Through the first eight games of the season, a common refrain among those who follow the Calgary Flames – be they media, fans or other followers – is that Sam Bennett isn’t exactly setting the world on fire at center. But that comment is often followed by a furrowed brow and a question: “What about Mark Jankowski?”
While Bennett has been struggling up the middle in Calgary, Jankowski has been eviscerating the American Hockey League. Through six games the 2012 first round pick has been a beast for the Stockton Heat, factoring into their offense in every single game. As the undisputed best center prospect the Flames have right now, it was only natural to ponder a recall.
Now that it’s happened, it’s probably a good to remember to keep expectations in check – at least while the whole team is struggling to find their game.
When Jaromir Jagr signed with the Flames, Brad Treliving went back to a phrase he’s uttered quite a bit whenever a new player is acquired or someone asks about a promising prospect: “He won’t be a saviour.” (Also phrased as: “We’re not expecting him to be a saviour.”)
Treliving has said this a lot. Sam Bennett in 2014? Not expected to be a saviour. Dougie Hamilton? Not a saviour. Matthew Tkachuk? Not a saviour. Mike Smith? Not a saviour. Jagr? Not a saviour. Heck, when Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan signed their extensions, Treliving would only go so far as calling them good young players. The guy is very, very deliberate with his word choices.
The reasoning for Treliving’s catchphrase seems to be two-fold: hockey’s a team game and it’s very difficult for anybody not named Connor McDavid to dramatically tilt the direction of a game. But also, why put pressure on any one player in such a way? It’s natural to throw cold water on expectations for any one player because it gives everybody involved breathing room.
Heck, Treliving’s actions this summer screamed “We’re going for it!” but he was significantly more measured in his verbiage, to the point where it was almost like pulling teeth to even get him to admit to raised internal expectations. He gets the expectations game and does his absolute level best to keep them realistic (or even low). The team has acknowledged that he’s good enough to play in the NHL, but now that Jankowski is up – whether he’s playing the role of warm body, cavalry, or somewhere in between – it’s important to remember Treliving’s words: nobody’s expected to be a saviour.
Let’s also not forget Sven Baertschi, a lesson the Flames learned when it came to prospects and expectations management.
Back in 2011-12, the Flames were a frustrating team: full of talent but not quite good enough to get over the hump. The Jarome Iginla trade, which began the rebuild in earnest, was still a full year (and a lockout) away. And the Flames were absolutely devastated by injuries. They had already recalled Guillaume Desbiens, Krys Kolanos and Greg Nemisz from Abbotsford, and somehow they still had fewer than 12 healthy forwards. At wits end, then-GM Jay Feaster utilized a loophole in the CBA and recalled Baertschi from the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL on an emergency basis – meaning he had to go home as soon as the Flames could have 12 healthy forwards without him.
Baertschi had three goals in five games. The Flames won four of their five games. They had lost five of seven before he arrived. They lost seven of their final eight games after he left. By gosh, the solution must have been Sven! As a result of that late season emergency recall, expectations were impossibly high for Baertschi when he came to camp in 2012. He couldn’t live up to expectations and began a tailspin that saw him eventually shipped to Vancouver for a draft pick.
With Jagr on the injured reserve, Jankowski is finally in the NHL. But bringing him in while the team is struggling to find its footing could serve to set him up for failure. So yes, be excited – but remember to keep your expectations in check.