The Calgary Flames have made several moves for defensemen over the past season. But they haven’t paid off, and have dragged the Flames’ defense down.
The Calgary Flames have made moves to get a better defense behind their explosive offense. That includes giving up their first two picks in the 2018 draft to the New York Islanders to get Travis Hamonic.
They also extended Michael Stone on a three-year contract with a $3.5 million annual cap hit. So far this season, the Flames might be experiencing buyer’s remorse.
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Hamonic has been paired with TJ Brodie for much of the season. That pairing has worked relatively well, with a 49.7 percent CorsiFor percentage, a 48.77 percent shot-share, and a .937 on-ice save percentage (all at even strength). Not bad.
But Brodie has been better without Hamonic. He has a better shot-share (51.04 percent), goals for percentage (60.87 to 41.38), and high-danger chance differential (57.14 percent vs. 48.54), all while taking less of his faceoffs in the offensive zone. Brodie needs to be paired with someone else longer than the 172 minutes he’s played without Hamonic.
Which raises the question of what to do with Hamonic. The Calgary Flames aren’t going to stop using Brodie as a top-three defenseman, and they brought him in to play as his partner. But that hasn’t worked out well, and Brodie is forced to drag Hamonic across the ice. So do the Flames drop him to the bottom pairing?
Well, Hamonic without Brodie is okay at best. He’s played 56 minutes without the better defenseman and has demonstrated value in several ways. He has a 51.64 CorsiFor percentage, a 51.56 percent shot-share, and a .936 on-ice save percentage. Hamonic also has allowed just two goals across 56 minutes when playing without Brodie, while being on the ice for five Flames goals. That’s fine for a bottom-pairing defenseman.
But what the Flames gave up for Hamonic doesn’t suggest a fifth or sixth defensive role. He needs minutes for the return package to be worth it. But he shouldn’t be playing that many minutes. It’s a conundrum for the Flames, and one they likely thought they wouldn’t have to deal with.
Michael Stone’s play has been less of a problem for the Calgary Flames. Still, for the contract he’s being paid, the Flames likely have higher expectations for him. That’s not to say that Stone has been bad this season. In fact, the pairing of him and Brett Kulak has been one of the best third pairings in the league.
While taking 65 percent of their faceoffs in the defensive zone, the pairing drives possession while playing well in their own zone. With an on-ice save percentage of .934, the two have a 51.25 percent shot share, 50 percent goal share, and possess 53.76 percent of the high-danger chances.
Without Kulak, Stone has played 260 minutes this season. He has a worse shot share, goal share, high-danger differential (while allowing more high-danger chances), on-ice save percentage while taking more faceoffs (and shifts) in the offensive zone.
Meanwhile, in 89 minutes without Stone, Kulak’s possession metrics stay relatively the same while he takes more shifts in the offensive zone. Both Stone and Kulak are better together, which is not good news for the Flames. They should want Stone to be better no matter who his partner is, especially since the Flames may want to switch Stone and Hamonic.
How to Rectify This
It’s not an easy solution. The Calgary Flames overpaid for someone they thought would help this team. They were wrong. There are worse things in the world, but trading a first round pick is troubling.
At the same time, Hamonic may just need to build chemistry with the team. We’ve seen how much chemistry means this season, especially with the Vegas Golden Knights, the top of the Flames’ division. Perhaps Hamonic needs to keep playing with Brodie, so the two can figure out how to help each other and how to fix each other’s weaknesses.
Stone hasn’t been bad at all, but he hasn’t been worth more than 3 million. But as the cap rises, so will the average price of contracts. For one of the best third pairing defensemen in the league, 3 million might be worth it.
Still, the Flames should draft another defenseman in next year’s first round. The Flames did just that in this year’s first round, picking Juuso Valimaki. He joins Rasmus Andersson as the best defensive prospects for the Calgary Flames. Maybe the Flames can rely on those two in the future.