With the addition of MacKenzie Weegar in the offseason, the Calgary Flames’ blueline is definitely a strength for the team. Last year, all three Flames pairings ranked among the top 10 in ice time together, while contributing effectively in expected goals.
In terms of expected goals among defence pairings who played more than 600 minutes together, only the duos of Jacob Slavin – Tony DeAngelo, Weegar – Aaron Ekblad, and Devon Toews – Cale Makar ranked ahead of Oliver Kylington – Chris Tanev.
Noah Hanifin – Rasmus Andersson were seventh, while Nikita Zadorov – Erik Gudbranson ranked ninth. The defence last season was a key reason for their Pacific Division winning season. Kylington has a revelation next to Tanev, and earned himself a $2.5M average annual value (AAV) deal for the next two years. Erik Gudbranson left the Flames’ bottom pairing and received an astonishing $16M AAV over the next four years with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Nikita Zadorov tested free agency like Gudbranson, but decided to return to the club on a two-year, $3.75M AAV deal.
Adding Weegar, a key factor on the second best defensive pairing last season, and subtracting Gudbranson should only make them better in 2022–23.
Unfortunately, Oliver Kylington has been away from the team as he deals with a personal issue, and we wish him all the best. We hope he takes all the time he needs to deal with the issue and will welcome him back whenever that occurs. On the ice, Chris Tanev and Michael Stone have also been injured for points of this season, so there has been a ton of mixing of pairings.
How Calgary’s defence have fared so far in 2022–23
All analytical rates below are courtesy of NaturalStatTrick.com.
Hanifin – Andersson have combined for 197.9 minutes together, with an expected goals rate just below average (49.23 xGF%). I would expect some positive regression now that Chris Tanev has returned to the lineup, and their loads have lessened. If not, the Flames are in some trouble.
Nikita Zadorov has performed very well in the minutes played with his partners. Zadorov has played 122 minutes with Weegar (54.80xGF%), 85 minutes with Michael Stone (59.90 xGF%), and 30 minutes with Tanev (59.60 xGF%). The one person Zadorov didn’t gel with is the 34 minutes spent with Rasmus Andersson, where they combined for a 41.16 xGF%.
Weegar – Tanev has been incredibly strong in the 123 minutes they’ve played together, with a 58.54 xGF%. This is certainly an effective option to put together at any point.
If Kylington returns this season
Should Kylington return at some point during the 2022–23 season, the Flames will have the ability to put together three effective defensive pairings. Darryl Sutter loves to roll his lines, and having three effective pairings would allow him to do that. With that in mind, let’s look at the pairings I’ve formulated.
I’ve put together the following pairs:
Hanifin ($4.95M) – Andersson ($4.55M)
Zadorov ($3.75M) – Weegar ($3.25M)
Kylington ($2.5M) – Tanev ($4.5M)
It’s insanely crazy that the Flames have put together such an effective defensive group all with AAVs under $5M. That will change next year when Weegar’s eight-year, $6.25M AAV extension kicks in. Even then, this will still be a cost-effective group that can shuffle around depending on performance.
I’ve put together these pairings based upon effective data from last season, and the effective rates of Zadorov – Weegar so far in 2022–23. It will take Kylington a while to get back up to game speed if he returns, so that’s why I have that listed as the third pairing. However, these pairings, you have the ability to roll out equal ice times and not be scared of potential matchups from the opposition.
The outlook on Calgary’s defence
We wish Oliver Kylington all the best with whatever he’s currently dealing with. The defence has taken a hit with his departure, but players like Nikita Zadorov have taken a step in his absence.
Hanifin – Andersson have had a mediocre start to the 2022–23 season. But, based on their effective results from last season, they should figure things out.
Zadorov – Weegar have played a bunch of minutes together due to Chris Tanev being absent from the lineup for a period of time. Because of their strong results together, the Flames will have the ability to run three effective pairs should Kylington return to the lineup at some point this season. Kylington – Tanev were the fourth best defensive pairing last season, so that pairing returning could be a massive boost to this Flames team.
There is no shortage of defensive pairings options. Those options will only grow larger, should Kylington return to the lineup. Thought of as the strong point of the Flames lineup, the team will need to count on them as the season continues.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire