There’s no guarantee that the National Hockey League will have a playoff tournament, though it’s starting to look that way. When the Calgary Flames do hit the ice, they’ll have a decision to make regarding young defenseman Juuso Valimaki.
So here’s the situation in a nutshell: Valimaki is 21 years old and, before some injuries, was considered the team’s top prospect. But over the past two years he’s missed significant time due to a high ankle sprain and a knee ligament tear that required major surgery. That said, he’s been skating and is probably close to 100% health.
If Valimaki plays a game during 2019-20 – even in the playoffs – he would be eligible for selection in next summer’s expansion draft.
The case for sitting Valimaki
He’s coming off two fairly big injuries. If the team would’ve been nervous to throw him into the playoff mix normally, doing so during what’s likely to be a chaotic situation overall seems like it would cause additional anxiety. It might make more sense to be cautious and wait until the onset of 2020-21 – which will likely be 14-16 months after Valimaki’s surgery – before throwing him into the deep end.
Additionally, it’s not like the Flames need to risk it. After the trade deadline, they had nine bodies on their roster with NHL experience – useful players like Michael Stone, Derek Forbort and Oliver Kylington are likely to be healthy scratches when games start back up. Unless the Flames are incredibly sure that Valimaki would be an upgrade over Erik Gustafsson (for example), why use him?
The case for using Valimaki
On the other hand, what if Valimaki is an upgrade? He was superb before he got injured in 2018-19 and from an asset management standpoint it makes sense to figure out what they have in him (or don’t) so they can make any roster tweaks over the off-season. With a core group whose window of contention could be small, they need any advantage they can get.
Similarly, while Valimaki could be rusty after not playing meaningful hockey for more than a year, this is a unique situation where basically every single player on every single team will be coming off the couch to play. Everyone’s rusty, which from a competition standpoint makes it less like throwing Valimaki right into the deep end. (That said, if everyone’s rusty perhaps injuries are more likely overall…)
What’s your stance? Use Valimaki in games and risk losing him (or somebody else) in expansion? Or is it more important for the Flames to know what they have in him? Sound off in the comments!