The NHL officially unveiled the name of its 32nd franchise yesterday. The newest team will be the Seattle Kraken, and just like the 31st team, they will be joining the Flames in the Pacific Division in less than two years time.
The Vegas Golden Knights, the first expansion team in the NHL since 2001 when the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild joined the league, have had incredible success already. They have become a powerhouse in the NHL, with a Western Conference championship banner, two Pacific Division banners, and are already a top four team in this year’s playoffs, getting a bye past the play-in round.
Expansion teams are not the meek, bottom feeders they once were. The way the expansion draft works allows new teams to be competitive right off the bat, and depending on how your GM operates, allows them to be a top tier team as well.
The Seattle expansion draft looms, and while the Flames were unscathed in the Vegas expansion draft losing pending UFA Deryk Engelland and nothing else, this is a critical time in ensuring the Flames are in the best possible state for when Seattle comes knocking.
Where do the Flames stand?
For the most part, the players who will be eligible for the draft are confirmed. On defense, the Flames will have to choose three defensemen of Mark Giordano, Noah Hanifin, Rasmus Andersson, Oliver Kylington, Andrew Nielsen, and whoever they sign this offseason to fill the potential holes left by T.J. Brodie, Travis Hamonic, Erik Gustafsson, and Derek Forbort. The only exception is Juuso Valimaki.
Due to his injury history, Valimaki finds himself in a very unique position. From what we understand, he is currently not eligible for the expansion draft. This wasn’t the case a year ago. Valimaki was poised to be a regular in the Flames’ lineup for the 2019-20 season, but suffered an ACL injury training in the offseason prior to training camp.
As a result, he has not played a single game this year, and has not accrued a year of service. That’s great news for the Flames! One more exempt player is one less problem they have to deal with. However, it’s not that cut and dry. If Valimaki is on the roster for any game the Flames play in the upcoming playoffs, that year of service counts, and all of a sudden he’s not exempt from the expansion draft anymore.
Herein lies the question: when should the Flames play Valimaki?
The Black and White
The easy answer is never. The way Vegas took teams to the cleaners to build a powerhouse team makes it as important as ever to keep Valimaki on the sidelines so you can guarantee he stays a Flame. Hanifin and Andersson are locks to be protected, and allowing that third spot to go to Giordano or one of the new additions is valuable enough to not play Valimaki.
It’s not worth experimenting with a guy who hasn’t even played a game in a year and open up a huge can of worms down the road. It’s bad asset management, and it’s unnecessary with the depth the Flames have on the blueline.
The other easy answer is the Flames should dress Valimaki for Game 1 against the Jets. Anyone who holds this opinion is likely in the very small minority, but there is an argument to be made. From all accounts, Valimaki looks to have had a very, very strong training camp. Not only is he healthy enough to play, he’s looked like a beast.
He’s more than knocking on the door, and you have to believe he wants to play. He’s motivated, and if he’s one of the team’s top six defenders, maybe even top four defenders, why would you deny him that chance? Why would you deny the team that talent in the playoffs no less?
Well, that’s probably a bit unrealistic. The expansion draft is coming and the dangers of not treating it with proper care are real. The correct answer probably lies somewhere in the middle.
Looking into the grey area opens up a realm of possibilities. At what point does it make sense to use Valimaki? If the Flames are down 2-1 to the Jets and lose Derek Forbort, for example, is that a good enough time to use him?
The answer is probably no. The Flames would have to win out to advance, and then win another four rounds to hoist the Cup. Probably not a smart decision to use Valimaki for maybe just one game.
What about if the Flames advance to the second round? The third round? The conference finals? At what point does it make sense to play him.
There isn’t a right answer to this question, but you have to at least consider using Valimaki if the Flames need him to legitimately have a shot to win the Stanley Cup. Remember, the expansion draft is one problem in the future; banners fly forever.
The final complication to this whole debate is the state of the league, and world right now. There is no guarantee the season will actually start again. There is no guarantee we’ll see the end of the qualifying round, and the first overall choice will be drawn from the teams who would normally not have advanced to the playoffs. There is no guarantee the season will finish properly and the Stanley Cup will be awarded.
With the pandemic, nothing is for sure. What if the Flames are surging in the playoffs, decide to use Valimaki, and the season gets shut down in the Finals?
If they Flames do opt to include Valimaki on their roster, and therefore deciding to protect him in the expansion draft, then it opens up the possibility for the Kraken to select a key piece from the Flames roster. Even if they decide to remain at three defensemen, it’s possible that Giordano could be the odd man out. If they opt to protect four defensemen to include Giordano, then the Flames would lose a significant piece from their forward group. But that is a whole other issue.
The risks are more complicated with the way this season has morphed, and it might be better to just see how far this team can go without Valimaki.
What would you do?
This is a more complicated decision than it seems. It’s not as simple as saying yes to playing Valimaki or saying no. They probably won’t play him right away, but they can’t be so rigid in their stance that they’d be completely unwilling to dress Valimaki altogether. There has to be a point at which the Flames say okay, now it makes sense to use him because we have a real shot at the Cup.
What do you think is the best option? At what point do you think the Flames should or will be willing to use Valimaki on their roster? Let us know in the comments or on social media.