Word from practice today is that Sven Baertschi is likely to play on the 4th on Satruday, if he makes the active roster at all. The insertion of Jiri Hudler and Roman Cervenka into the mix has meant a logjam of sorts in the top-nine and right now the rookie seems the most natural choice to move down.
This move won’t make most Flames fans happy no doubt, but I can see where the coaching staff is coming from. Baertschi and Backlund had a really nice debut period in the first game against the Sharks, but there have been a lot of bumps along the road for the kid since that point. He certainly isn’t timid about trying to make highlight reel moves, but his overall 200-foot game remains very raw. Keep in mind Sven turned 20 years old in September and doesn’t even have 30 por games under his belt. He also spent his entire last season in junior having his way with WHL on one of the best club’s in the CHL, so it’s going to take some time to develop the requisite discipline in Baertschi for him to be a more complete player at the NHL level.
Some NHL teams would be willing to let Sven play through his issues, but not the Flames for a couple of reasons:
1.) They have a fully packed roster when everybody is healthy. The current top-9 wingers are: Iginla, Glencross, Tanguay/Cervenka, Hudler, Stempniak and Cammalleri. Depending on how Cervenka assimilates to NA hockey, Baertschi isn’t good enough to usurp any of those guys based purely on his abilities right now.
2.) The Flames are still trying to win now. With one point in the opening three games, the urgency to starting winning is already rising thanks to the shortened season.
On top of all that, the club doesn’t boast an obviously ideal line for Baertschi currently. Because there is no obvious group of "heavy hitters" amongst the forwards who can soak up the tough minutes, it makes it harder for the coaching staff to appropriately shelter Sven given the set up of the roster.
Vladimir Tarasenko is currently leading NHL rookies in scoring. In part because he’s a high level talent, but it also helps that through 4 games he has an 85.2% zone start ratio – that is, he has started 25 shifts in the offensive zone and just 4(!!) in the d-zone. The Blues have quality depth all over the roster and the Selke caliber play of David Backes to take on the tough stuff, so they can afford to give the kid the cherry circumstances.
Finally, Baertschi hasn’t quite made a case for himself so far. We’re only three games in and there’s a few vets that I think have struggled as well (*cough*Cammalleri*cough*) but established guys always get the benefit of the doubt. right now, the kid has the worst possession rate outside of Steve Begin and Blake Comeau amongst Flames forwards. That’s not a grave indictment of any player thanks to the small sample size, and certianly not of a 20-year old rookie, but because the roster is stuffed to bursting with veterans and the team’s short term goals are to make the playoffs, Baertschi more or less has to outplay one of the incumbents to stay in the top-9.
As a result, I suspect be will be headed down to the farm within the week, assuming everyone stays healthy and Cervenka is as good as everyone thinks/hopes. Playing 8 minutes a night on the 4th line with Comeau/Jackman/Jones/Begin won’t do much for Sven’s development and since he doesn’t have to pass through waivers to be demoted, it’s a simple decision to move him back to first line minutes in Abbotsford.