Matt Bartkowski’s arrival leads to further questions

The arrival of defenseman Matt Bartkowski on a professional tryout deal is an interesting development when it comes to the Calgary Flames. The 28-year-old American is the textbook definition of a “tweener” defenseman, having played about as many games in the National Hockey League as the American Hockey League.

His recruitment from a steady job with the AHL’s Providence Bruins could have several implications moving forward, both in the immediate and not-too-distant future.

The Expansion Draft

The prime thing that Bartkowski brings to the table is he’s expansion draft eligible. He also helps the Flames meet their expansion draft exposure requirements, as he played 80 games with the Vancouver Canucks last year. Teams have to expose a defenseman who’s (a) under contract or is a qualified restricted free agent and (b) played either 40 games in 2016-17 or 70 games between 2015-16 and 2016-17.

If he signs, he helps the Flames meet their requirements without having to rush a decision on somebody like Jyrki Jokipakka for next season. Much of the discussion surrounding Jokipakka so far this season has involved the phrase “…yeah, but they need him for expansion.” Given the likelihood of the Flames signing Bartkowski soon, that may mean that there are other moves to follow.

Short-Term Options

So what happens with Bartkowski in the short term?

  • Nothing, he gets released without signing a contract (ala Douglas Murray).
  • He signs an NHL deal and is assigned to Stockton after clearing waivers (ala Tom McCollum).
  • He signs an NHL deal and stays in Calgary, displacing either Jokipakka or Brett Kulak.

The first option is very unlikely. Bartkowski was on an AHL contract in Providence and the thought is he wouldn’t have left a good spot with a good AHL club for just the mere possibility of an NHL contract, so my gut says he’s going to end up signing quite soon. Barring something unforeseen, he’s in Calgary because he’s going to sign.

Based on what happened with McCollum, Bartkowski doesn’t need to be on the Flames’ active roster while he goes through the waivers process. This means the Flames won’t necessarily need to reassign somebody else to make room for Bartkowski unless he’s staying with the NHL club. Given that nobody else has signed him to an NHL deal by now, if Bartkowski is placed on waivers he’ll clear, and then he can head down to Stockton to be another veteran blueliner to help mentor the kids down there. (For what it’s worth, I don’t believe McCollum was physically in Calgary during
the waivers process so Bartkowski’s presence means he might be sticking around.)

If he is signing and sticking on the NHL roster, there are probably a few bits of logic behind it. Jokipakka hasn’t been very good and Kulak has played infrequently (and given his age, he should be playing a ton). If he’s staying, my thought is Bartkowski and Jokipakka jostle for third pairing duty while Kulak goes back to Stockton to play a ton. That said, perhaps the Flames have seen everything they care to see from Jokipakka and are planning on sending him to Stockton, keeping Bartkowski and Kulak to rotate through the third pairing spot.

Thinking Ahead

If Bartkowski flew across the continent to skate with the Flames, he’s here to sign and stick around. If he hangs around, that means he’s displacing somebody. This could merely be a short-term move to give the Flames an upgrade on their bottom pairing or it could be a precursor to further moves.

We’ll likely find out very soon.

  • cjc

    I think we see Bartkowski on the active roster if they sign him. He’s not going to traipse across the country to play in Stockton, he already has a full time AHL gig with a better team. At 28, he’s going to want NHL minutes if he uproots himself.

    That means someone else is getting demoted (Jokipakka or more likely Kulak), or a trade is in the works and we’re seeing a defenceman moved out (Wotherspoon, Jokipakka or less likely Engelland).

    I can’t help but say “Bartkowski is the best you could do?” Yes he’ll meet the exposure requirements, but there have to be better options out there.

    • ThisBigMouthIsRight

      Good question, it is concerning that Bartkowski couldn’t beat out the abysmal d-men on the Canucks current roster… c’mon Vancouver went with Sbisa, Stecher, Biega and Philip Larsen ahead of him… That is worrisome and I don’t believe there were any cap issue either. I guess we’ll just have to see how it all pans out and hope Bartkowski becomes that diamond in the rough.

  • GriffinJeff

    I was excited when I though Matt was a Flames in 2013, and although I am slightly less optimistic now, it seems like it was fate. Welcome to the Flames organization Matt even if it is a few years later than it should have been.

  • Longshot1977

    I’m hoping that Bartkowski sticks in Calgary for now, with JJ being sent to Stockton.

    While I certianly had reserved optimism for Kevin when we first came on board, he just doesn’t seem to have what it takes to be impactful.

    Kulak should stay with the NHL squad, and be handed increasing minutes.

    If Bartkowski ends up a bust, oh well, I guess.