Flames Have Big Defensive Hole with Hanifin Injury

On Saturday night, Noah Hanifin collided with Montreal Canadiens forward Corey Perry and fell awkwardly. He hobbled off the ice and down the tunnel and did not return. The Calgary Flames announced on Monday that he would miss the rest of the season with a shoulder injury that requires surgery.

Unfortunately, the injury happened when Hanifin was having a breakout season, not so much on offence but certainly on defence. The recently turned 24-year-old has been playing alongside veteran Chris Tanev for most of the season, and they were one of the best tandems in the league.

The Flames have made their way back into the playoff race, but a loss to the Canadiens on Monday made their task more difficult. Losing Hanifin, however, may be insurmountable as youngster Jusso Valimaki has now moved up into his spot.

Season-Ending Injury A Tough Blow

The timing of Hanifin’s injury is terrible as the Flames are now within six points of the faltering Montreal Canadiens for the fourth and final playoff spot. In a game against Montreal earlier in the season, he may have taken a hit that hurt something in his upper body. He’s played every game since then, possibly injured, and after Saturday’s collision, he will require surgery.

Noah Hanifin Calgary Flames
Noah Hanifin, Calgary Flames (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Hanifin and Tanev were recently paired with different partners, but the duo would have been valuable if the Flames can close the gap on Montreal. They have been excellent defensively and would’ve been counted on down the stretch. With the need for surgery, the team’s next worry is whether he will be ready the 2021-22 season.

Breakout Season for Hanifin

Signing Tanev in the offseason raised some eyebrows, but with Hanifin, the duo has been lights out all season. Per MoneyPuck, they have been one of the best defence pairs in terms of Corsi for (CF%) and expected goals for (xGF%). Of defence pairs who have played over 500 minutes together, they rank second in the league with a 58 xGF% and a 54 CF%.

Hanifin wasn’t on pace to break his career-best points of 33 (set in 2018-19), but he was becoming a solid defenceman. In his last eight games, he put up four points, becoming a little more consistent in the offensive zone, and 11 of his 15 points this season were at five-on-five (four goals and six primary assists). He’s been playing against the Scotia North Division’s elite talent, and his results have been impressive posting CF% and xGF% above 50% against the opposition’s top six.

Future Number One Defenceman?

Mark Giordano has been in decline since his Norris Trophy season, and next season is the final year of his deal. Soon to be 38 years old, it seems unlikely he will sign another deal with the Flames in the summer of 2022. Elias Lindholm had a breakout season when he first came over from the Carolina Hurricanes, and the same may be coming true for Hanifin. He and Tanev quickly became the team’s top pair and played heavy minutes with good results.

Noah Hanifin Calgary Flames
Noah Hanifin, Calgary Flames (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Hanifin may continue to flourish under head coach Darryl Sutter’s system, and he may have found a quality partner in Tanev that will allow him to excel. With his skating ability, he could become a premier NHL defenceman, but he has yet to put it all together. This season, it seemed to have finally done it and solidified his spot on the top pairing for years to come. If he can continue at this level, then the offence should start to follow.

Flames Will Miss Hanifin

With ten games left in the season, the Flames will really miss Hanifin’s presence in the lineup. Losing him might be too big a hurdle to overcome in their quest for the playoffs, and many believe they will not make it to the dance. Giordano and Tanev have been excellent in the 180 minutes they’ve played together, but the second pairing will really miss Hanifin. The Flames’ next two games are against the Edmonton Oilers, and Hanifin was a key contributor in shutting down Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid.