Here is a list of some the Flames’ most tenured players (as in, how long they’ve spent in the organization) and when they were acquired:
- Mark Giordano (2005)
- Mikael Backlund (2007)
- TJ Brodie (2008)
- Matt Stajan (2010)
- Micheal Ferland (2010)
- Tyler Wotherspoon (2011)
- Johnny Gaudreau (2011)
Almost all of these guys have been major contributors to the Flames over the past three or four years.
The other guy is Tyler Wotherspoon. Once the Flames’ shining defensive prospect gem, he has been in development for so long that he’s been passed over a few times. He’s stuck around much longer than many of the other prospects, mostly on the hope that he would bounce back and eventually get his chance in the NHL.
That didn’t happen, even in his best pro season to date. Where do we go from here?
Wotherspoon has more or less been the same thing throughout his career. He was advertised as a safe, puck-moving defenceman, but without much of an offensive game. At every stop in his career, he has been that. WHL? Safe, puck-moving defenceman without much offensive upside. World Juniors? Safe, puck-moving defenceman without much offensive upside. Wotherspoon’s offence peaked at 37 points in 61 games during his draft+2 year. The Flames picked him in the 2011 second round knowing that he wouldn’t be a game changer, just a reliable force on the backend.
The issue is that he never really got up to pro speed. His first year, 2013-14, looked very promising as he joined the Flames late in the season and picked up four assists in 14 games. After shoulder surgery in the offseason, Wotherspoon kind of looked a step off, and didn’t make the team right off the bat. Injuries late in the season forced the Flames’ hand, but Wotherspoon only got one regular season game in despite spending a hefty amount of time in the press box. He did suit up for six playoff games however, although he saw limited usage.
An injury to Brodie at the beginning of the 2015-16 season opened up a potential spot for Wotherspoon, but Brett Kulak got the call out of training camp. Again, Wotherspoon stayed in the AHL and got called up late in the season when everyone was injured. Ditto for 2016-17. Most of the time in the AHL, sparing use in the NHL.
Wotherspoon spent the entire year in Stockton, anchoring the first pairing with Rasmus Andersson. Like he has been for a few seasons, he’s been a team leader in estimated time on ice and used in every situation. Wotherspoon doubled his production from last season, and had his best pro year, finishing 13 points up on his 2014-15 sophomore campaign. Nothing too exciting here.
|GP||G||A||P||Primary points||5v5 Points||5v5 Primary points||NHLe|
Wotherspoon started the year off a bit wonky, but eventually found some consistency. He trailed off towards the end of the season, dropping from the 24-25 NHLe range to the 21-22 NHLe range. Coincidentally, Andersson was in Calgary during that time period.
The Andersson-Wotherspoon pairing was arguably one of the AHL’s best, but even if it’s hard to quantify, it is quite clear that one of those players was doing the heavy lifting. Andersson put up better numbers in almost every category in fewer games played despite being much younger.
|GP||G||A||P||P1||5v5 P||5v5 P1||% of team offence||% of team 5v5 offence|
Considering the whole picture, it’s easy to see that Andersson was the better player, at least from an offensive perspective. He had a greater impact on the offence, and a greater impact at 5v5 offence. It’s hard to say what impact each player had on the other without shot data, but I think it’s quite safe to assume that Andersson was the one driving the play.
If you really want to nitpick, Wotherspoon’s numbers don’t really hold up under some scrutiny. He had a relatively high number of empty net points compared to other defencemen (although I guess that speaks to the coaching staff constantly trusting him in those scenarios). He had about an even amount of primary points to secondary points, but Andersson and Oliver Kylington both outscored him in those categories on a per game and estimated per 60 basis.
So basically, Wotherspoon’s performance this year isn’t that great in context. He finally had an all-around strong season, but he had a defensive partner who was better and could’ve played NHL hockey. He finally had an offensive outburst, but mostly thanks to some fortunate circumstances.
Wotherspoon has finally looked like an NHL prospect worth a damn.
The only problem is that it is five years into his pro career in the most fortunate circumstances he’s had in the minors. Brett Kulak joined the pro ranks a year later than Wotherspoon and has already become an established NHLer (arguably last year if he wasn’t injured). Andersson has been a pro for two years and has already been penciled in for an NHL spot. You could make convincing cases for Oliver Kylington (three pro years, but was allowed to join the AHL at 18) and Juuso Valimaki (still in junior). There’s just more high end and younger players who didn’t need to take five years to at least look like they’re close to making the jump. Wotherspoon has steadily improved year after year, but everyone else is more or less at the same place in a shorter time frame.
But even if Wotherspoon does eventually make it to the NHL, he’s maybe a sixth defenceman. He’s a low-event defenceman with not much offensive upside. He might (emphasis on the might: his NHL appearances, despite being far in the distance, aren’t that impressive) be an alright player, but there is much, much better out there, internally and externally. Your team is not going to live or die on your 25-year-old sixth defenceman, so might as well move on.
Is it unfair that Wotherspoon never got a shot (either this season or any season)? Yes. You don’t really need to convince me that he would have been a better option than Ladislav Smid, Jyrki Jokipakka, Derek Smith, Matt Bartkowski, or Shane O’Brien. But the simple truth is that NHL prospect graduation is not a retail store line: the first in line does not always get the next spot open. When those players got injured and/or shuffled out of the lineup for various reasons, someone else came to impress whereas Wotherspoon did not. Kulak stole his job in one training camp and from there, it just got worse.
The only way I can see him back is as a 7D, but I don’t think Wotherspoon would see himself in a Flames uniform. He’s a UFA now and has a hockey career to get moving on. If there’s a team that can offer him an actual NHL job, he should probably take it. It would be downright strange for him to keep trying to get a kick at the football when the Flames keep pulling it away.
Oliver Kylington | Josh Healey & Adam Ollas Mattsson | Mitchell Mattson | Hunter Smith | Mason McDonald | Tyler Parsons | Juuso Valimaki | Nick Schneider | Adam Ruzicka | Matthew Phillips | D’Artagnan Joly | Glenn Gawdin | Zach Fischer | Dillon Dube | Filip Sveningsson | Eetu Tuulola | Adam Fox | Linus Lindstrom | Pavel Karnaukhov & Rushan Rafikov