Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

What’s in a healthy scratch?

In 2016-17, Freddie Hamilton set a new career high for games played in the NHL: 26. While that may be 26 more than most will ever get, it’s still not a particularly impressive number. For just over a quarter of the season, he averaged 9:47 in ice time and scored two goals for his efforts.

The other 56 games? He sat in the press box, available in case the team needed him – at least until puck drop, at which point his night effectively ended.

He’s still a professional hockey player, but one with an even more irregular schedule. Most of the games he played, he dressed because another player was injured (most notably Johnny Gaudreau); then, the player who took his place as healthy scratch was often an AHL call up (Hunter Shinkaruk and Linden Vey’s names frequently pop up throughout this).

And really, he was the ideal healthy scratch to have.

All players being healthy, none suspended, and the ability to have a consistent lineup intact, who the team’s healthy scratches are isn’t much of a consideration. This is pretty much never the case, though. Somebody is inevitably going to get hurt at some point through the season. A young player will likely need to sit at some point (Hamilton made his 2016-17 season debut when it was determined Matthew Tkachuk should be in the press box early in his NHL career). And even then, emergencies will crop up, be they a suspension (again, Tkachuk), the flu, someone about to become a new father – whatever.

So whenever it was Hamilton was needed, he stepped up to the task, fulfilling the most basic role there is: be a warm body capable of playing. Hamilton was basically the replacement level option the Flames had, a blank slate who could step in whenever need be. He wasn’t there to create offence, and his 47.18% 5v5 CF wasn’t great – for context, regular fourth line centre Matt Stajan clocked in at 49.09% – but he got the job asked of him done, and still outperformed some regulars.

As the Flames look to fill out their lineups for the next season – there appears to be a spot for a prospect left on both forward and defence, as well as extra healthy scratch spots – then it begs the question: do you have another prospect called up, even if he isn’t going to play that often, or do you use that healthy scratch spot in the lineup on the Hamiltons on the roster?

Hamilton outperformed Vey in camp, so Hamilton got to spend the year in the NHL, regardless of how much he actually ended up playing. Did it make sense to have him often dress ahead of Shinkaruk, however, when Shinkaruk was recalled? Or, on the defensive end of things, did Rasmus Andersson’s extended recall – and extended stay in the press box – make the most sense? Sure, Andersson had the chance to practice extensively at the NHL level, which has its own value; on the other hand, would he have been better off getting in games at the AHL?

Now extrapolate that over a full season, and who would you rather have sitting in the press box? Remember that Hamilton was up for an entire year and got in all of 26 games. Brett Kulak, on the other hand, played nearly double the amount of hockey Hamilton did thanks to being sent down to the AHL after repeated stints as a healthy scratch.

Say Mark Jankowski makes the team, but not to the extent of having a regular spot in the lineup. Is it worth keeping him up through the entire season if he isn’t going to get a regular shift? Or should the distinction of frequent healthy scratch remain that of someone like Hamilton – someone who can perform at this level without really contributing much, but whose days as a prospect with untapped potential are likely over? Or should Jankowski rotate with another forward prospect, so both players get both AHL and NHL playing and practice time?

What about someone with a greyer value? Curtis Lazar has thus far spent most of his time as a Flame in the press box, albeit through no real fault of his own. If, however, he’s unable to establish himself the way the team hopes, does he become ideal press box fodder? What if it’s a player like Garnet Hathaway, who may technically still be a prospect depending on one’s definition, but doesn’t have much of a ceiling to speak of?

Does someone like Stajan, who is overpaid relative to his role and on an expiring contract, or someone like Troy Brouwer, assuming he fails to rebound from one of the worst seasons in his career, end up a healthy scratch instead? Does it make sense for a prospect to battle alongside these players throughout the season – and even if the prospect wins the battle, will he be regularly dressed over guys making millions more than him with far more experience, regardless of talent level?

Who would you see as the Flames’ insurance players, often sitting above the ice through much of the year, throughout 2017-18?

  • Jay

    The Flames’ healthy scratches for next season should be Brouwer and Stajan, which would allow prospects (Lazar, Jankowski, Foo) to step in and contribute to the team while playing in a sheltered 4th line role.

  • Off the wall

    Let’s give Brouwer the 9 game rule, if he doesn’t bring any value this season scratch him for the season… $4.5 M well wasted

    I’d much rather see our prospects given the chance over a veteran with a large paycheque personally.

    I read that Stajan, Ferland and Brouwer are all skating together.
    Hopefully Ferland teaches Brouwer how to skate?!
    For the record, I love Stajan and he fills a role for us adequately, plus I want to see him play his 1,000 game with our team.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    Given F. Hamilton just received a new contract which pays him league minimum regardless of where he plays (NHL or AHL), it’s hard to tell what the Flames plans are. I’m betting more of the same with FH being in Calgary all year. In other words, Brouwer will not be healthy scratched.

  • Off the wall

    The only waiver exempt players who have potential that are forwards are Foo, Jankowski, Klimchuk, Magiapane and Lomberg.

    On Defence I’d say Ras Anderrson has the best chance being waiver exempt.


  • Just.Visiting

    Freddie and Bart are the ideal extras-I’m not crazy about Wotherspoon being a pure 7 at this stage of his career.
    If Lazar can’t earn a spot on the fourth line based on merit, I’m OK with him sitting too.

    I’m not ready to exile Brouwer to the press box yet. However, if it’s obvious that it’s another Wideman situation, merit should prevail and he should sit, not be played because of his salary and what he had done earlier in his career. (We should learn from the mistakes of history, not repeat them, and we should own up to mistakes, not perpetuate them.)

    If there’s an injury and one of the real Stockton prospects is called up (vs one of the more experienced tweeners), they should have the opportunity to play so that the team can better assess where they are in their development, they can enhance their development and they have a better idea of what it takes. This is particularly the case when it is a player in whom the fans have a keen interest (e.g., Janko and Ras last year). Sentencing them to the press box just because they happen to be a call up without seeing what they can and can’t do at the NHL level is not very good asset management.

    • TheoForever

      Yeah Brouwer is the new Wideman, unless he can have an outstanding start Brouwer is probably in the permanent fan dog house. What I don’t want to see is players being called up and then not playing like it was happening last year.
      Since GG is the one in control of the lineup, lets hope he smartens up.

  • Justthateasy

    Doesn’t matter how much you make. If you can’t play you sit.
    When these declining overpaids eventually get into a game, they might then show some incentive. After all they will be well rested.

  • Puckhead

    Is there a reason why they don’t pull up players on the cusp of making the NHL and let them split games? For example, the #6D position could be split or shared between 2 players (e.g., Kulak and Tspoon). If both players are NHL ready, you would think that the trade value of a guy like Tspoon would increase. At this point I don’t know if he has much value due to the way he’s been managed.

    Shouldn’t a goal be to graduate players to the NHL and maximize their perceived value?

    • Squishin

      I agree that would be ideal! I believe the reason they don’t do that is because the NHL has a limit of a 23-man active roster (20 skaters and three goalies) which makes it difficult to be calling up too many players at once. I think there’s also a season limit to how many times you can call up and reassign players with the AHL.

  • JusAFlamer

    Brower will not be healthy scratched. Not for first 1/4 of season anyway.
    Even if he does horrible he will get the wideman treatment

    Prospects so far have not shown they are “done” with learning anything in stockton. So those on cusp should still be there getting ice-time. Bigger roles.

    All depends on starting lineup and who you thing will make team out the gate, but i see F.Hamilton and Hathaway, with probably Bart on D as the popcorn eaters to start with

  • class1div1

    When GG was hired he was introduced as a coach who could work with the young players and take them to the next level.He has vastly improved the team,but i fail to see him as a young players coach.He is like most coaches in the league who prefer playing the F Hamiltons over prospects.If i was paying for seats ,i would much rather watch a prospect play (mistakes and all) than the fringe NHLer.

      • Off the wall

        I think if a prospect has a really good showing at camp it may force GG to reconsider his options. For example, we have Lazar, a project for sure, but I’m not sold on his game. I really haven’t seen enough of him to say he’s worthy of NHL time.
        What if Foo is lights out better?
        Or Mangiapane?

        It really begs the question, is GG willing to disregard his own tendencies(veteran) to allow our prospects to show their capabilities?

        • TheoForever

          Lazar has an inside track and GG will give him time. I like Lazar but since he will not be sent to the minors, we could run into situation where a guy like Poirier lights it up in camp and we send him down only to be claimed on waivers. Hopefully, we don’t sign anymore old guys, so we can have some rookies around.

        • BendingCorners

          At the bottom of the lineup the coach plays veterans who are good at certain roles. For a rookie to take over he needs to be clearly better at a particular role, better enough to compensate for rookie mistakes. It’s a high bar. Last year only Matthew cleared it. GG’s tendency is to ice the best lineup he can for each game. It’s a tough league and every game matters. It’s frustrating because the rookies have great potential but Stockton is where they develop, not Calgary. Callups for one game, or five or ten games, are the best way to ease rookies in. Expect more of the same this year.

      • Off the wall

        The best coach we ever had was Badger Bob Johnson. He was a first class teacher ( and student) of the game and one of the most enthusiastic coaches involved in hockey. His optimism was always appreciated.

        “It’s a great day for hockey “will always be etched in my mind when I think of him!

        • Puckhead

          Does GG have 100% say in who plays and who doesn’t? Is GG the problem when it comes to player usage or is there pressure from above? There is no reason why a sane coach would have played guys last year as much as he did (Wideman, Brouwer etc.). Grossman should have been sent packing after his first horrendous shift.

          • BendingCorners

            Grossman was sent packing. As for Brouwer and Wildman, faute de mieux. Bench Dennis and play TJ on the right side, who is 2L? Nobody. Bench Troy and who is 4R? Nobody. This year we have much better depth and the rookies are likely to challenge for spots. If Troy struggles out of the gate he will end up eating a lot of popcorn because we have alternatives.
            It takes time to build a winning team. Last year was a step forward and this year should be two or three steps forward.

          • TheoForever

            Here is one to the things that ticks me off with GG, the LD and RD.
            Brodie is an excellent player, in many rankings he has been rated #1 dman, he is as strong #2 as there is. The guy loves to play his off wing, and we have all been witnesses of his amazingly accurate, backhand passes, he perfected those over the years.
            So, what happens a guy (GG) who apparently never seen him play hockey, shows up and forces him to the other side. For not freaking reason, but to fit GG system, which by all accounts is complicated and judging from NHL success of this coach not that great.
            So, GG spends entire season trying to squeeze a square peg into a round hole, but if that was just the case with Brodie, but ohh no he has to do that over and over and over fricking again.
            His handling of Chiasson, Brouwer, Bennett, Andersson, Ferland, Wideman, Engelland, Grossman, and so on has been absolutely atrocious!
            Ok, so that was more than one thing. Flame off….

  • Off the wall

    Need a Saturday laugh?
    Check out Oil Nation new anime crap posted today.
    I betcha bagged milk made it and is too embarrassed to admit it. Looks like a 13 year old got carried away with bad graffiti?!

    It’s really sad they don’t have real blog writers like we are privileged to enjoy day in and out.
    Yes thanks FN for having the best blog writers on Nation sites.
    We don’t need to stoop to theatrics to keep our audience!

  • Squishin

    I believe the best thing to have is a good, permanent 13th forward and 7th defenceman who have finished developing (ie. 25/26 yrs old) and who don’t need to be playing all the time to develop. Freddie H. is perfect in this respect, same with Bartkowski.
    To call up a prospect and have them in the press box is nonsense to me. If we’re going to call up an almost-ready prospect (Shinkaruk, Poirier) then they should get playing time. However, every game is important in the regular season, and the coaching staff is understandably hesitant about putting in a player who is not fully ready to handle the NHL.
    We’ll have to see how the preseason goes to see who ends up where! Can’t wait.

    • BendingCorners

      If they could safely waive both Hunter and Emile I’d say do that and let them play in Stockton and be called up as needed. But I think Emile at least would be claimed so it’s safer to waive Hunter. Then Mark and Emile and Matt can cycle in and out of the lineup and Freddie can be the emergency spare.
      If Curtis doesn’t work out as a regular then Freddie can be waived and Hunter can join the merry-go-round.

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    Slightly off topic but at the other end of the spectrum from healthy scratches…any thoughts of the young guns expected to break into the league. Some early conversation of Calder candidates include: Keller, MacAvoy, Hirshier, Patrick, Boeser, and Connor. Am I missing anyone, if Janko makes the team out of camp….can he be in the conversation?
    No run away winners which should make for an exciting race.

    • Off the wall

      Based on whether they make the team or not I’d have to go with Hischier. The Devils desperately need a centre man and he’s got the offensive flair to do it. Could be their #1 centre?

      I doubt Nolan Patrick unseats any of Philly’s top 2 line centres, so I count him out due to that.

      I’ve seen quite a bit of McAvoy play and he’s something special.
      Wouldn’t be surprised to see him lead all d- men (rookie) in ice time.

      Oh I forgot Arizonas Clayton Keller, would be my 2nd choice in Calder candidacy.

      I hope Janko makes considering, but I highly doubt he will have the same impact as these others.

        • Off the wall

          Gee thanks Puck! How many posts have I made? I’m too lazy to count.

          Just doing some estimates (work related) as I gotta pay the bills somehow. It just bores the sh** out of me to be solely engaged with work on Saturday.

          This is my reprieve.. though drinking a nice beverage has a nice ring to it…. just gotta stay away from beer at beddy bye time, since I have a bladder like a hippo…

      • HOCKEY83

        Gonna go with Matthew Barzal for the Islanders, Dylan Strome for Arizona and Alex DeBrincat for chicago. On defense going to go for Mikhail Sergachev for the lightning and Thomas Chabot for Ottawa

          • HOCKEY83

            Ya if Debrincat plays and possibly with Kane it could be great. He became the second player in OHL history last season to score 3 consecutive 50 goal seasons. 167 goal in 191 games. 332 points in 191 game. he won every rookie award you could win in his first season and last year he won every personal player award you could win. last season 48 points in 27 playoff games which includes the Memorial cup. If this kid play and with Kane it should be fun to watch. Watching Strome, Raddysh and Debrincat play in last seasons ohl playoffs and Memorial cup was as special as watching Marner, Tkachuk and Dvorak the season before.

    • Baalzamon

      I’m gonna go off the board and say Julius Honka. You know he’s going to get tons of ice time with the state of Dallas’ blueline, and with the way Klingberg’s blossomed there you know they’re going to develop him right. He’s also far more talented all-around than Klingberg.

          • Off the wall

            For all the trashers, think about it for a moment.

            Gaudreau- Monahan- Foo
            Janko- Backlund- Frolik
            Tkachuk- Bennett- Ferland
            Versteeg- Stajan- Lazar
            Brouwer can interchange with Lazar at times, or Lazar can interchange with Stajan at centre.

            It’s not that far fetched, plus I’d love to see that 3rd line create havoc.

            Balanced and a decent attack..

        • Off the wall

          You know WW some of the things you say are half- baked..

          This really isn’t one of those times…if Foo gets the same opportunities as Brouwer had, you’d make a strong case for him for Calder considerations.

          After all you were right about McDavid not winning it as a rookie. I guess you were the only one who knew he was going to be injured… crystal ball?

          • Off the wall

            Agreed Puck, you’re preaching to the choir about this.

            Just trying to be realistic considering we have approximately $1.75M already allocated to buyout this year.

            Treliving is too smart to buy the lump out… Trade? If Tre somehow has Brouwer traded I will officially give him GM of the year… although in my opinion deserves this title already!

          • Off the wall

            @ cuphope, haven’t seen your name before. If you’re new, welcome aboard! If not then I have the attention span of a ADHD on a sugar rush?

            Poirier really had a disappointing season last year. Good on him for getting the help he needed for alcohol related problems.

            He has loads of potential and I’m with you when I say I hope he makes the Flames.

            As he is not waiver eligible I’d assume the Flames will want to
            provide him with the path to success.. which most likely for him is another season to get back to his former self in Stockton?!

  • Toofun

    The question about Brouwer is how much rope do you give him? Then he will determine his place on the team or in the press box or in the minors by his performance on the ice.

    • Carl the tooth

      How many points does Brouwer need to justify his contract.?25 is not enough is 35 ?. He had 13 goals if he scored 5 more at 18 and 30 points are we still ripping him apart?. I’m not a fan of Brouwer . He would need 40 points a season to justify that salary . I just remember Brouwer and bouma were turn over machines .

      • Carl the tooth

        I’ve got klimchuck and mangiapane ahead of poirier because of there last years stats in Stockton . I think this yeAr will give us a better idea what we hav in the cupboards . But so far what do we have to show for iginla,bouwmester trade ? We got klimchucK /poirier/ Berra for a second rounder who did we end up picking with that pick? Agostino cundari hanowski. Gone . Kinda da feels like we got screwed here no wonder feaster was sent packing .

    • Toofun

      Completely irrelevant. The contract is done and you can’t get out of it. All I want to know us where he fits in on (or off) the team to make the team the best it can be.