There’s going to be playoff hockey in the Calgary Flames organization! The big league Flames have clinched a playoff spot. The ECHL’s Adirondack Thunder have clinched a playoff spot and currently lead their division. The American Hockey League’s Stockton Heat are currently in a fevered battle for the final playoff spot in their division, which may complicate how the Flames use their final two “regular” recalls and potentially how they may use emergency recalls prior to the final few games of the season in an effort to rest their regulars before the playoffs.
SO, WHAT’S UP?
The Flames probably should rest some guys, especially if they’re going to try to not get clobbered in the first round of the playoffs by whomever they play. They’re currently carrying four extra bodies (Dennis Wideman, Rasmus Andersson, Curtis Lazar and Freddie Hamilton) and can rotate some players out, but depending on how widespread or substantial the “bumps and bruises” are throughout their lineup it may be a good idea to sit a bunch of players to keep them healthy for the postseason.
Sitting a ton of regulars in the final game of the season is a bit of a tradition, regardless of whether the team is headed to the playoffs or not. The Flames were missing 11 regulars for their final game of the year in 2015 and seven in 2016. Those absences resulted in a ton of short-term call-ups and a bunch of players making their NHL debuts. The experience of a short-term recall is actually considered beneficial for a player’s development, because it gives the player a taste of the NHL and gives the club an idea of how close they are to actually being ready for the big time.
(If you’re curious, what usually happens logistically with all these mass recalls is the Flames would tell the NHL that a particular group of players are injured, which would allow them to use a combination of their remaining “regular” recalls and emergency recalls to bring up enough players to field a team.)
THE STOCKTON PROBLEM
If you ask hockey people what helps young players develop, the most common answer is “playing a lot.” Right now, the Heat are very close to a playoff spot – and making the playoffs would extend their season by a couple of weeks, at the least. Playing for a couple more weeks is probably more valuable from a development standpoint than playing in a garbage game in the NHL so the Flames can rest some players. But the needs of the NHL club have to be prioritized above all else.
Let’s presume that the Flames rest eight players for the last game (or two) of the season. They have two defensemen and two forwards as extras right now, so let’s guess that they recall another defender and three forwards. The most deserving call-ups right now would probably be Mark Jankowski, Morgan Klimchuk, Oliver Kylington and one of Garnet Hathaway and Hunter Shinkaruk. The problem is that once you’ve recalled those guys, you’ve basically gutted Stockton for a game or two during their push for a playoff spot. Whoops.
Even if the idea is the Flames will simply bring up depth guys from Stockton – guys like Brandon Bollig, Austin Carroll or Kenney Morrison who are long-shots for NHL jobs – then you have to replace those players with effective AHL depth guys to keep things rolling along in Stockton. The Flames only have three skaters under contract in Adirondack, and they’re not exactly world-beaters: Brett Pollock, Keegan Kanzig and Ryan Culkin.
THE TIMING ISSUE
As we mentioned the other day, here’s how the final few Flames games line up with Stockton’s games next week:
- April 4: Calgary at Anaheim
- April 5: San Diego at Stockton
- April 6: Calgary at Los Angeles
- April 8: San Jose at Stockton, Calgary at San Jose
- April 9: Stockton at San Jose
If you’re the Flames, you probably want to sit some players against Los Angeles (a non-playoff team) prior to playing a playoff tune-up against San Jose. The nice thing is that the Flames are in California, so potentially Flames brass can watch Stockton’s game and decide who to bring up for the next day. The call-ups could play against Los Angeles and still have a day to rest before their home-and-home series with the Barracuda.
In terms of timing, though, the Los Angeles game is the only one that really works if the Flames want to try out good players from the Heat, because otherwise they’ll have to miss key AHL games. Heck, even in this “ideal” scenario they’re still playing four games in five nights (in two leagues), which is far from ideal.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN?
My best guess? The Flames probably are going to try to strike a balance between what’s best for the NHL team right now (resting some regulars), what’s best for the AHL team right now (keeping that team rolling along in the playoff hunt) and what’s best for the future (figuring out which of the AHL stars are ready for prime time).
Expect the glut of call-ups to happen on Thursday morning, prior to the Los Angeles game, and for the Flames to bring up a handful of prospective “black aces” such as Jankowski, Klimchuk, Shinkaruk and Kylington to assess if they’re almost ready for NHL jobs.