The Calgary Flames’ defence corps had a noticeable absence over the course of the 2022–23 regular season. Missing from the blueline was breakout defenceman Oliver Kylington. After having his best season in 2021–22 as a full-time NHLer, Kylington signed a two-year contract worth a total of $5M and looked to build off of his stellar campaign.
Unfortunately, Kylington would miss the entire season due to personal reasons and the Flames didn’t look the same without him.
Kylington’s impact in 2021–22
Playing a total of 73 games in 2021–22, Kylington brought speed and tenacity to the blueline and filled the need the Flames had for a more agile blueline and overall roster.
From NaturalStatTrick.com using 5v5 score- and venue-adjusted data, his season’s on-ice impact was significant:
The Flames had a historically good season and as a result most players were above-average in on-ice metrics. That said, Kylington was more than effective and was a key contributor to the blueline’s success. Playing primarily with Chris Tanev, the pairing put up elite numbers and was one of the best statistical pairings in the league.
Heading into the 2022–23 season, the Flames’ defence corps (and goaltending) were the areas that seemed stable about the roster—instead, the turbulence felt by the changing forwards was earth-shattering. However, Kylington was absent at the start of training camp and the absence extended through the whole season.
The timeline of Kylington’s absence
Kylington’s absence was a large unknown for the Flames as they didn’t know when or if he’d return. From the start of the season through to the end, the Flames ended up without him. Here are the collection of updates on Kylington the Flames had.
Entering training camp, Brad Treliving announced that the Flames would be without Andrew Mangiapane due to him tweaking something and Kylington due to a personal family issue.
Treliving also made note that the absence was not a substance issue and requested privacy for Kylington.
The Flames went the opening month without Kylington in the lineup. Midway through November, Treliving gave an update on Kylington’s status, where he maintained that Kylington was still in Sweden and the team wold give him space, time, and privacy to deal with what he was going through.
Treliving also added that he kept in touch with Kylington on a fairly regular basis, but that there was no further update. Respecting Kylington’s privacy was at top of mind for Treliving and the Flames.
As the NHL Trade Deadline came and went, the Flames gave an update on Kylington. From the perspective of many fans, trading Kylington while he was dealing with a personal issue was amoral—something we maintained throughout this season’s coverage of the Flames as well. Kylington was not dealt to another team, but the team didn’t expect him back with them for the remainder of the season.
Treliving said that it would be a stretch to see Kylington return. Despite monitoring the situation and working with Kylington, Treliving didn’t foresee him coming back to the team before the season was over.
After a hiatus from social media, Kylington posted an Instagram story with a video of him working out with a potential tease that he’s gearing up for a return to hockey. That video was well-received by fans and everyone’s support for Kylington was evident on social media.
Kylington has been more and more active on socials ever since. One recent story of another workout had a caption of “pre-season is on the way.” At least from the social media standpoint, things were looking good for Kylington’s return to Calgary.
Then the best piece of news on Kylington came at the beginning of May.
During the same press conference that the Flames held after firing Darryl Sutter, hopeful and exciting information was shared about Kylington. President of Hockey Operations Don Maloney shared that the team had good news after talking with the blueliner.
Maloney stated that Kylington was in a good place and is excited about coming back for 2023–24.
Positing a return for Kylington
All signs point to Kylington being back on the Flames’ roster for the next season. His return will be welcomed by his teammates and fans alike. A realistic path for him to come back looks essentially the same as any other offseason. Once training camp rolls around, expect Kylington to report to the club.
Kylington’s contract situation
However, there are some issues surrounding Kylington—at least from the salary cap perspective. Another player that missed time from his team was Alexandre Texier of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Texier was essentially a suspended player as per how his salary worked—he wasn’t paid and his salary did not count against the cap. That said, his health and well-being was top priority for the Blue Jackets.
They allowed Texier to sign a one-year contract to play with the ZSC Lions in Switzerland, which gave him a chance to play hockey while being close to home. The Blue Jackets recently announced that Texier was set to return and that his contract would slide by one year.
This could be a similar situation for Kylington, although his salary details were not the same as Texier’s. The Flames had to use the injured reserve for Kylington and he was also paid throughout the season.
That said, Kylington’s situation did not seem like a run-of-the-mill injury and would lean closer to extraordinary circumstances. Given the precedent of individual context being set with Texier, it does make for an interesting case with Kylington and whether the Flames, NHL, and Kylington would entertain such an avenue not unlike Texier’s.
Even throughout the regular season, a common discussion point surrounding Kylington’s return was whether he’d be game-ready. As a professional hockey player returning from either injury or absence, it’s their responsibility to get themselves into shape. Concerns about a player’s fitness level should be tempered until degraded performance is seen on the ice. It’s not that different from any other injury.
Now that the offseason has arrived and Kylington has posted about his training, it should alleviate concerns. The Flames can see how he does come training camp and assess from there.
Fitting into the lineup
A perfect segue on assessing Kylington’s fitness is where he slots into the lineup. When players return from injury, easing them back into the game in sheltered roles is a tried-and-true practise. However, that’s more normally reserved for midseason entries back into the game.
Kylington looks to return to the Flames in essentially the same way every other player will. After the offseason, the out-of-town players will fly to Calgary and reconvene and prepare for the start of 2023–24. Kylington comes back with little difference in that regard. The Flames will need to see where he slots into the lineup.
With it being still early in the offseason, the defence corps isn’t even remotely close to being a known entity. The Flames have six defencemen under contract for this coming season, with Troy Stecher and Michael Stone being the only ones without a contract for 2023–24. However, the only players extended beyond next season are Rasmus Andersson and MacKenzie Weegar.
In the AHL, 28-year-old Nick DeSimone and 25-year-old Nicolas Meloche are the most likely candidates to possibly make the opening night line up if there are even any AHL graduations. However, Meloche is a Group 6 UFA, and DeSimone is only under contract for one more year. Jeremie Poirier could be a dark horse candidate to make the NHL but he needs more time and is more likely to see some call-ups throughout the year instead of regular minutes.
This is all to say that the Flames have a few question marks to address before they can determine what to do with Kylington. Assuming they hang onto all pending UFAs, then it makes sense that they slot Kylington right back with his previous partner in Tanev. Throughout 2022–23, Tanev played primarily with Weegar for the first half, then Hanifin for the second. Kylington coming back essentially frees the Flames up to experiment with any combination with the fall back that the Tanev-Kylington pairing worked extremely well.
A welcomed comeback
The Flames missed a key player from their lineup over the course of the past season. Having Kylington come back—both as an effective skater and a fan-favourite—means a whole lot for the organization. It’s one more positive impact that the Flames will use to right the ship. On paper, the roster is still very strong and should be competitive. Add Kylington onto the blueline and it gets that much better.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire