Dustin Wolf’s situation is genuinely unprecedented

Photo credit:Angela Burger/Calgary Wranglers
Ryan Pike
6 months ago
In general, the past is a pretty good guide for what to do in the future. In case of the Calgary Flames and how they should handle the progression and ascension of Dustin Wolf, looking to the past for guidance on what to do would be logical.
But the big problem is that given his age, contractual status and excellence, Wolf’s situation is genuinely unprecedented.
First and foremost, let’s emphasize something quickly: Wolf is really good, and he’s really young, and it’s unusual that an American Hockey League player of any position is this good this early in their pro career.
Wolf won the Les Cunningham Award for the 2022-23 season as the AHL’s most valuable player.
Here’s a comparison of Wolf and the 11 previous winners of the award. (Player age is of Sept. 15 of each season.)
SeasonPlayerAgePro Year
2022-23Dustin Wolf (G)212
2021-22T.J. Tynan (F)298
2020-21T.J. Tynan (F)287
2019-20Gerald Mayhew (F)263
2018-19Daniel Carr (F)265
2017-18Phil Varone (F)267
2016-17Kenny Agostino (F)243
2015-16Chris Bourque (F)2911
2014-15Brian O’Neill (F)263
2013-14Travis Morin (F)297
2012-13Tyler Johnson (F)222
Tyler Johnson played his 20-year-old season in the Western Hockey League with the Spokane Chiefs before going pro, while Wolf opted to go pro in his 20-year-old season (and was named the AHL’s top goaltender that season).
Anyway, as you can see, the best players in the AHL are generally people in their mid-to-late 20s. So the answer to the question of “Well, what do other NHL teams do with players when they’re named AHL MVP?”… well, usually those guys are AHL lifers and they tend to stick around the AHL (or go to Europe) after winning that honour.
More specific to netminders, only tw0 others goaltenders have won the Les Cunningham Award over the past quarter-century: Martin Brochu in 1999-2000 (age 26; seventh year pro) and Jason LaBarbera in 2003-04 (age 23; fourth year pro). Both players remained in the AHL the following season, though following the 2004-05 lockout season LaBarbera moved into the Los Angeles Kings system and spent much of the 2005-06 season in the NHL.
Wolf turned 22 in April. He’s entering the third season of his entry-level deal. He’s waiver exempt until the end of the 2024-25 season or until he plays 79 more NHL games, whichever comes first. On one hand, the Flames have an incredible amount of flexibility regarding Wolf’s NHL or AHL usage. On the other hand, Wolf has absolutely dominated the AHL over the past two seasons, and his performance definitely warrants an opportunity to tackle a more significant hockey challenge.
The Flames are in a unique situation regarding their promising young netminder. But if they’re looking to the past for guidance on how to handle him, they won’t find much help. Based on his age, contractual status and excellence, Wolf is a hockey unicorn.

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