fox had an incredible year as a freshmen with Harvard in the NCAA. Here are some of his accomplishments:
- 40 points in 35 games (6 G, 34 A)
- Ivy-League Rookie of the Year
- NCAA East First All-American Team
- ECAC First All-Star Team
- Gold at the 2017 World Junior Championship
Here is an article of multiple NCAA coaches praising how great of a player Fox is. He is an exciting prospect.
Juuso Valimaki (16th Overall in 2017)
The newest addition to the prospect pool, the left-shot Finnish defenceman just had a terrific WHL season, posting 19 goals and 42 assists for 61 points in just 60 games. The fifth defenceman off the board in the 2017 draft, Valimaki is highly regarded for his intelligent 2-way play and projects to be a solid top-4 defender. Unlike Kylington and Fox, he is also has good size to go along with his great skating, which is never a bad thing.
Here is a look at some of the plays the Finn made this past season.
Those are just the high end D prospects. Josh Healey and Adam Ollas-Mattson have the potential to fill depth roles, while the Flames were able to afford to trade Brandon Hickey’s rights to Arizona in the Mike Smith trade due to how many better quality prospects they had.
That is how well the Flames organization has stocked their defence at all levels.
The Team is Solid Now and Looks Like They Have A Transition Plan in Place
As alluded to earlier, the Flames have their NHL defence intact for the next 3 seasons. After the 2019-2020 season, the contracts of Brodie, Hamonic and Stone expire. Meanwhile, Mark Giordano will be in his late 30s. But the forward core will still be young, while hopefully one of the top goalie prospects will have found their way into in starring the NHL. But the Flames should be able to stay in contention with a strong defence.
By stocking up with such solid young talent on D, the transition plan is already in place. If Stone and Hamonic were to walk, having Rasmus Andersson and Adam Fox available alleviates a lot of concern there. Mark Giordano no longer suited for top-4 minutes? Oliver Kylington and Juuso Valimaki are there for the succession plan.
With such a solid forward core intact when he arrived in Calgary, Treliving has done a heck of a job setting up the defence, both for now and in the future.
It is work that could be the difference maker in leading the team to a championship.