The Calgary Flames added a familiar face Wednesday when Michael Stone signed a one-year, $700,000 deal with his old club. The steady veteran defenseman just had his 2019-20 contract bought out by the Flames on Aug. 1, so reacquainting himself with his old surroundings shouldn’t take long.
Valimaki Injury Leaves Flames Blue Line Shorthanded
Flames general manager Brad Treliving found himself in a pickle after defenseman Juuso Valimaki suffered a torn ACL in his right knee, keeping him out for the season. The Finn’s injury left the club with only six experienced NHL defensemen as training camp rapidly approached. He also missed part of the 2018-19 NHL season with an ankle injury incurred last October, returning to the lineup in January after a stint with the team’s American Hockey League farm club in Stockton, California.
The 2017 NHL Entry Draft first-round pick surprised many when he made the big squad right out of training camp last season. Valimaki played in 24 regular-season games and two playoff contests. His strong play as a rookie gave the Flames every reason to believe he would be an important contributor this season. The 6-foot-2, 212-pound sophomore — a bargain at $925,000 — was expected to compete for a top-six spot on defense, so Treliving was looking to obtain a seasoned rearguard to replace the 20-year-old without busting the budget.
Stone was able to fill the void left from Valimaki’s loss thanks to the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NHL and the National Hockey League Players’ Association. It allows players to re-sign with the team that bought them out, providing the player is over 26 years old, due to earn more than $3.4 million, and in the final year of his contract. Stone fit the criteria — his buyout will be paid over the next two seasons on top of his salary. He was due to earn $3.5 million in 2019-20 in the final year of a three-year deal and qualified to be paid two-thirds of his contract in a buyout — $2.33 million.
Stone’s addition means the Flames will see seven defenders who skated for the big club last season compete for six jobs, assuming head coach Bill Peters chooses to dress 12 forwards and two goaltenders along with six blueliners for each game, as he has usually done. Typically, the odd man out will be a press-box spectator, so the team won’t have to resort to a farm club call-up from the Heat should one defenseman go down with an injury, be suspended or be sat because of on-ice performance.
7 Defenders with NHL Experience Under Contract
Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie have been the first pairing a lot recently, with Noah Hanifin and Travis Hamonic occupying the second defensive grouping. Rasmus Andersson had been a mainstay on the third pairing for much of last season, though his improved play saw him earn significant minutes on the first and second unit and the power play. That leaves Stone and 22-year-old Oliver Kylington to likely be the sixth and seventh defensemen to remain with the Flames after camp breaks.
Andrew MacDonald, 32, was brought in to compete for a spot on a professional tryout contract after he was bought out by the Philadelphia Flyers. Other defensemen at camp are Brandon Davidson, 28, Andrew Nielsen, 22, and Alexander Yelesin, 23. Those three are all under contract and will try to impress enough to land a roster spot but are expected to be sent down to the Heat.
Treliving first acquired Stone on Feb. 20, 2017 — a deadline-day deal — from the Arizona Coyotes for a 2017 third-round draft pick and a 2018 conditional fifth-round choice. The two-time Western Hockey League all-star was a third-round pick by the Coyotes in the 2008 Draft from the Calgary Hitmen. Stone has played 439 NHL regular-season games — 115 with the Flames — though only 14 last season as he recovered from a blood clot in his arm which was discovered in November. He rejoined the team in March and played three games. Re-signing Stone is a savvy move by Treliving — he gets a 6-foot-3, 210-pound veteran who he has a history with from their time together with the Coyotes and the Flames — for the league minimum salary.
Additional Cap Space Badly Needed
Now it’s back to the work of creating more salary-cap space. Restricted free agents Matthew Tkachuk and Andrew Mangiapane remain unsigned. Both young forwards are seeking big raises over their rookie contracts, particularly Tkachuk, who is expected to become the all-time, highest-paid player in franchise history. Stone’s signing leaves the Flames with slightly over $7 million to spend against the $81.5 million salary cap. Valimaki was placed on injured reserve, so his entire salary does not count against the 2019-20 cap, giving the club some fiscal relief.
It’s highly unlikely Treliving will get both Tkachuk and Mangiapane to sign given his current budget bind, so there would need to be more personnel moves if the defending Pacific Division champions are to ink the pair. Neither player is listed on the roster of the 2019 Flames main training camp roster. Stone is listed with his old number, as though he never left.