The trade deadline is one of the biggest signifiers of just how close the regular NHL season is to ending. It’s teams’ final chance to load up for a playoff run before the real action gets underway. It’s also one of teams’ final chances to determine just where they’re at with some of their players.
The Calgary Flames have been at a crossroads with Sven Baertschi for quite some time now, but we’re fast approaching the point an actual decision must be made.
Here are the facts we’re aware of right now, at this very moment:
- Curtis Glencross, a natural left winger, is very, very likely to be traded.
- Sven Baertschi, a natural left winger nearly a decade Glencross’ junior, is about to require waivers.
The solution seems obvious, but this is a team that has willingly dressed Brandon Bollig – another left winger – for 48 NHL games (and counting!) this season, so maybe it’s not that obvious.
(It is, though.)
Time is running out
Baertschi’s contract kicked in at the start of his 20-year-old season. When that happens, a skater has three seasons – the length of a standard entry-level contract – before he requires waivers to be sent back down. This is year three of Baertschi’s entry-level contract. He’s an upcoming restricted free agent.
So the Flames have three choices about what to do with their 2011 first round pick:
- Re-sign him.
- Trade him.
- Let him walk.
Let’s just toss the third option out right away, because that would be asset management so horrifically bad not even the Edmonton Oilers would be capable of it. … In theory. I mean, the Oilers are pretty bad at just about everything.
But first-year general manager Brad Treliving seems to have a pretty level head on his shoulders, so there’s no chance of letting an asset that young and with that much potential just walk.
This means the Flames will either have to trade his rights, re-sign him, or some sort of combination or alternative thereof (i.e. sign-and-trade, or hope another team offer sheets him). If they do extend and keep him, though, the Flames will need to keep him in the NHL, because it wouldn’t be smart to risk exposing him to waivers. That could very, very easily result in losing him for absolutely nothing, which we’ve already established would be horrible asset management.
Since Calgary has done next to nothing to showcase him, he’s more valuable to the organization as he currently is than as trade bait. Unless that changes.
It’s time to give him another shot
This is probably the Flames’ last chance to showcase him. Glencross’ departure means there will be an opening for a top-nine left winger (in theory, it would be top six, but as we all know, Lance Bouma occupies one of those slots and probably isn’t going anywhere, no matter how shrilly logic screeches), and that spot should go to Baertschi.
Not even just due to his contract status. On a point per game basis, he’s Adirondack’s highest scoring left winger. And the Flames are still a team in the playoff chase. Baertschi could legitimately help. If the Flames don’t get another forward back in return for Glencross, he may very well be the team’s best option.
The thing is, he can’t be left to kill time in the pressbox or waste away sharing ice with Bollig. Whether the choice is going to be to keep him or trade him, these 20-odd games left in the season may very well be the Flames’ final chance to showcase him, either for themselves or for any potential trading partners.
A showcasing means playing Baertschi alongside competent NHLers, just like how he spent most of the Feb. 2 game, a 5-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets, skating alongside Mason Raymond. He was actually given top six minutes for the first two periods before he took a penalty and was banished for most of the third.
That can’t happen again, though. It’s time to play Baertschi on a consistent basis.
He needs to be put in a position to succeed
Baertschi was a pretty hyped prospect when he was first drafted, and his three goals over a five-game emergency call up only added to that. But ultimately, he hasn’t shown a ton at the NHL level. And maybe he never will. (Although it’s pretty hard to show much of anything when your coach won’t even play you for 10 minutes in a game.)
But if Baertschi does show something and it’s not with the Flames, that’s going to look pretty bad. And feel pretty bad. And be bad in general.
Maybe Baertschi does work out, maybe he doesn’t; no matter what happens, though, a decision has to be made soon. Placing him in Glencross’ spot in the lineup is going to be the best opportunity for the Flames to figure it out. It’s not like he’s going to hurt the Flames by getting minutes, anyway; he’s not exactly the worst forward available to them.
If the Flames don’t give him this chance over the final quarter of the season, they may very well have just ruined an asset and lost him for no discernible reason. While guys like Johnny Gaudreau, Emile Poirier, and Sam Bennett are new and shiny, the Flames really can’t afford to squander any assets they still have available to them. And even though Baertschi has been around longer, he’s definitely an asset.
You can’t just throw prospects away; not when they’re in just their early 20s and still have plenty of potential to be useful NHLers. Calgary’s in the position where it has to give Baertschi one last chance to succeed, both for his sake, and its own.