Competition for places on blue line benefits Flames entering playoffs


Calgary Flames Johnny Gaudreau (13) and Mark Giordano (5) celebrate a goal. (Jeffrey T. Barnes/AP)

CALGARY – There are no Welcome Wagon committees in the NHL.

A veteran can miss four months with a blood clot, get some conditioning in the AHL and return to the team only to be on a standby list to return to the lineup.

In Michael Stone’s case, the list is a long one, as the Calgary Flames are now carrying nine defencemen.

Brad Treliving’s plan is for it to be that way until he vows to add a 10th before season’s end.

“That’s how you come into training camp every year – you have a lot of bodies and everybody wants to play at this level but there are only six spots a night,” shrugged Stone, 28, whose 436 NHL games don’t guarantee him anything upon his return.

“Three games (in the AHL) was good for me. I got some good minutes, played some decent hockey and feel good to go. I’m ready.”

Treliving has long been focused on building his team from the blue line out, making the unusual logjam of defenders a delicious quandary.

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“Not a problem at all – it’s a good thing because if someone goes down we’ve got lots of depth there and they’re all NHL players,” said Treliving, whose only trade deadline move was to add Oscar Fantenberg from the Kings as defensive insurance.

“It’s going to create a little competition. It’s what we wanted to have because coming down the stretch we’re going to need bodies. Touch wood we haven’t run into injury issues.”

Stone’s return from a three-game conditioning stint in Stockton literally bumped rookie Oliver Kylington from the cozy confines of his stall, to a folding chair at the front of the dressing room.

No shelves for his shaving kit, nowhere to hang anything and no neighbours to talk to.

But he isn’t going anywhere.

He still has just as good a chance at getting into the lineup as Stone, Fantenberg and Dalton Prout moving forward.

With everyone healthy, the mainstays are as such:

Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie

Noah Hanifin and Travis Hamonic

Rasmus Andersson and, well, take your pick.

Coach Bill Peters said he likes the chemistry Fantenberg has built with Andersson over the bulk of his four games as a Flame.

The coach likes to keep lefties on the left and righties on the right, with the exception of Brodie, a lefty who prefers playing on the right side, especially when it’s alongside Giordano.

Andersson’s emergence from minor-league call-up to first-pairing fill-in bodes well for his playing status, as long as he’s healthy. The righty can swap spots with Brodie on the top pairing seamlessly, opening up more possibilities for the third duo.

Unlike the three-headed goalie monster the Flames employed several seasons back with horrific consequences, the abundance of back-enders is something every team would cherish.

Any deep playoff run requires plenty of manpower at the back due to the war of attrition NHL clubs go through each spring.

Treliving insists all nine will stay in town for the balance of the year.

He said he’ll soon need one of his four precious call-ups to summon first-round hotshot Juuso Valimaki from Stockton.

“We actually have 10 defencemen when you think about it,” said Treliving of the left-shooting Valimaki, who is flourishing in the minors following a lengthy recovery from a high ankle sprain.

“We just want to keep him playing right now. It’s exciting because Rasmus is popping all over and the other guy (Valimaki) is going to be a star. He’ll be back. He’s playing 24 to 25 minutes a night, in all situations and has been dominant the last 3 or 4 games.”

That’s why the GM refused all the proposed deadline deals that included the 20-year-old Finnish talent or the 22-year-old Andersson.

Stone participated in the morning skate with the Flames Tuesday morning ahead of their game against New Jersey, but wasn’t told when he’ll next see game action.

“I understand where we’re at at this time of season – it’s playoff hockey,” said Stone, who was scratched seven times before his arm ballooned in practice mid-November due to the blood-clot that required blood-thinners.

“So, make the most of it when you get in there.”

That’s clearly the message all nine are taking to heart.

“You need that depth going into the playoffs and I’m sure at different times guys are going to get their opportunity,” said captain Giordano, a frontrunner for the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenceman.

“Everyone in the group is a good NHL defenceman. There a lot of bodies out there during practice but it’s good – if anything it gives you a little bit of extra rest out there which isn’t a bad thing at this time of year.”

No one wants the rest game night or play forward during practice, which is what Peters said will likely happen.

“Some days we might use them as forwards, or some days they may go out early and skate by themselves – you’ve got to be creative,” said Peters.

“We’re real deep back there. Now it’s a matter of seeing how we play, and how we are health wise and we’ll just move forward every day.”


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