One of the B-plots for the 2016-17 season was the rise of Garnet Hathaway as the new and shiny core depth player. An undrafted college surprise, Hathaway became an AHL favourite for his energetic playing style and earned a contract with the Flames two years ago.
The team kicked tires on him briefly in the dying sunlight of the 2015-16 season, but he really didn’t become a player of interest until this season, where his presence in the lineup correlated with the team going 18-7-1. He was a pest, an energy guy, and a kid with decent offensive handles. It was hard for many not to love him.
Count the management of the Calgary Flames among that group. Hathaway is found money. Groomed in the AHL since 2013-14, he is proof positive that their development system works. If they can take an Ivy League nobody and put him in the NHL in just under three seasons, it must be going great.
Perhaps his possession numbers weren’t good, but how much does that matter for an eight minute a night guy? You’re likely to have a handful of players who aren’t going to be great possession guys in the cap era.
Well there’s that entire thing about Hathaway not being very good. Let’s run a quick comparison:
By most measures, Hathaway is a lateral move on Lance Bouma, the player he is most likely going to replace. Sure, you save cap space by swapping the two out, but the better option is to have neither of them. Replacing Bouma with right-handed Bouma (if you browse through our archives, you find that the two share a lot of buzzwords!) is not a good use of the space.
And space is important right now because the Flames have about none of it. Here’s a Simpsons reference we are obligated to make:
Great clip. Now, let’s loosely use that as a metaphor for the Calgary Flames:
This is an article for later, but without getting too much into the specifics, the Flames have nine players under contract next year, four RFAs that need qualifying (and there’s really only a case to not qualify one – Alex Chiasson – although there’s a much stronger case to qualify him [and they probably will anyways]), and one UFA (that they’re probably going to re-sign). That’s 14 forwards. That’s all the forwards you need.
There is no door in that scenario as it stands, but the Flames are likely going to make one. The likely thing to happen is that Las Vegas selects a forward from the Flames (if they select a defenceman, uh oh) and they might bury Bouma. Perhaps there’s a trade or two. They could also somehow add to this group, but I definitely feel that they’re going to find some way to make some space. Boom, there’s your door.
The diseases coming through the door (apologies to the prospects: they are not juvenile diabetes or influenza, but good hockey lads) are Mark Jankowski, Hunter Shinkaruk, Morgan Klimchuk, Emile Poirier, Daniel Pribyl, to a lesser extent, Andrew Mangiapane and Ryan Lomberg, and to an even lesser extent, Hunter Smith and Austin Carroll. There are seven expiring contracts there and two who are at least in the conversation for an NHL spot. There’s your door jammed with diseases (again, apologies).
Oh wait, one more: Garnet Hathaway. If the team qualifies and signs him, he is also jamming that door.
And like the doctor warns, this is not an ideal situation despite the appearance. Sure there’s stiff competition between many good prospects, but there’s also the major risk that you stunt growth and make those prospects on expiring contracts either less likely to want to re-sign with the team or less likely to actually become NHLers. There’s more harm than good being done at this point.
Perhaps I’m being a bit of a worrier, but you cannot help but be concerned here. The Flames turned to Hathaway whenever a forward went down. His rise to prominence was mostly due to the fact that Johnny Gaudreau was out of the lineup. The team probably doesn’t buy into superstitious mumbo-jumbo about their record when he’s in the lineup, but at the very least, they trust him as a regular.
Although he is waiver eligible, you feel that Hathaway can successfully argue for an NHL spot next year, or at least a one-way contract. By usage, he can argue that he’s earned the trust of the coaching staff more than any other prospect did, and thus should be first in line. And come training camp, it’s likely that he will be first in line. He’s got the experience, the right hand, the grit, and potential (0.65 PPG in the AHL and five in the NHL). It would be surprising if he didn’t make the team out of camp.
That’s a bit of a problem because that’s a spot for a prospect who will likely be better and more important to the team two years from now. Give them some playing time! It shouldn’t have started in the first place, but the Flames really need to be done with the entire truculence for the sake of truculence phase of the rebuild. They’ve made a grit move every year under Brad Treliving (Bollig, Engelland 2014; Bouma extension 2015; Brouwer 2016) and it has paid off about zero times. It hurts the on-ice team and it hurts the pipeline. Be done with it.
So do what?
So perhaps it’s best to move on. If the team doesn’t recognize that players like Hathaway are routinely the ones who are causing the problems, they’re not going to be true contenders for a long time.
Hathaway is an interesting trade piece. He’s cheap, ticks the aforementioned boxes, waiver exempt, and expansion exempt. Definitely not someone teams are tripping over themselves for, but he could function as a handy sweetener in a trade deal. I mentioned Brandon Bollig earlier.
If that doesn’t happen, the team should just let him walk. The team is in a very cautious moment right now where they have to pay attention to both their present and their future. Hathaway makes neither better.