The Flames have a problem: they have way, way too many waiver-eligible forwards.
Let’s talk specifically about Brandon Bollig.
From 18 to 14
The Flames still have 18 forwards at camp, 15 of whom require waivers. The three that don’t are Garnet Hathaway, Markus Granlund, and Sam Bennett. Only the latter seems especially likely to make the final roster.
Operating on the assumption that Bennett is on the team and Hathaway and Granlund are in Stockton, there are still 16 forwards at camp. Presuming a roster of two goalies, seven defencemen, and 14 forwards, two waiver-eligible forwards still have to go, whether by trade or being sent down and subject to waivers.
Bennett’s already off the table for risk of being cut; let’s take Mikael Backlund, Lance Bouma, Michael Frolik, Johnny Gaudreau, Jiri Hudler, David Jones, Sean Monahan, and Matt Stajan off as well, based on both contractual status, recent history, and overall career production.
That still leaves seven forwards fighting for the remaining five spots: Paul Byron, Joe Colborne, Micheal Ferland, Josh Jooris, Mason Raymond, Drew Shore, and Bollig.
Based on both their performances last season and their preseason performances to date, let’s take Ferland and Jooris out of that group as well.
Fighting for the last spots
Byron, after over half a year of not playing hockey on a regular basis, is only just now starting to impress at camp. He isn’t a lock to make the roster just yet, but of the five forwards left, he seems the most likely. When you look at his past performances and with them, the idea that he’s basically the perfect depth player, it’s clear it would be a mistake to cut him. Byron is still getting his legs under him, but it’s only been two games. He’ll get there.
On the other hand, neither Raymond, Colborne nor Shore have impressed at camp so far. While Raymond and Colborne were regular players for the Flames in 2014-15, Shore came in late and never could hold on to a spot. Between the three, he looks the least likely to actually make the team.
However, all four of the aforementioned players have exhibited, at minimum, more potential than Bollig has, if not better careers to date. But Bollig has actually had a more inspiring preseason: not only wearing a letter in preseason games, but scoring two goals.
The two preseason goals are more funny than anything else, and shouldn’t be an indication of predicted future success. After all, do you take Bollig over Byron, even though Byron has a significantly greater history of professional ability to draw upon?
But we all know Bollig isn’t here to score goals. The very fact that the coaching staff saw fit to give him an alternate’s ‘A’ in preseason matches attests to a different perceived value.
What’s best for the Flames?
There are all sorts of arguments you can make to cut the other forwards. Their play isn’t up to the standards the rest of the players have set, they aren’t worthy of their contracts, they wouldn’t be missed. And all of these do basically apply to Bollig.
If Bollig is an asset to the locker room, though – not on the ice, but simply as a member of the team – then, honestly, you keep him. If he’s earned a spot through preseason performances where others haven’t, you keep him, and cut those who failed to meet expectations.
Here’s the thing: keeping Bollig does not mean playing him. We’re talking about keeping 14 forwards for an on-ice group that’s only going to see 12. Two of them will be scratches at any given time.
And if Bollig does earn a spot through his preseason work ethic, leadership, and whatever other values the coaching staff feels he provides, he should keep his spot – but be confined to the pressbox, because there is absolutely no case in which he is one of the top 12 forwards on this team.
Bollig is a professional. He’s no longer a kid trying to earn a spot like Shore is; he’s a veteran player who knows his role, and his role has never been to play big or meaningful minutes. Making him a perpetual healthy scratch should not be an issue.
And by doing this, he doesn’t take an on-ice spot from a kid who needs the playing time. Assuming the Flames can get Shore through waivers, what’s best for him: sitting in an NHL pressbox, or playing in the AHL?
The Flames were at a similar crossroads last season when they had to send somebody down, and the choice really came down to Brian McGrattan or Markus Granlund. They chose McGrattan, leaving Granlund, a young player still developing, to sit as a healthy scratch not playing.
That isn’t something that needs to happen again. Sending Bollig down to the AHL ensures he can’t dress for the Flames, but also takes a spot from a kid who needs the development and playing time in the minors.
However, a Bollig taking part in team activities while not actually playing games hurts absolutely nobody.
Unless the Flames can find a taker for Bollig in a trade without having to give up any assets, if he’s impressed enough in training camp, keep him in the NHL. Just don’t play him.