Injury to Juuso Valimaki changes Flames’ plans for T.J. Brodie

Turns out Nazem Kadri may have done the Calgary Flames a massive favour.

Instead of being booed Nov. 19 when Kadri makes his return to Calgary, a city he recently rejected a trade to, the former Toronto Maple Leafs centre should perhaps be thanked by Calgary faithful.

After all, had he rubber stamped last month’s deal to bring him to Calgary in exchange for T.J. Brodie and Mark Jankowski, the Flames would be in a bigger pickle than they find themselves in today.

News of an ACL injury to prized young blueliner Juuso Valimaki on the weekend suddenly has Flames GM Brad Treliving searching for a serviceable defenceman – a quest that would have been incrementally harder had Brodie been sent packing.

This late in the summer it’s a thin marketplace he didn’t fathom he’d be picking through given the defensive depth his team has considered a forte the last few years.

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The loss of third-pairing options Oscar Fantenberg and Dalton Prout to free agency this summer, followed by the recent buyout of Michael Stone’s final year, leaves the team short on back-end depth it once had in spades.

Treliving isn’t interested in talking about the Brodie trade Kadri rejected (before being shipped to Colorado) or what that would have meant to his new situation, but the GM is open about the fact this “cruel and unusual punishment” further complicates the cap strain he’s been dealing with.

“We weren’t contemplating adding a defenceman, so yes, if so you’re going to have to pay him (a defenceman) something and that’s a new charge than what we were contemplating,” said Treliving.

“Depending on how we configure our team, we may have less or more than $8 million. It’s certainly not perfect.”

That money is essentially going to Matthew Tkachuk, whose pending deal has handcuffed the Flames all summer long, as the winger waits for other RFA chips to fall and further raise his stock.

Brodie has been shopped around all summer long as part of the team’s need to shed salary to make way for Tkachuk. With only one year left on a deal paying him $4.65 million annually, the 29-year-old was an obvious odd-man out given his price tag, the team’s emerging young defensive talent and the fact he’ll command too much money to be re-signed.

He’s long been a whipping boy for local fans who tend to focus on the defensive gaffes that come with his high-risk game, but he’s a brilliant skater and puck-mover who is a tremendous asset offensively.

Having spent the season on the top pairing, playing a role in helping Mark Giordano win the Norris Trophy, it’s likely trade talk involving Brodie will now cease.

He’s now needed in a top six that will likely start the season with Noah Hanifin and Travis Hamonic on the second-pairing, followed by 22-year-old Rasmus Andersson and Oliver Kylington, who proved last season to be everyday NHLers.

Kylington is a left-shot defenceman who should easily slide into the role Valimaki was tabbed to play on his way to one day replacing Giordano on the top pair.

Treliving takes great solace in opening the season with a top six that carried most of the load last season when the Flames finished tops in the Western Conference.

So dependable was the blue line brigade in front of Mike Smith and David Rittich, that the Flames finished second only to Tampa in the standings despite sporting the NHL’s 21st-ranked save percentage.

However, beyond the top six defencemen, it’s anyone’s guess who slots in at No. 7.

The Flames signed 27-year-old Brandon Davidson earlier this summer and also have Rinat Valiev, 24, and Alexander Yelesin, 23, who could push for the seventh spot, amongst other lesser-known commodities. Expect that list to grow.

Valimaki, Calgary’s first round pick in 2017, proved before and after a high ankle sprain that limited him to 24 games last season, that he’s capable of being an impact defenceman. The 20-year-old was being counted on to take great strides this season and his $894,000 cap hit was a major asset on a cap-tight team.

“We’ll look at the free agent market – it’s not bountiful on August 14, but there’s certainly some guys out there,” said Treliving, who could also wait for next month to see who is let go elsewhere during training camp.

“You’re looking for third-pair depth kind of guys. News travels fast, so my 30 other GM friends certainly have lots of ideas for me.”

One idea Treliving has had all along is trading Michael Frolik, who is entering the final year of a deal worth $4.3 million annually. The Flames have had a hard time finding a suitor for the versatile winger, whose agent stirred things up early last season by suggesting coach Bill Peters was trying to run the veteran out of Calgary by limiting his ice time.

The injury, and Tkachuk’s contract, could prompt Treliving to revisit a Jankowski trade, or perhaps move Austin Czarnik’s $1.25 million contract. Not ideal.

Suffice it to say, Treliving’s vacation plans are on hold.

Valimaki, who injured his right knee while training in Finland Saturday, will fly to Calgary once the swelling goes down. Doctors won’t know how many months he’ll miss until they perform the surgery that generally puts players out at least six months.

Originally published at https://www.sportsnet.ca/hockey/nhl/injury-juuso-valimaki-changes-flames-plans-t-j-brodie/

Post Author: HockeyHawk