The Calgary Flames may have had a lukewarm start to the season, but defenceman Noah Hanifin has been hot.
The Flames are currently 1–1–1 and sit fourth in the Pacific Division and ninth in the Western Conference. After defeating the Winnipeg Jets 5–3 in their season opener, the Flames fell 5–2 to the Pittsburgh Penguins and 3–2 in a shootout to former Flames prospect Matthew Phillips (who scored one goal and two points in the game) and the Washington Capitals. Throughout these three games, Hanifin has recorded four points, tied for first on the team.
Production by the numbers
Hanifin has played on the top defence pair with Rasmus Andersson so far, and has been relied on for the second power play and penalty kill units. This deployment has resulted in Hanifin logging an average time on ice (TOI) of 22:28, good for second among all Flames skaters.
Through three games this year, Hanifin: leads the team in assists (four), is tied for first on the team in points (four), has six shots on goal, and boasts positive possession numbers (53.2 Corsi for % and 51.0 Fenwick for %).
When compared with his career averages, his start to the year is looking very promising.
|SEASON||AVERAGE TOI||GOALS PER GAME||ASSISTS PER GAME||POINTS PER GAME||SHOTS ON GOAL PER GAME||SHOOTING %||CORSI FOR %||FENWICK FOR %|
*Hanifin’s career average TOI is brought down by the three seasons he spent with the Carolina Hurricanes at the beginning of his career where he averaged 18:14 TOI. Over six seasons as a member of the Flames, he has averaged 21:18 TOI.
Production-wise, Hanifin is well ahead of his career averages for assists, points, and shots on goal. Additionally, while his possession metrics are below his career average, they are still in the positives.
Three games is a small sample size and we have to remember to temper expectations, but since the team as a whole isn’t giving us much to get excited about, we’ll take what we can get. It’s extremely unlikely he will maintain his current 109-point pace (it’s not happening), but he’s setting himself up nicely for a career year.
Why the hot start?
An NHL player having a career year in a contract year… stop me if you have heard that story before. The six-year deal Hanifin signed after being acquired from the Hurricanes in 2018 is expiring at the end of this season, and I’m convinced this is playing a major factor in his uptick in performance.
Hanifin’s usage to start the season is similar to the last couple seasons and the Flames aren’t exactly scoring at an astronomical rate, yet Hanifin has managed to be more productive early on.
Aside from points, he’ll want to clean up some of his defensive play as well as he’s had some noticeable lapses in judgment. If he sorts this area of his game out, then he’ll be much more well-rounded in his contract year.
Looking for a big payday
Hanifin’s best seasons have been in the last six years as a Flame, and he was already likely to earn a nice raise on his current salary of $4,950,000. If he continues to produce and ends up having a career year (48 points in 2021–22 is his current best), that new number will only get bigger.
The sad thing for Flames fans is Hanifin could breakout as a top offensive defenceman and not even be a member of the team come this time next year. While he has not closed the door on signing a new contract with the Flames, the team’s start to the season does not inspire any confidence that he’ll decide he wants to stick around.
With all of that said, even if Hanifin has a career year and wants to stay, the Flames should be careful not to throw a bag of money at him. We have already recently seen the results of paying players after a career year, and it has not been pretty. Jonathan Huberdeau and Andrew Mangiapane, I’m looking at both of you!
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire