June 3, 2023

We are now in November and Oliver Kylington still hasn’t returned to the team. He is on leave due to personal matters and the Calgary Flames have filled the hole fine up until now. The Flames were seen as one of the deepest and best defensive groups in the NHL before the season, and still are without Kylington.

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It was believed by some that the Flames signed Kylington to a two-year, $5 million contract so that it would be easier to trade him. But it is possible that they could very well keep him to add to their already elite defence. His future is unknown right now, but we’re going to take a look at his potential defence partner and special team usage upon returning, how his spot in the lineup could dictate his future with the team, and who has stepped up in his absence.

Kylington’s Potential Defence Partner & Special Teams Usage

Kylington had a major breakout season in 2021-22. He went from career highs of three goals, eight points, and 13:42 of ice time per game (ATOI) to nine goals, 31 points, plus-34, and 18:10 ATOI. It was a major step up and at the perfect time, as it provided Chris Tanev with the perfect defence partner and the Flames with an amazing second pairing all season.

Oliver Kylington Calgary Flames
Oliver Kylington, Calgary Flames (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Flames ran the same three pairings for the majority of last season. Noah Hanifin and Rasmus Andersson played 1,243 minutes together, Tanev and Kylington played 1,052, and Erik Gudbranson and Nikita Zadorov played 943 minutes with one another. This season, Gudbranson is out and MacKenzie Weegar is in. Weegar has already played 109 minutes with Tanev this season in Kylington’s absence. There’s no plausible way Weegar would be dropping to the third pair when Kylington returns so that the pairing from last season can reunite. This will create more of a logjam than there already is that will likely result in a trade.

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He can also kiss any power-play time with the Flames goodbye. Weegar is logging time on the man advantage already along with the other options the team has. Kylington didn’t receive a ton of time on the power play last season to begin with, but 78 minutes is a decent amount and a good way to increase point totals.

Where Kylington Plays Could Dictate Future

If Kylington isn’t traded, the most likely spot for him is the third pairing. Despite below-average numbers from the top pairing of Hanifin and Andersson, they are staying together and have already logged the most minutes together this season. Weegar and Tanev have also formed a formidable pairing with a 54.49 expected goals for percentage (xGF%). There may not be a pairing in the league that matches the Flames’ third pairing analytically thus far. Zadorov and Stone have been on the ice for nine goals for and two against (81.82 GF%) and lead the team with a 60.76 xGF% as well.

Stone would be the logical defender taken out of the lineup due to his contract status and where he ranks on the depth chart. But he’s also played extremely well and it would be a mistake to pull him right out of the lineup at this point. Kylington hardly played with anyone other than Tanev last season and didn’t post strong numbers with Andersson or Gudbranson when he did. Of the 22 minutes Kylington spent with Zadorov, the numbers were solid, except it was a very small sample size. However, it could be worth giving it a go in the hopes of getting Kylington some game time before a potential trade is on the horizon.

Nikita Zadorov Calgary Flames
Nikita Zadorov, Calgary Flames (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

There’s no space for Kylington higher up on defence. Weegar has his role firmly locked down and missing the start of the season hasn’t helped Kylington’s case. This could hurt his offensive and defensive numbers playing on the third pair and there are definitely benefits to trading the defender over keeping him at this point. The benefits being his cap hit of $2.5 million for this season and next will come off the books, he could be used in a deal to acquire a winger, and the Flames have replacements already on their roster doing well.

Players Have Stepped Up in Kylington’s Absence

I mentioned above that Stone, Kylington’s replacement in the lineup, has started the season off well in regard to what was expected of him. He had a strong training camp and once again earned himself a contract with the Flames. However, he was expected to be a solid defensive presence and the seventh defenceman for the team, not a regular in the lineup. Since Kylington hasn’t suited up for a game yet, he has popped off to score two goals and five points in the first nine games.

Under Darryl Sutter, Stone has been the most effective version of himself in his career. He seamlessly transitioned over to the coaching style Sutter implemented and has gotten more shots off and through to the net, resulting in goals this season.

Behind Stone are two younger defenders who also worked hard and showed promise in training camp, Connor Mackey and Nic Meloche. Mackey ended up making the team in the seventh spot and has gotten into just two games at the time of writing this. The Flames don’t appear to want to lose him if they are forced to send someone through waivers, while Meloche provides yet another option in the American Hockey League (AHL) if they are in need of reinforcements.

After all of that, the conclusion seems pretty clear. The Flames must trade Kylington. Having him on the third pair for too long may hurt his value, and coming off a season like he did in 2021-22, his value is fairly high. He is a good defender and many won’t want to see him go, but it is the best decision for the Flames to suit their needs this season and beyond.

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