The arrival of defenseman Matt Bartkowski on a professional tryout deal is an interesting development when it comes to the Calgary Flames. The 28-year-old American is the textbook definition of a “tweener” defenseman, having played about as many games in the National Hockey League as the American Hockey League.
His recruitment from a steady job with the AHL’s Providence Bruins could have several implications moving forward, both in the immediate and not-too-distant future.
The Expansion Draft
The prime thing that Bartkowski brings to the table is he’s expansion draft eligible. He also helps the Flames meet their expansion draft exposure requirements, as he played 80 games with the Vancouver Canucks last year. Teams have to expose a defenseman who’s (a) under contract or is a qualified restricted free agent and (b) played either 40 games in 2016-17 or 70 games between 2015-16 and 2016-17.
Word is Flames will sign Bartkowski to two-way deal for rest of this season and next year
— Mark Divver (@MarkDivver) February 15, 2017
If he signs, he helps the Flames meet their requirements without having to rush a decision on somebody like Jyrki Jokipakka for next season. Much of the discussion surrounding Jokipakka so far this season has involved the phrase “…yeah, but they need him for expansion.” Given the likelihood of the Flames signing Bartkowski soon, that may mean that there are other moves to follow.
So what happens with Bartkowski in the short term?
- Nothing, he gets released without signing a contract (ala Douglas Murray).
- He signs an NHL deal and is assigned to Stockton after clearing waivers (ala Tom McCollum).
- He signs an NHL deal and stays in Calgary, displacing either Jokipakka or Brett Kulak.
The first option is very unlikely. Bartkowski was on an AHL contract in Providence and the thought is he wouldn’t have left a good spot with a good AHL club for just the mere possibility of an NHL contract, so my gut says he’s going to end up signing quite soon. Barring something unforeseen, he’s in Calgary because he’s going to sign.
Based on what happened with McCollum, Bartkowski doesn’t need to be on the Flames’ active roster while he goes through the waivers process. This means the Flames won’t necessarily need to reassign somebody else to make room for Bartkowski unless he’s staying with the NHL club. Given that nobody else has signed him to an NHL deal by now, if Bartkowski is placed on waivers he’ll clear, and then he can head down to Stockton to be another veteran blueliner to help mentor the kids down there. (For what it’s worth, I don’t believe McCollum was physically in Calgary during
the waivers process so Bartkowski’s presence means he might be sticking around.)
If he is signing and sticking on the NHL roster, there are probably a few bits of logic behind it. Jokipakka hasn’t been very good and Kulak has played infrequently (and given his age, he should be playing a ton). If he’s staying, my thought is Bartkowski and Jokipakka jostle for third pairing duty while Kulak goes back to Stockton to play a ton. That said, perhaps the Flames have seen everything they care to see from Jokipakka and are planning on sending him to Stockton, keeping Bartkowski and Kulak to rotate through the third pairing spot.
If Bartkowski flew across the continent to skate with the Flames, he’s here to sign and stick around. If he hangs around, that means he’s displacing somebody. This could merely be a short-term move to give the Flames an upgrade on their bottom pairing or it could be a precursor to further moves.
We’ll likely find out very soon.