What will the Flames’ defensive deployment look like post-deadline?

The 2020 NHL trade deadline has come and gone, with the Calgary Flames closing the day as one of the more active teams in the league. With a total of three moves made, the Flames were able to bring in two defensemen and bid adieu to another.

Derek Forbort and Erik Gustafsson made their way to the Flames, while Brandon Davidson‘s short stint ended with a trade to the San Jose Sharks. We have already broken down the three deals made, but there is still a massive lingering question: how do the Flames deploy their new defensive units?

With Travis Hamonic and Juuso Valimaki currently sidelined with longer term injuries, and Mark Giordano‘s status still up in the air, the Flames have a number of NHL defensemen that they need to find spots for. Although the team is bound to deploy a completely different unit against the Boston Bruins, there is a strong chance that Geoff Ward experiments down the stretch. What could that look like? Let’s take a look:

Without Giordano & Hamonic

Hanifin – Andersson
Brodie – Gustafsson
Forbort – Kylington
Stone
Hanifin – Andersson
Forbort – Gustafsson
Kylington – Brodie
Stone
Hanifin – Andersson
Brodie – Stone
Kylington – Gustafsson
Forbort
Hanifin – Andersson
Forbort – Brodie
Gustafsson – Kylington
Stone

With the Flames top two defensive defenseman things get very tricky. As we have seen over the past few games, it is hard to replace both Hamonic and Giordano. With the additions of Gustafsson and Forbort, things get a little easier as the Flames will no longer need to get extensive minutes out of Michael Stone and Alexander Yelesin.

It would be wise to keep the Hanifin – Andersson pairing together as they have been solid over the last few games. Together on the season they sport a 51.8% CF%, 53.6% SCF%, 56.3% HDCF%, while only starting in the offensive zone 49.3% of the time (5v5 data courtesy of Natural Stat Trick). In terms of what the Flames have right now, it would be wise to keep this tandem together.

The other pairs get much more difficult. Both new players should immediately make their debuts over any incumbents. That’s not to say that’s the best path, but the team needs to see what they have before moving forward.

Stone looks to be the odd man out in this case, and for good reason. With Forbort ideally placed on the left side, and Gustafsson able to play on the right, it would make the most logical sense to have the two players paired together at the start. After trying that, if unsuccessful, then the experimenting can begin.

Forbort appears to have much more of a defensive stay-at-home style, with Gustafsson opting for more of the offensive game. So although a Gustafsson would be intriguing with a speedy skater like Oliver Kylington, it would make more sense to see Forbort on the left side there. The Flames could also opt to experiment with both acquisitions alongside T.J. Brodie, which could be an interesting to see how Brodie fares with the newcomers.

Out of these scenarios, I would think option #2 would make the most sense right off the bat.

With Giordano, Without Hamonic

That takes care of the worst-case scenario that the Flames are currently in. However, they may be getting another defenseman addition to the roster, as Giordano looks to be close to a return (possibly even against Boston). How does that change things?

Giordano – Andersson
Hanifin – Brodie
Kylington – Gustafsson
Forbort
Giordano – Brodie
Hanifin – Andersson
Forbort – Gustafsson
Kylington
Giordano – Brodie
Hanifin – Gustafsson
Kylington – Andersson
Forbort

The captain’s return makes things much more intriguing for the Flames’ coaching staff. Reuniting Brodie with Giordano would is a near certainty for the Flames, since they have had the most success this season. Doing so opens up Andersson to remain with Hanifin, or even slot alongside his frequent partner Kylington.

Depending on how Forbort and Gustafsson adjust to the Flames system and/or playing together, Giordano’s return plays a big factor in how they will be continued to be inserted into the lineup. With Giordano slotted back on the left side, Forbort could end up being the odd man out.

While that would be difficult to swallow, especially based on the recent acquisition cost, it would likely be a battle between Forbort and Kylington for ice time. If Forbort is able to play better in his own zone than Kylington, the Flames may opt for that insurance over Kylington’s upside.

Finally, as a fun option, I wonder if the Flames would try out a Hanifin – Gustafsson pairing. It’s a pairing that should only happen on Giordano’s return, but it’s an intriguing option that would alter the pairings significantly.

Giordano being activated makes trying the new additions as a pairing much more palatable, and if Forbort and Gustafsson can click, option #2 may be the way to go for the Flames.

With Giordano & Hamonic

Here is where things get crowded. As you may have noticed in the previous options, Stone was not even mentioned. Although Hamonic isn’t supposed to return for “a while,” when he does… the back-end is going to get extremely busy. Here are some best guesses as to what this could look like:

Giordano – Brodie
Hanifin – Hamonic
Forbort – Andersson
Gustafsson/Forbort
Giordano – Brodie
Hanifin – Hamonic
Gustafsson – Andersson
Kylington/Forbort
Giordano – Andersson
Hanifin – Hamonic
Kylington – Brodie
Gustafsson/Forbort
Giordano – Brodie
Hanfin – Andersson
Gustafsson – Hamonic
Kylington/Forbort

Right off the bat, the Flames could be carrying nine defensemen in this scenario (with Stone not listed). That’s a lot of possibilities.

A Hanifin and Hamonic reunion seems like a worthwhile starting point, pending any unearthed gem pairings found over the next few weeks. The two players have spent the most time together and would make the most sense as Hamonic returns from injury. With that assumption, then Giordano and Brodie could follow suit. Andersson is also a must for the lineup, but exactly where remains to be seen.

With the top five established, the final pairing becomes extremely complicated. Andersson could play with Kylington, but then both Gustafsson and Forbort would be left to the press box. If the Flames keep one of the new guys in the lineup, then you’re leaving the other and Kylington off the ice. Initial thoughts would have Gustafsson in the lineup over Forbort, but that’s just a guess at this rate.

If we are taking a shot in the dark, option #2 once again seems to be the best choice down the road.

Deployment Decisions

The Flames most likely would not have made both deals today if they didn’t think that Hamonic was going to be out for an extended period of time. Forbort and Gustafsson give the Flames options down the stretch that they didn’t have before today. The team most likely make this deal as they were far less comfortable with Stone, Yelesin, and Davidson splitting ice time than they should be.

With both Forbort and Gustafsson in the picture, the Flames bought themselves solid insurance coverage while they await the return of two of their top players. Where exactly they fit in the lineup remains to be seen, but it’s very possible that one of the deployments mentioned above is one that we will see on the ice in the near future.


What do you think of the Flames’ moves? What defensive deployments do you want to see?

Photo Credit: Creator – Icon Sportswire

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