It’s September: the month of training camp, the month of preseason, the month before the Flames – are officially back.
And it’s this training camp, in particular, that will prove of interest for the Flames. Not just because it looks like there are really, truly spots open for prospects to make the roster, but because of the impending trip to China – and the fact that it’ll cause all sorts of unique challenges, from jet lag to groups split over a sizeable chunk of September.
One way teams fill extra roster spots and meet veteran requirements is through the use of professional tryouts. While the Flames have been quiet on that front (rumours aside), let’s take a moment to briefly look back on who they’ve brought in in the past.
For Brad Treliving’s first training camp as an NHL general manager, he brought in four players on professional tryouts:
- D Sheldon Brookbank
- D Raphael Diaz
- F Trevor Gillies
- D Nolan Yonkman
Brookbank ended up playing his 2014-15 season in the KHL, while Gillies and Yonkman both ended up with the Flames’ AHL affiliate in Adirondack. None have made it back to the NHL since.
Diaz is the lone exception here, as the Flames offered him a contract out of training camp, and he spent the 2014-15 season playing 56 regular season and three playoff games for them, scoring four points along the way as a depth defender.
The Flames signed just three players to professional tryouts for their 2015 training camp:
- D Aaron Johnson
- D Douglas Murray
- D Ryan Wilson
Johnson spent his 2015-16 playing for the Stockton Heat in the Flames’ farm team’s inaugural season there. Wilson seemed to have a pretty decent shot of earning a contract with the Flames, but ultimately, they passed on him, and he ended up in the KHL. Murray did not play that season. None of these players have made it back to the NHL since.
The Flames added more players on professional tryouts to their 2016 camp, including a stronger look at forwards:
- F Luke Adam
- F Jamie Devane
- D Nicklas Grossmann
- F Chris Higgins
- F Lauri Korpikoski
- D Colby Robak
Adam ended up in the German league for the 2016-17 season, while Higgins didn’t play that year. Both Devane and Robak signed with the Heat, staying in the Flames’ system. The Flames didn’t sign Korpikoski, but the Stars did, and he played 60 games for them before being traded to the Blue Jackets for nine games.
The Flames did, however, end up offering Grossmann a contract out of camp – primarily for cap reasons – but it was a decision that resulted in some angst (mostly because of the goals against), and Grossmann played just three games for the Flames before exiting the NHL to play in Sweden.
One notable PTO-related event? Kris Versteeg signed one with the Oilers in 2016, but ended up spurning them to join the Flames on an NHL contract instead. It turned out to be a great move, as he scored 37 points in a 69-game season (for comparison’s sake, Korpikoski had 20 points over 69 games) for the Flames.
Once again, the Flames brought in six players on professional tryouts for their 2017 training camp:
- F Joseph Cramarossa
- F Tanner Glass
- F Joel Lowry
- D Daniel Maggio
- D Dylan Olsen
- D Colby Robak
Lowry, Maggio, and Olsen ended up bouncing a bit between non-Flames-affiliated ECHL and AHL franchises for the 2017-18 season, while Cramarossa and Robak both played for the Heat: Robak for the entire season, while Cramarossa spent some time with the Penguins’ AHL affiliate as well.
Then there was Glass, who perhaps turned into more of a cautionary tale of professional tryouts than anything else. He was legitimately awesome during the Flames’ preseason games: one of the hardest working players on the ice, always working to get himself into a position to score, playing hard, being genuinely fun to watch. So the Flames signed him.
But then the regular season started and for all of Glass’ effort, he just could not keep up. He played 16 games for the Flames and 21 for the Heat after other roster moves (primarily Mark Jankowski earning a full-time NHL spot, a couple of weeks late in part due to Glass spending the first bit of October in the big league) pushed him out. It was, ultimately, rather uneventful.
Three PTOs turned into NHL deals
In Treliving’s first four years as the Flames’ general manager, he has ended up signing three of 19 players on professional tryouts to NHL deals with the Flames. Only one has really worked out: Diaz turned out to be a reliable depth defender for the team for the year.
Professional tryouts have been useful in that they’ve helped the Flames stock up on AHL talent, and they’ve helped fill bodies during training camp, but that’s about it. Fact of the matter is, an unrestricted free agent without a contract come training camp time is likely just not going to be particularly productive at the NHL level, and that’s what we’ve largely seen as these tryouts have been signed.
This season, the Flames appear committed to giving someone younger and already in their system a chance, and there should be a number of candidates knocking on the door. That some of the team is mere days away from departing for China signals just how close training camp really is: and that the Flames have been pretty quiet on the professional tryout front may also be a signal that unlike 2014, 2016, and 2017, they may very well just end up sticking with who they already have.
After all, the roster battles should already be exciting enough with the parties we already know of.