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Photo Credit: Sergei Beleski/USA Today

What’s the plan for Tyler Wotherspoon?

Tyler Wotherspoon – the only 2011 Calgary Flames draft pick to not play at least 50 minutes in the league last year – has been stuck in development hell for many years. He was the next man up for the Flames before Brett Kulak came around (which indicates something already) but has never seemed to actually lock down a full time NHL spot. Given some of the Flames’ bottom defencemen since 2011, that’s concerning.

Given his age, his skill set, and the team’s situation, it felt unlikely that he would be qualified. Both team and player would benefit from moving on.

And if you look at the Flames’ moves prior to RFA qualifying, you could not be blamed for thinking this. In the final few days of the 2016-17 season, the Flames traded for (and later re-signed) Michael Stone, plucked Matt Bartkowski out of the AHL, added Josh Healey to the mix, brought Adam Ollas Mattson overseas first on ATO then on AHL contract, survived the expansion draft by keeping Brett Kulak, drafted Juuso Valimaki, and traded for Travis Hamonic.

They addressed some major needs throughout various rungs of the org through these moves, making Wotherspoon seemingly obsolete. Stone, Kulak, and Hamonic would fill the remaining NHL spots, and Bartkowski will fill the pressbox seat. Healey and AOM would take minutes in the AHL. If you want to read deeply, the Flames selected another defenceman from the Dub this past year in Valimaki, which should just make for further competition in the near future.

But, surprisingly enough, they brought back Wotherspoon anyways. In doing so, the Flames have inserted another name into the discussion, arguably needlessly.

The seventh defenceman?

Here’s a pointless debate: who will be the Flames’ seventh defenceman next year?

Initial thought points towards Matt Bartkowski. He’s pretty much filled that role throughout his many years in the NHL. He’s paid like a seventh defenceman and plays like one, too.

He’s absolutely expendable, as all seventh defencemen should be. The Flames only needed him to be exposed in the expansion draft; stepping in for a departed Jyrki Jokipakka was an added feature (if Kulak wasn’t injured late in the season, you feel Bart would have been in the press box). Now that that’s over, he really serves no purpose. You could waive him and he’ll go straight to the minors. If someone else picks him up, oh well.

But keeping him in the press box hurts no one. We know what Bartkowski is: bad. You can stick a bad player in the press box and no one is harmed. If Bart’s in the press box, the up-and-coming are not. Everyone who has a future is on the ice, not watching it.

Another reason why Bartkowski is suited for press box duty is that he really has no future value that can be leveraged from him actually playing. He’s 29, and spent the majority of last season in the AHL after not a single NHL team could find a compelling reason to sign him. Given his past results, he isn’t likely to get GMs sniffing around in 2017-18.

And a lot of that just straight up doesn’t apply to Wotherspoon. He hasn’t been a great NHL defenceman, but he certainly isn’t as bad as Bartkowski. If he is too good for the AHL and is ready to graduate to the NHL, it seems like a waste of time to put him in a situation where he won’t be playing.

That’s a problem because the one thing that has dogged Wotherspoon is his lack of NHL experience. The Flames couldn’t find a way to give him big league minutes for various reasons. He’s looked ready to make the jump for the past few seasons, but his NHL appearances weren’t that great. If he needs playing time to become better, how will he accomplish that from the press box? Being the seventh defenceman seems to solve no one’s problem. You’re just upgrading a complete non-factor area.

You really don’t need a good seventh defenceman. A journeyman like Bartkowski works fine in that spot because he can at least play for one game or a minor stretch of time while call-ups and logistics are sorted out. If you have to include him regularly, you may have a problem, but Bartkowski can be a serviceable NHL defenceman for nine minutes every few weeks. It seems beneficial all around if Wotherspoon is at least playing somewhere.

There remains the pertinent point that the Flames could potentially be due for some bad injury luck. The only defender who missed time last season due to injury was Michael Stone, and it was two games for precautionary reasons. The Flames were blessed last year, especially on the back end, with good health. They probably aren’t the first team to work around the gruelling nature of professional contact sports, or just pure random chance, so you can likely expect an injury sometime this year. If you had to choose between Bartkowski and Wotherspoon, the choice seems obvious.

Wotherspoon could do that better, but what’s really the point? You’re keeping a guy who is still young and aching for NHL ice time in the press box, which seems to be the least ideal place for him.

Rotation duty

Perhaps here is a solution for that last point. One of the more logical explanations is that Wotherspoon is more than a seventh defenceman, but not that much more. The potential role for him is providing cover for Brett Kulak as a 6/7D. They’ve had the exact same amount of NHL experience (30 games), after all. If you’re planning to use one of them next season in a starting role, it seems wise to have back up who has performed similarly if things go awry.

Kulak is the obvious choice for the 6D/3LD spot. He’s been the go-to for the Flames when they need a replacement, usurping Wotherspoon in this regard. You could probably argue that he didn’t play more last season (given what they were working with, it’s not a skill issue) because of Vegas sniffing around and an injury in the AHL.

But Kulak is in the weird spot where he’s still just inexperienced enough that we still can’t be sure of what he really is, but too valuable to waive and send to the AHL. Who knows what his cap hit will be, but it probably will be cheap enough that other teams will pounce if he’s up for grabs.

And that’s where Tyler might step in. Wotherspoon and Kulak seem to be similar shades of the same thing. They’re both too good for the AHL level, and have mostly been third pairing guys at the NHL level. If Kulak slips up, Wotherspoon goes in. If Wotherspoon slips up, Kulak goes in.

But this rotation role seems suspect. Sure, he’d be better than Bartkowski as a 6D, but is he going to better than Kulak as a 6D? The answer is likely no. Although we haven’t seen enough of either in the past two years to make a sound analytical judgement, the early results favour Kulak. By possession metrics, Kulak’s almost uniformly positive, whereas Wotherspoon bounces around between pretty okay and really bad.

Even if you look at the AHL as a rough litmus test, Kulak (10 points) nearly outscored Wotherspoon (18 points) in 34 fewer games this past season. Over the past two AHL seasons, Kulak has one fewer point in 28 fewer games. Even though offence has never been Wotherspoon’s game (a problem in itself when discussing NHL futures), he just hasn’t been as dominant on both ends of the ice as Kulak has.

The Flames’ personnel decisions over that same time frame speak loads, too. Kulak made the team out of camp both in 2015-16 (in place for an injured T.J. Brodie, but that works both ways for him) and 2016-17. Wotherspoon was waived and reassigned both years. It’s pretty clear who is the favourite, and who is likely to play the majority of the games. It’s unlikely Wotherspoon isn’t anything but a seventh defenceman.

This presents a problem in itself, combined with the above section. If Wotherspoon needs more NHL experience to be good, how is he supposed to get that from the press box? If he’s bad on the ice, how can you justify continually playing him over Kulak? Working on the assumption that Kulak and him will split time seems to be faulty under pressure.

Of course, none of this is for certain. Wotherspoon could be the better player this upcoming season, but it’s just so much more likely that Kulak is the one who fills that role. It would seem on first glance that, given the uncertainty, it would make sense to keep Wotherspoon around, but an honest look at the past two years for both players seems to suggest that the uncertainty isn’t so certain. Kulak is going to be a steady guy for the majority of the games. Wotherspoon could be too, but it is very unlikely that he is either as steady as Kulak or as steady over longer periods of time.

Thinking ahead?

Perhaps this article is a little extra. The answer to the question “why did the Flames qualify Tyler Wotherspoon” is simple: he’s an asset that they had exclusive rights to, so why not. He’s going to be cheap, he fits in the age group, and you don’t want to lose him for nothing, so might as well qualify him and give him on a cheap contract and see what happens. If he’s good, we’re all winners.

Although this makes little sense given the club’s long term plans. Think back to one year ago when the team released a whole lot of decent farm talent (Agostino, Grant, Shore, Elson, etc.). They had some RFA guys who would come cheap that they lost for nothing. But they needed to make room for the next crop of players (Jankowski, Shinkaruk, Mangiapane, Pribyl, etc.) so it was buh-bye other guys. Basically, new guys pushed the issue. Perhaps Kenny Agostino is biting them in the ass, but they can probably live with that.

And you’ll slowly see that happening in the NHL. Kulak and Wotherspoon have pushed their way into the NHL. Rasmus Andersson and Oliver Kylington are likely the next two up. It might be a while down the road, but Valimaki and Adam Fox could be fighting for a spot as early as 2018-19 and 2019-20. Given that NHL contracts are expiring soonish (Brodie, Hamonic and Stone are UFA in 2020), the Flames have the opportunity to seamlessly transition from one great defence into another, but one that is significantly younger and cheaper.

It’s unclear where Wotherspoon will fit into all of this. By now, his ceiling appears to be around 6/7 rather than earlier projections of top four. If he becomes an NHL regular, he’ll likely be passed over by everyone else in the Flames’ prospect arsenal. The sensible thing to do would be to maximize his value and perhaps get a pick or something.

But, again, everyone has a Wotherspoon, as Pike likes to say. There’s a lot of teams who have okay 24-26-year-old defencemen that might be on the verge of being NHL regulars but just not yet. How can you maximize the value of a dime-a-dozen player? The Flames acquired Connor Murphy, Carolina’s Wotherspoon, as a throw-in in the Eddie Lack trade and they just bought him out. He’s now in Minnesota on a $700K contract. Taking him on might’ve given them the 2019 seventh round pick, who knows.

To bring it back to the previous two sections, if there is something about Wotherspoon that makes him worth more than a Murphy, how will he show it? Kulak is likely going to be the more regular player, limiting Wotherspoon’s exposure and, in turn, his trade value, if there was any left. It will still be an unattractive sell if he’s a guy who has shown flashes of promise in about ~30 games of third pairing play.

Final thoughts

I really don’t have an answer. There’s no real reason that they brought back Wotherspoon. The Flames aren’t going to find some sort of new player after seven years in the org, and given the state of Flames defencemen, they didn’t need to hope that they would.

The likely answer is that he’ll sit around in the press box, waiting until someone goofs up really badly or gets hurt and then he’ll go and play 12 minutes until everything is normal again. It seems like an inefficient use of time for both player and team.

  • Cup hope

    Hopefully for his sake he will be picked up on waiver and have a home with a future. The latest podcast on The Flames From 80 says that Poirier and Kulak will have to clear waivers to be returned to the AHL. Is that correct?

    • Off the wall

      Yes, Haynes knows his stuff.
      I really enjoy his articles as well.

      If Poirier or Kulak make the club this season, they would have to clear waivers to be sent down to Stockton.
      Both would be picked up by clubs, that’s why it’s important to make sure they are here to stay.

      Kulak will most likely make the Flames, however I hope they season Poirier another year in the AHL.

  • everton fc

    I think Wotherspoon makes the team as our #7 (or maybe “6-B”) defencemen. Bartkowski is waived and returns to the AHL, and the first injury call-up is Andersson. We have to take chances like these with our younger players…

  • Newbietwo

    Witherspoon will be 7D and Barkowski will be in the AHL.. Wotherspoon would ideally with kulak every third game or so or for injuries and rest.. Given your D depth the flames will be smart this year and not push it with guys and have them sit a game here or there

  • Off the wall

    Wotherspoon has to be the “Rodney Dangerfield” of tweeners.

    The Flames have mishandled this kid too long. Give him a shot or set him free, it must be frustrating for him to see our prospect pool on D and wonder if or when he’s going to get his next opportunity.

    Trade the poor kid or play him.
    His window of opportunity is closing fast and there’s no reason to think he couldn’t make a club somewhere.

    For the most part he plays a steady game, makes safe plays and gets the job done. Upgrade on Bartowski for sure. He lacks flair and offence for sure, but that in itself doesn’t mean he can’t play the game.

    • Puckhead

      He has no trade value. They should be trying to squeeze every little shred of value that they can out of him this season, which can probably only be salvaged at this point by auditioning him in the NHL (this could also backfire if his audition sucks).

      Having Bart in the lineup scares me, even if he doesn’t see much action. Tspoon is a defensive Dman and should be a safer alternative. At least subs like Freddie Hamilton are reasonably capable and I don’t sweat when they slot him in the lineup.

      • HOCKEY83

        Agree with Puckhead. At this point Tyler Wotherspoon has absolutely no trade value. I’m sure the flames will just let him go when the time comes. when Valimaki and fox have matured a couple of more seasons…as they did to a bunch of prospects in 2015.

    • Joe Flames

      You have to feel sorry for the kid. He has gotten further than most hockey players to getting to the NHL, but it must be hard on him to get so close and see it slipping away from him. Let’s hope he gets a chance and excels this year.

  • The GREAT WW

    Wow Christian; you wrote a long article without saying much of anything; It just goes on and on and on…

    Full disclosure; I stopped reading half way through so maybe there were some gems in the second half…..?

    WW

        • Puckhead

          My comment was not intended for Tooth but he beat me to the punch. See the comment by class1div1. Might have to straighten your eyes out to make sense of it.

          • Carl the tooth

            I think he meant to say klington and Anderson next but not klington before fox and valimaki lol so I think he meant valimaki and fox make the flames team at camp ? Lol

          • class1div1

            Christian said in article “Anderson and Kylington will be the next two up” I disagreed.Kylington is behind Valimaki and Fox imo. I dont think Kylington is even close to being a NHLer

          • Puckhead

            Fox has 2 more years of university though. That being said, I can’t see there much movement on the Flames D for the next 2 or 3 seasons. If Kylington doesn’t get a shot within 2 years you may be correct about Fox beating him out. Also, I think we all agree that they will keep Fox for sure, whereas Kylington may have to be flipped due to lack of room.

        • Carl the tooth

          I wasn’t particularly impressed by wootherspoon defence positioning and reading or reacting to the play . He seemed always out of position and he needs to close the gap on defence. He’s a 7 th defenceman at best or a career Ahl shut down player . If stone and haminoc were to get injured we would likely need him .

        • Carl the tooth

          Who’s trashing my comments mannnn!!! Lol I said flames are gonna have a competitive camp .you don’t thrash the tooth with out leaving your name tag. You know what they say Godreau hates a coward !!

    • HOCKEY83

      Fox will be doing 3 more years of college and could possibly go the way of Foo and Vesey and others who have come out of college looking to be on the open Market. The flames need to make sure they do everything they can to keep this kid in the organization.

      • Carl the tooth

        He would likely be traded by then . If fox duplicates his epic 2016 year . If fox puts up some. Crazy 50 point season . There’s no way he doesn’t make the team next years camp. I think stone was primarily signed to recoup picks later . Valimaki could he even replace kulak next season .

          • oilcanboyd

            Yes, Harvard is an elite educational institution and not too many dropouts. Students are there to get an education first. Harvard is also a great city to live in, unlike the hellhole of Stockton. Fox would serve himself best by completing his education and signing with the Flames upon graduation, gaining experience at worlds and bypassing Stockton altogether and directly to the Flames.

    • HOCKEY83

      whoever they make as 6th D this season will more than likely be replaced by Valimaki next season. If the team wasn’t so stacked in D he’d be playing as a rookie D this year. They’re not going to waste his season as bottom 6/7 guy. they want him to play a full season.

        • HOCKEY83

          Everyone is ahead of Valimaki on Depth/Progression chart. It means nothing at this moment. You don’t think there were players ahead of Ekblad on the depth/progression chart. If the coaches feel he’ll step in and do a better job the chart is out the window. You think management cares how long these prospects have been waiting to play if a young guy comes in and does better…not at all. Did they care about any of the prospects when they added Bennett or Tkachuk. Not at all. Foo is brand new to the flames. Do you think they’re worried about hurting Jankowski’s feelings if Foo comes into camp and blows Jank away. Not for a second.

          • TheoForever

            When I say depth I mean Andersson is a better prospect at this point than Valimaki. If Andersson gets the NHL spot and he is in future plans of the team, there is 0 chance he is getting pushed out of the lineup by Valimaki, at that point Stone will become expendable, natural progression.
            Now, if someone like Kulak is in the same position, yeah he probably gets bumped to #7.

          • TheoForever

            As for Foo/Janko, I don’t know what they promised Foo, so there is a possibility that he already has an inside track on Jankowski. If Foo blows him away he will get the spot. I doubt Foo will blow Jankowski away. What could happen is that Jankowski and Foo outperform a veteran player and one of them goes to AHL while a veteran player gets to keep his job, we have seen this before with Flames. There is also the case of Lazar, it looks to me that it doesn’t matter what Jankowski and even Foo do, they are not bumping him out of the NHL. What do you think?

    • Carl the tooth

      I was just kidding.I agree . Except klington put up pretty good numbers in his second season . I previously commented that he had a strong rookie season in ahl I was wrong that was the year before.but his second year(full season ) he had 27 points in 60 games (+4ish )as a 20 year old . That has me putting klington up almost to a top 5 prospect with mangiapane impressive season . Anderson not far behind with a respectable 22 points .

  • Puckhead

    I thought it was a good article. There’s been some discussion about Tspoon lately and where he fits in the organization. It’s not something that can be summed up in a paragraph and provides background information for people who haven’t followed his development.

  • T&A4Flames

    It seems like a simple solution to me. Waive Bart and send him down (it’s just added NHL experienced depth). Keep Kulak and Spoon and rotate the 2 guys as an extended preseason type try out.
    Inevitably some team will suffer injuries on D and come calling. Both guys are NHL ready and I don’t think Spoon gets enough credit. No, he’s not flashy but he is steady and has been his entire career. No reason to think he won’t show that st this level. He or Kulak could be added to a trade package to recoup some picks or get another piece we need.

        • Carl the tooth

          That’s where I started to change my opinion.theres a lot of defenceman in the league or on the cusp that wouldn’t beat out this defence core .made me think maybe wootherspoon does have some value yet for another team . Can’t really blame flames for not playing him he simply was not very good in his short amount of games . How old is spoons now ?24 .ferlund/backlund these guys were late bloomers probably mostly due to injuries they had early in there careers . If it’s suppose to take defenceman longer to develop.is there room for a shutdown defenceman. Would he help the pk .? This is a great problem to have lol we got too many good players on the cusp . Can you ever remember the franchise having so many options. The NHL is headed towards fast and skilled over strength and size . A couple years ago it was still considered a big mans game . Could the NHL change back to bigger is better in a couple years again?

  • Just.Visiting

    Wait, there’s a plan for him beyond having him sit in the press box on every call up, yet not let him explore other options? I thought he looked fine the first time he was called up a few years ago and actually had the opportunity to play-seemed to have a solid defensive oriented game. After seeing the comments over the last day or so on this and the prior column, I’d be OK with having him as a 7th if he had the chance to cycle in from time to time.

  • The Real Slim Brodie

    falkovsky would have been nice to see in a few years. I noticed he was a quick skater at his size. I thought the way he scored goals Calgary would have kept him around longer

    • Carl the tooth

      Yes falkovsky with 20 goals as a rookie in echl . I thought that should have got him another contract for sure . We dumped Keegan too . project twin towers over .

      • The Real Slim Brodie

        I was fine with losing kanzig. I just thought falkovsky should have been given a chance to prove he can step his game up at another level of hockey such as ahl

    • The Real Slim Brodie

      Lol I’ve been commenting on this site way longer and taking on trolls before you ever showed up..and I didn’t have to take over the entire thread and run the comment numbers up to 150 to do it. How about we just be allies in the cause to eliminate and banish coiler scum to the toilets they belong in.

  • Carl the tooth

    If ferlund does not work out on top line rw what is flames next best option? Would a line of Tkachuk backlund and Brouwer
    Make any sense if Brouwer return to form ? The versteeg bennet frolik as a nice 3rd line ? Just throwing it out there lol be gentle.

    • OKG

      Brouwer has the foot speed just shy of a paraplegic. He needs two high end skaters and forecheckers and two-way players to carry him.. Backlund can do it, but Tkachuk / Brouwer don’t mesh.

      • TheoForever

        Bennett/Brouwer didn’t mesh either. Apparently, Brouwer was the least suck like with Monahan/Johnny, but I would rather see Ferland there by a huge margin. I could see Brouwer experiment with Backs and Frolik, if that is not an option then we have 4.5 million 4th liner, who is just blocking a spot of a younger player. And if we lose a young player on waivers because of Brouwer, I will be pissed.

      • Carl the tooth

        I think we you found a loop hole .we clone Brouwer using the DNA from Tkachuk bennet backlund monahan and Johnny . Put him in the Brouwer jersey….problem solved !.

        • The Real Slim Brodie

          I think it would be more simple to just not have a brouwer or pray that he has a fluke career year and offload him like we should have when wideman did

          • Carl the tooth

            I think there’s a better chance he at least does better than ladt year .it was a strange year with lots of ups and downs . Lots of excuses for the entire team really.when I think about it I’ve defended every other player for basically the same reasons except Brouwer . My biggest problem was that I did not see this leader that was wearing an “A” I did not see this “sandpaper ” player that was gonna play hard and stick up for team mates ! Another 10 points and I’m not sure everyone including myself would be so hard on him and it’s very possible he puts up 35 points and that’s really all I expected of him when we signed him . If Brouwer scores 5 more goals than last season .gets in a few spirited fights for the teammates and himself then very easily and quickly I can see mine ,everyone’s opinion change . 1 bad year . I can admit when I’m wrong and we all could be about Brouwer !!!…. ….they may take our lives !!!!….but they’ll never take …….our FREEDOOOOOOOM!!!!!

    • Puckhead

      Carl, I have never trashed you. I am more of a cheerer than a trasher and usually just skip by without doing either. So you know, I think the problem is that you are posting way too much stuff, of which most of it is not relevant to the discussion. My guess is that some people could be trashing you for posting too much. You’ve got some great stuff to say but if you cut way down on your posts and stay on topic my guess is that you will see more cheers and less trashes. Give it a try and see.

      Good night.

  • Carl the tooth

    On all my threads from now on let’s show this soiler troll who’s boss !!! Lol lots of cheers for the Tooth .leave a note and the tooth will give you a cheers I owe you k ?……k guys.?….come on now alittle love for the tooth ?

    • HOCKEY83

      Yes i posted a couple of days ago how it seemed like this site had been taking over by a bunch of juvenile 12 year olds….You’re team is stupid…no you’re team is stupid…just a bunch of garbage.