Calgary Flames

TWC Mailbag: Everyone’s got the D on their mind

It’s Friday! Not only is this the day to get down, this is the day for the TWC Mailbag. We received quite a few questions and as the Calgary Flames training camp wraps up and the regular season starts, we’re looking forward to answering even more questions from everyone.

If we didn’t get to your question this time around, please send it in again and we’ll do our best to tackle it next week.

Without further ado, let’s get to your questions.

This week, we had a lot of questions about the Flames’ defense.

Deep thoughts on Flames defenders

The short answer is yes, but it comes with a lot of caveats. Background: after his first preseason game, it seems like the entire Flames fan base has soured on Erik Gudbranson – at least those who weren’t already sour on him to begin with. And, honestly, it’s hard to fault them. Gudbranson suited up alongside Juuso Valimaki on the Flames’ third pairing for their preseason tilt versus the Oilers, and it was a disaster.

He was slow, made bad plays, and generally looked like a guy who wasn’t cut out to play NHL hockey. Obviously, this is not what you want to see from a guy who was just handed a $1.95M contract. At this point, the contract means essentially nothing though, and you can’t fault Gudbranson for signing that deal. It was well known he was a pretty marginal NHLer at best, and the Flames still put that offer in front of him. What would you do, walk away?

At the end of the day, you really hope Gudbranson shakes off the rust (that has coated his body for the past five seasons) and finally plays like a guy who was drafted third overall should (wild, I know). The Flames might be putting money on that happening, but I definitely won’t be, and neither should you.

It’s not realistic to expect Gudbranson to not make the NHL team this season. As long as he’s healthy, it is an almost certainty that Gudbranson will be on the active roster. That doesn’t mean he’ll be playing every night, though.

At this point in his career, Gudbranson’s value comes not only on the ice, but in practices and in the room. If he is this team’s seventh defenseman on most nights, it could open the door for a kid, aka Oliver Kylington who we will discuss shortly, to play. But not full time. The fact of the matter is, Erik Gudbranson will be a regular Calgary Flame this season and there’s not much anyone can do about it. It’s just how hockey teams are run, for better or for worse.

To my eye #26 STONE looks to be faster and crisper thus far in a short sample size. Does he bring enough to earn a 6/7 spot on the blue line? 🎩 Thx.

Peter Turner via Facebook

The biggest issue with Gudbranson being on the roster is that he will block someone from getting into the NHL. And, the worst case scenario, which also happens to be a very likely scenario, is that it isn’t a kid who gets to rotate in and out of the lineup with Gudbranson, it’s another veteran like Michael Stone.

Peter isn’t wrong that Stone has looked decent in the preseason so far. He has definitely brought enough to be a 6/7 D on this team, but that’s honestly a terrifying thought because it means that Kylington isn’t on the team.

Whether or not you want this to happen, the Flames aren’t going to cut both Gudbranson and Stone. It’s just not going to happen. The best case scenario is one of them being cut and sent to the AHL and the other serving as the team’s seventh defender. In that case, it opens the door for preseason standout Kylington to finally be a regular NHLer. On that note…

So glad you asked, Mike! There is absolutely nothing more Kylington can do to prove he is ready to be a full time NHL defenseman. He has performed admirably in the preseason so far, and has proven for more than a full season that he is too good for the AHL. Last year, we wrote about how Kylington was the best partner for Valimaki and was deserving of a regular shift in the show. He didn’t get it then, but he needs to get it now.

The thing that makes Kylington so interesting is his skillset. The Flames brought in several players this offseason whose primary goal is to prevent goals from being scored. Kylington brings a completely different element to the blueline. He’s an agile, smooth skating defender who can lead the rush and make plays. Outside of the Chris Tanev and Noah Hanifin pairing, and maybe Rasmus Andersson if he can bounce back this season, the Flames don’t have that type of player on their blueline.

Kylington fills a role this team desperately needs, and in my eyes is clearly an NHL level defensemen. I truly can’t find anything to suggest Kylington isn’t deserving or worthy of a shot. He’s outperformed many of the players penciled in as regulars on the blueline including Gudbranson, Stone, and Andersson, and it would be both hypocritical and downright dumb for him to not make the team as a third pairing guy at the very least.

However, I’m not ready to start including Kylington in my lineup predictions just yet. It has been notoriously hard for young players to crack the Flames’ lineup in recent years unless they absolutely blow the doors off in the preseason. Now that Darryl Sutter is the coach, that hurdle is even larger than before. Kylington will need a couple more top tier games before he’s a no brainer roster player.

The Flames’ blueline is very obviously their weakest element this season, and they are going to sorely miss Mark Giordano.

How many Flames defencemen will Giordano outscore this season?

Alexa Chin via Instagram

This is a pretty easy question. The answer is: all of them. Giordano is going to outscore every single Flames’ blueliner this year and it’s going to be wonderful to see him do it.

Thanks to everyone who submitted questions for the mailbag! Do you agree with our assessment? Let us know in the comments or on social media @wincolumnCGY.

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