You remember Game 82 against Winnipeg last season? Both the Flames and the Jets had just clinched a playoff spot, and so, the game was totally meaningless. Healthy scratches abounded, guys who weren’t really getting the chance to play in the NHL got huge minutes, and the Flames got smoked 5-1 – but nobody cared, because the standings were set and the goal was more not to get hurt than anything else.
The Flames’ game against the Leafs was in a similar vein. It wasn’t meaningless, but it did provide serious roster deficiencies unlikely to repeat themselves. The Leafs were depleted from untimely injuries and a Dion Phaneuf trade, while the Flames laid down team law and scratched two big names (and, evidently, struggled at least in part for it).
In short, it wasn’t really a normal game for either side; and for the Flames, at least, it’s a situation unlikely to occur again. Two or three players from last night’s lineup will likely end up scratched next game, so there’s not really a ton to look at here.
Except for, well, one guy in particular.
Jakub Nakladal played 1:45. He was granted two shifts – one 25-second one and one 1:20-minute one – in the first period and that was all we saw from him in his NHL debut.
Nakladal probably didn’t come from his home continent to ride buses around California. He came because he wanted to be in the NHL. And okay, so just wanting to be in the NHL doesn’t mean you actually get to make it, nor should it. It has to be earned, and Nakladal has worked his way in Stockton to be worthy of being the Flames’ first recall when short a defenceman.
He has also been a healthy scratch for seven of the eight games he has been up in the NHL for. His first recall stint, which lasted for a week in October, saw him sit in the press box for four straight games, including a road back-to-back.
His second stint has now seen him sit for another three games, including another back-to-back that required travel. And then, when he finally gets to make his NHL debut, he doesn’t even get two minutes.
Of course, Bob Hartley was asked about this. And his answer, from the presser, was:
The way the game was going, I would have liked to use Nakladal more. But at the same time, it’s not about how we use one player, or two players, or 10 players, it’s just… Behind the bench, you get a feel. Sometimes you’re right, sometimes you’re wrong. But you have to trust your instincts and I felt that the Leafs wouldn’t go away, and they didn’t. We wanted this win. It’s nothing on Jakub Nakladal, that he didn’t do right or stuff like this. it was just basically a coach’s decision from behind the bench.
So Hartley watched his defence play. He played them as he normally does: T.J. Brodie, Mark Giordano, and Kris Russell with big minutes, Dougie Hamilton in a reduced top four role for some reason (nevermind his being one of the better Flames on the night, if not the best one period; his poor October has apparently doomed him still to this day), and Deryk Engelland and Ladislav Smid bringing up the rear.
Not even when the Flames had a 4-1 lead and looked to be laughing the game away. Not when the Leafs made it 4-2 with Engelland and Smid on the ice. Not when their next shift lasted two minutes because they were hemmed in their own zone. Not when the the Leafs made it 4-3 – again, with Engelland and Smid on the ice – and were in danger of tying the game.
No. Clearly Nakladal would have provided a worse effort than the two veteran bottom pairing defencemen who posted even strength corsi rates ranging from 20-30% on the night: abysmal performances on a team full of them. Nakladal would have cost the team that got outshot 13-3 and out-corsied 28-8 in the final frame that much worse.
If Nakladal can’t be trusted, what’s the point of his being here? If it’s preferred to play 17 skaters instead of 18 if the 18th guy is Nakladal, what does that say?
I’ll leave with this thought. Remember Roman Cervenka? Like Nakladal, he was 27 when he decided to make the jump from the KHL to the NHL, and he went to Calgary. The lockout made it bad timing, but he was still used sparingly. Of the 39 games he played for the Flames, he played fewer than 15 minutes for 26 of them. Fewer than 10 minutes for eight of them. Fewer than five minutes for three of them. And then he went right back to Europe.
Maybe the Flames are just a really terrible judge of overage European talent. But maybe, after all of this, they won’t be in the bidding for any future European free agents – be they Cervenkas, Nakladals, Panarins or Zaitsevs – because I can’t imagine someone wanting to break into the NHL would look at the way this team has operated and think he has a shot here.
Nakladal’s NHL debut only happened because three 20-somethings acted like three 20-somethings. And before he could do anything with it, it was taken away from him, Hartley more content to play shorthanded and keep together a brutal defence pairing that struggled all night rather than give someone without an impressive draft pedigree even half a chance. (Maybe when he goes back to Stockton, Nakladal can compare notes with Tyler Wotherspoon.)
Nakladal may be 28 years old, and not really a prospect, but there’s no excuse to string somebody – anybody – along like this. It’s taunting, it’s disrespectful, it’s disingenuous. And it’s a really, really bad look, especially when it goes on as long and as far as it has.