Jusso Valimaki was a fan favourite on Twitter for a long time, especially when he was lighting up the Finnish LIIGA with 19 points in 19 games while playing with Ilves. Valimaki was put on the back of many Blasty jerseys, as the hype for him was increasing by the day.
But that has since changed, and he is not talked about in Flames circles anymore, after a rough preseason and regular season, where he’s played 7 games and only notched one assist while racking up four minor penalties.
Now, with the emergence of Oliver Kylington on the left side and Nikita Zadorov getting back in and playing relatively well, one can predict that Valimaki will be sitting for some more games than he already has this season.
So where should the Flames and Valimaki go from here? In an interview with Valimaki on the Barnburner Hockey Podcast, he expressed that he has never had a coach as hard on him as Darryl Sutter, and has looked nervous while playing, so there could be something there.
For a guy whom Calgary thought of so highly and did not want to give up to acquire Mark Stone to now sitting as a healthy scratch, it’s a relationship that could be heading towards an impasse. I still think Calgary and Brad Treliving value Valimaki very highly, but it has not worked out in Calgary thus far. Sitting Valimaki as a healthy scratch certainly isn't helping, but he has been surpassed on the depth chart so far this season.
Evolving-Hockey.com's RAPM chart included below shows that Valimaki has been quite good at CF/60, and his xGA/60 is above zero, but everything else has been below zero.
(Note: RAPM charts for small sizes are not very accurate, as one very good or bad game can drastically change the chart)
Comparing that with Nikita Zadorov and Oliver Kylington, it is clear that Kylington should not be taken out of the lineup anytime soon, and Zadorov has been better in both defensive metrics than Valimaki and has a greater salary, so one can assume he will continue to be played more than Valimaki.
Looking at Evolving-Hockey.com's player card for Valimaki for the 2020-2021 season featured below, he was average or above average in every category besides penalties taken. What really catches my attention is his EV Offense GAR bar is very nice, putting him in the 64th percentile among NHL players. In Valimaki's interview with the Barnburner Hockey Podcast, I brought up his previous offensive totals in junior, plus his frequent powerplay usage and good offensive metrics in the NHL so far, and Valimaki replied and stated that he worked on his offensive game this past offseason and that powerplay time is something he is interested in getting this year. I am a bit surprised that he or Kylington didn't receive any powerplay time during the pre-season and regular season, and I believe it would be very beneficial to save Rasmus Andersson or Noah Hanifin for more even-strength minutes.
Moving over to JFresh's player cards, you can see that Valimaki has put up average metrics playing against below-average competition and below-average teammates. He takes a lot of penalties, and his finishing is below average, but his play driving and even strength values have been at par or above, which is a good sign.
Moving onto NaturalStatTrick.com, one can see that Valimaki has been an above-average defenseman:
-In 49 games during the 2020-2021 season, Valimaki posted a 53.15 CF%, 53.94 xG%, 52.50 SCF%, and a 54.18 HDCF%. Those are very nice numbers all above the league average, which is quite impressive for a defenseman that came back from a significant knee injury that kept him out for the entire 2019-2020 season.
-In 7 games this season before becoming a healthy scratch, Valimaki posted a 56.68 CF%, 54.44 xG%, 56.48 SCF%, and a 55.56 HDCF%.
7 games is a very small sample size, but Valimaki posted better results in all four categories compared to his 2020-2021 season.
To summarize all of those numbers and charts, Valimaki has played against below-average competition and posted above-average results in most of his major statistical metrics, which shows me that this is a defenseman that should be playing everyday minutes in a frequent role. With the unexpected emergence of Oliver Kylington, coupled with the addition plus overpay of Nikita Zadorov, Valimaki now finds himself on the outside looking in.
In looking at Valimaki's metrics and underlying numbers, I firmly believe that if given a top-four role next to a good defensive partner, Valimaki could pop off and become an offensive force.
But if you're Valimaki, is that top-four role going to be in Calgary, or is there a better opportunity somewhere else? Now is about the time in his career, where if he feels he is being treated unfairly, could a trade request come to light?
Does shipping Valimaki to the New York Rangers in exchange for Vitali Kravtsov make sense for both teams?
I think the ideal situation going forward would be to move Nikita Zadorov for a depth defensemen and a mid-round draft pick, and then running with a left side of Hanifin, Kylington, Valimaki. And let's not forget, Connor Mackey is sitting in the minors waiting for his shot.
Will the Flames trade Zadorov? It's unlikely.
I think trading Valimaki for some immediate help does make sense, given his value will only decrease sitting in the press box, and he is highly valued around the league, as the Flames have been asked for him several times in trade talks. I think a swap for Kravtsov could make sense for both teams.
What should the Flames do with Valimaki? Keep him and sit him, keep him and trade someone to play him, or trade him? Let me know below.