FlamesNation Player Evaluations: Tyler Wotherspoon

In the 2014-15 season, Tyler Wotherspoon had to wait until a meaningless Game 82 to set foot back on NHL ice. In 2015-16, it took him until Game 57. Not only that, but he got an extra 10 games out of it, to boot.

So while Wotherspoon didn’t get any playoff games in this past season, he got more NHL time in general. He’s an upcoming restricted free agent who looked like he might be able to fill in as a bottom pairing defenceman at the NHL level; it wasn’t a bad year for him at all.

Season summary

Wotherspoon spent the first half of his season playing as one of the Stockton Heat’s top defencemen. The second half of his season was a bit more up-and-down – literally, as he was shuffled back and forth between Calgary and Stockton. He made his NHL debut for the season on Feb. 19, a necessary recall as Dennis Wideman was still serving his seemingly endless suspension, Ladislav Smid’s season had just ended due to injury, and Kris Russell had already played his last game as a Flame and was being held out of the lineup due to minor injuries.

Wotherspoon stayed up with the Flames for the final six games in February. When they acquired Jyrki Jokipakka from Dallas – and he was able to meet the Flames on their road trip – Wotherspoon had to be sent back down, but he returned due to concern over a Jakub Nakladal eye injury, and stayed for an extra game when Deryk Engelland was held out due to a minor injury.

He returned for a final three games in late March when Engelland missed a road trip due to his son’s birth. Following that, Wotherspoon went back to Stockton and closed out his season there, as a handful of other prospective defencemen were called up during the final eight games of the season when necessary: possibly an indication that the Flames had seen enough from Wotherspoon to have a decision on him, as he had been the default go-to defence recall up to that point.

In the NHL, Wotherspoon scored one assist over 11 games, had nine shots on net, and averaged 14:10 in ice time a game. In the AHL, he scored two goals and 10 points over 53 games (seventh in Heat defencemen scoring), and had 55 shots on net.

Impact on team

Top left has players in most difficult circumstances: more defensive zone starts and tougher competition. Bottom right has players in easiest circumstances: a lot of offensive zone starts and weak competition. The bigger a player’s circle, the more he plays. The bluer, the greater his possession relative to his teammates; the redder, the worse. Click on image for full-sized chart from Corsica

wotherspoonusage

Wotherspoon was essentially as sheltered as a defenceman could get. He didn’t have quite the zone starts Jakub Nakladal did, but he still faced paltry competition.

The two players who most line up with his usage are veteran Smid and rookie Brett Kulak. Simply at face value, both young players were better than Smid, who clocked in at a 46.81% 5v5 CF. He played twice the games Wotherspoon did, but it’s difficult to see Wotherspoon dropping that far from his 53.17% CF over an additional 11 games.

Wotherspoon was fifth on the entire Flames team in corsi for, but everyone above him played fewer than 10 games in the NHL (including Kulak and his 55.62%). He had the best corsi out of all Flames who played at least 10 games, but again – he only played 11 in relatively easy circumstances, so this is hardly a concrete endorsement. (Nakladal was right after Wotherspoon with 53.04%, but with an extra 16 games played and noticeably better zone starts.)

Still, it’s difficult to argue the Flames would have been better served with Smid in Wotherspoon’s place.

In the AHL, Wotherspoon was the fifth oldest regular defenceman on Stockton, behind Aaron Johnson, Nakladal, Dustin Stevenson, and Kenney Morrison. He was a regular top defenceman for the team, though, and his 53 games played were the second most for a blueliner on the Heat – behind just Kulak, who played 59.

What comes next?

Assuming Wotherspoon, an upcoming restricted free agent, is re-signed, he should likely be given an opportunity to earn a spot with the Flames out of camp. It probably wouldn’t be any better than a sixth or seventh defenceman, but a spot is a spot, and it’ll still be up to him to prove he deserves more.

While Kulak appears to have the better numbers, both in the AHL and NHL, it makes more sense to have Wotherspoon up in the NHL. Unless Kulak is going to be able to realistically play in the top four from the start of the season, he’s likely better served honing his game as a top defender in the AHL than mostly riding the pine in the big leagues, so he can continue to grow and develop.

The same argument could apply to Wotherspoon, 23, who will be waiver eligible for the first time in his career in 2016-17. He’s not so young that his career has stagnated, but this could be do or die time for him. 

Assuming no statuses change, the Flames have Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie, Dougie Hamilton, Dennis Wideman, Deryk Engelland, and Jyrki Jokipakka readily available to them. That’s six defencemen already, plus the possibility of a seventh should Smid be able to play again. Throw in Nakladal’s status as a free agent the Flames might like to re-sign, and it’s a crowded blueline for Wotherspoon to break into.

Assuming Wotherspoon stays with the Flames – and I do think they qualify and re-sign him to a one-year deal – he’s going to have to have a hell of a camp to prove he deserves to be in the NHL, even as a bottom defender. If not, it’s likely back to Stockton as a top defender in the AHL, and probably one of the first guys on the recall list should it be necessary.

But if there’s one thing this past season reinforced: the Flames are better off with kids and newcomers playing in depth roles than overpaid veterans.

  • flamesburn89

    Really hoping BT is somehow able to lessen that logjam on the backend. I’d like to see guys like Wotherspoon, Nakladal, etc. get a realistic shot at making the team next year.

  • Brodano12

    Ideally, imo, if BT is able to clear out our logjammed defense contracts, our d-core would look like this:

    Brodie-Hamilton

    Gio-Nakladal

    Wotherspoon-Jokipakka

    Engelland

    The bottom 3 can we switched around based on their play.

  • Stu Cazz

    Before Hartley’s firing I would have advised Wotherspoon to sign elsewhere. Now that Hartley is gone let’s keep this kid and give him an honest chance.

  • jakethesnail

    Flames should try to get Marc A Fleury out of Pitts…with Murray playing outstanding and an upcoming expansion draft, it may not cost the Flames that much to get Fleury. Fluery/Ortio would be more than a million cheaper than last seasons goalie fiasco.

      • piscera.infada

        Unless you don’t want an upgrade in net, you’re probably paying a similar amount. Andersen would need to be resigned for what, somewhere around 5.0 million with term? Reimer will probably want term stability. Bishop probably isn’t available anymore, but even still, he makes more for one year, then you’re going to have to resign him for term at probably 6-7 million per. Howard is 5.25 for the same term. Lehtonen at 5.9 for one more. I highly doubt Elliott is moved now, he might be the key for St. Louis next year, then he’s going to get paid.

        I actually think Fleury makes the most sense of the available, veteran upgrades. He’s also probably the cheapest to acquire, because Pittsburgh could use the cap space. You resign Ortio at around 1 million, and you’ve got a capable #1, and a capable backup, for less then they spent this year. You’ve solidified the position for 3 years, with some flexibility if Gilles proves he’s ready to backup in a year or two. By the end of year three, hopefully Gilles is good to go as a starter.

        • Baalzamon

          In my mind, there are two things that get in the way of a Fleury trade.

          1. The Pens pretty much have to take Wideman as part of the return. Otherwise the cap numbers don’t really work for the Flames. They can retain a little of Wideman’s salary, but not much (like, 1 million at most).
          2. Fleury’s NMC. Does Fleury’s contract have to be protected in the expansion draft? If it does I’d be leery about making the trade, given that it could mean the Flames lose Gillies, and they may have to expose Frolik–and maybe others!–just to meet the salary requirements.
          • piscera.infada

            For sure. Not saying it’s a no brainer, but it makes the most sense to me of the “available” goalies–unless, of course Reimer wants to take a very team friendly deal on both dollars and term.

            Directly in regards to #1–it is possible Wideman is traded for peanuts elsewhere. Granted, not likely, but possible. I mean, if the Flames want a legit goalie upgrade, they’re going to have to figure something out cap-wise because anyone is going to cost money–that includes Andersen.

            You have a very valid point with #2. Although I thought Gilles would be exempt. It seems pretty vague on if he would be or not, right? I mean, either way, if you want to upgrade your goaltending, someone will have to be exposed there–or not, I don’t know.

          • Baalzamon

            Gillies’ eligibility depends on when the expansion draft is. It’s also possible he wouldn’t be claimed, even if he was exposed. I don’t imagine the expansion team would be looking for too many minor league goalies.

            IMO it makes the most sense to move out Wideman when bringing in Fleury. Upon reflection, I suppose the Flames could retain more than 1 million of Wideman’s salary. A little while ago I mocked up a Flames roster with a 4.1 per contract to Reimer, extensions for Ortio, Jooris, Colborne, Nakladal, Monahan and Gaudreau. I came in just under the cap without any buyouts or LTIR, and with only Raymond’s contract buried in the minors.

            The reason I want Wideman moved as part of a Fleury trade is because the Penguins need defensemen, and Wideman is at least a warm body in that sense (he’s also arguably an upgrade over Schultz, who they may not even bother re-signing).

  • redwhiteblack

    A big issue is being handcuffed to cast members who are getting older, slower and as such becoming larger liabilities. We are to paying to many staff members very well to tilt the ice the wrong way.

    Supporting cast members are the ones winning games for the remaining playoff teams. You need 4 lines that help you control play to go far.

    The Russell deal was a great example of the right thing to do for the future. Shedding Bollig, Smid, Wideman, Stajan and Raymond would clearly be positive. I hope they do not bring in more of the same via free agency or trade. A Buyout part way through a contract is not good business. It is better to draft well and bring along inexpensive youth to support the young core.

    • piscera.infada

      I, and most others, will agree with you. I think the majority of those players (Engelland, Bollig, and Raymond) were brought in purely as place-holders–a means of getting this team to it’s competitive window. 2014/15 made it look like this team was closer to that window than management previously thought, but this year has shown that perhaps the three year estimate was correct.

      Good news is that outside of Stajan (a bad contract–thanks Burkie), all those contracts are up at the end of the year. Solidify the goaltending, inject some new life into the prospect system this offseason. Over this coming season: allow a new coach to grow into his role, see if you can inject any more prospects into your NHL roster, assess what additional deficiencies there are in your AHL and NHL rosters. Next offseason, you address those final needs. That’s your three years.