Tyler Wotherspoon was supposed to play against the Arizona Coyotes. It would have been his ninth game of this NHL season, all games coming over the past month due to the Flames being short on defencemen.
But something suddenly changed: there was finally a ruling on Dennis Wideman’s case, and his 20-game suspension was shifted to 10. This meant nothing for the previous nine games he missed out on, but it did for the deciding 10th: Wideman was officially reinstated, and the Flames were up to seven defencemen.
Seven defencemen doesn’t fly when one of them is up on emergency recall. That recall, post-trade deadline, exists so teams can dress a full roster, even if injuries or suspensions would have left them shorthanded otherwise.
With Wideman’s suspension lifted, though, and Deryk Engelland good to go, Wotherspoon had to be sent back down to the Stockton Heat. That, or use a real recall on him – and leave the Flames with just one left for the season. And according to the AHL’s transactions page, the necessary choice was made: Wotherspoon was sent down.
Wotherspoon played just two games over this emergency recall stint: 10:10 in an overtime loss to the San Jose Sharks that saw an abnormal amount of special teams, and 13:43 in an overtime win over the Nashville Predators.
Both games saw him play on the bottom pairing. It’s a role Wotherspoon looks to at least be capable of today, but with so many contracts already in place, he’s been pushed out for the time being.
The danger of having too many mediocre defencemen signed to too-long deals has inhibited the Flames this season; there’s no better example of that than Wotherspoon’s former partner, Jakub Nakladal. It’s only just recently Nakladal has earned his full-time spot in the NHL – the Flames didn’t use a paper transaction to make him eligible to return to the AHL, thereby not only saving one of their four post-trade deadline recalls, but keeping him up full time – but there’s hardly room for anyone else.
And assuming there are no further injuries and T.J. Brodie is ready to return to the lineup sooner rather than later, the Flames will have one extra defenceman.
Somebody will return to the pressbox. We can probably assume with full confidence it won’t be any of Brodie, Mark Giordano, or Dougie Hamilton; it probably won’t be Jyrki Jokipakka, either, as he was just acquired, is young, signed for another season, and frankly, doesn’t deserve a demotion in the slightest.
Wideman only just got back, Deryk Engelland is what he is – but often used as a top-four guy, even when there are other options – and sending Nakladal back to the pressbox would be really disheartening after how he’s played thus far, especially now that he’s made it to the NHL level after a season of AHL play spliced with the occasional tease.
So there’s just no room for Wotherspoon. The 23-year-old will be an RFA after this season, but maybe he’s shown the Flames enough now to bring him back – and maybe they’ll be able to maneuver their contracts on the backend enough to potentially leave a spot for him to start next season.
For now, though, top minutes in the AHL are definitely better than burning a recall on a kid with a too-full defensive lineup.