After a tumultuous start to his NHL career, Juuso Valimaki’s time with the Calgary Flames has officially come to an end.
It was announced today (October 9, 2022) that the Arizona Coyotes had claimed the 24-year-old defenceman off of waivers from Calgary, finally giving Valimaki the fresh start that he deserves.
Valimaki was always the prospect touted to have a higher ceiling than his actual on-ice production. Taken 16th overall by the Flames in the 2017 NHL draft, Valimaki was supposed to be the next best left-handed defenceman on the Flames roster and a player the franchise could build with for years to come.
It never turned out that way.
Valimaki’s NHL career
Valimaki broke onto the scene in 2018–19, where he was able to play in 24 games for the club and notch three points during that stint. This was done while suffering from a high ankle sprain, which limited his appearances. The Flames were undeterred by the physical setback, still holding Valimaki’s value at “untouchable” back when the Flames were in on the Mark Stone sweepstakes.
Unfortunately that offseason, Valimaki would go on to tear his ACL training which resulted in him missing the entire 2019–20 season for the Flames. This injury was a huge step back for his development—perhaps even a turning point for the worse.
However, he recovered and was on the right track, showcasing exemplary play in Liiga, and the lingering fears around his injury was virtually put to rest.
From there, he would get back into NHL action during the 2020–21 season suiting up for 49 games, notching 11 points along the way. This stint was led mostly under Geoff Ward. Once Darryl Sutter started coaching the team, things were different.
With the 2021–22 season looking to be a fresh start on the blueline without captain Mark Giordano, the opportunity was there for the taking. Unfortunately, Valimaki could not seize this with Oliver Kylington getting the edge, and eventually Connor Mackey passed him on the depth chart as well.
A series of healthy scratches, AHL assignment, and just nine NHL games last year looked to be the end. Despite another significant opportunity to take a starting spot this training camp, Valimaki came up short yet again.
There clearly was no opportunity for him to grow in this organization, and here’s to hoping that he takes this chance in Arizona to thrive.
Silver lining in losing Juuso
Although losing a first-round pick on waivers is never a good thing, the Flames get something else much needed in this claim: cap space.
Already up against a tight cap, and with Kylington’s status murky in terms of cap hit, the Flames needed all the help they could get. At the NHL level, the $1.55M cap hit that Valimaki carried is off the books, while the potential $425K they would have been charged should he have cleared is also a non-issue.
This gives the Flames enough cap space to safely carry eight defencemen, assuming they sign Michael Stone to a contract, and keep Adam Ruzicka on the NHL roster. This also allows the team to explore a few more NHL forward options through the start of the season, depending on how the start of the season shakes out.
In a flat cap world, this is extremely valuable.
A fond farewell for Valimaki
Valimaki could have been the next big thing for the Flames, but just couldn’t get over that hump at the NHL level. In a new situation, it could be perfect for him to kickstart his career in the right direction.
That being said, the Flames gave him plenty of runway to hit that goal, but he just never could. Here’s wishing the best to him in the desert.