What should the Calgary Flames do with Matt Coronato?

Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Ryan Pike
7 months ago
The Calgary Flames were in some trouble in early November. The team had won just two of their first 10 outings. Jonathan Huberdeau looked lost. Nazem Kadri couldn’t score. The defensive structure was shaky. And top prospect Matt Coronato had bounced around the lineup while racking up a team-worst minus-9 plus/minus.
On Nov. 3, the Flames bit the bullet and sent Coronato to the American Hockey League. Four weeks later, both Coronato and the Flames are in a much better position. So, what should the Flames do with Coronato now?
Prior to the Flames sending Coronato down the hall to the Wranglers, I wrote about Coronato’s conundrum and made the argument whatever the Flames did with him, it was important for it to be part of a cohesive plan.
In that lens, sending Coronato to the Wranglers made a lot of sense. At the time, the Flames were a swagger-less bunch and had a scary 2-7-1 record. The lines were in a constant churn, as the coaching staff tried a zillion different configurations in an effort to spark Huberdeau and Kadri. As a result, Coronato had no clear role and aside from the power play, he didn’t really generate scoring chances or get many puck touches.
In Coronato’s first AHL game, on the afternoon he was sent down, he scored the only goal in a 1-0 Wranglers win. Since his debut, he’s accumulated 15 points in 12 games – the most of any Wranglers player in that span, and behind only Ben Jones for the team lead. Even with a couple challenging evenings – likely partially a product of a really hectic schedule, some key injuries and losing some key faces to the Flames – the Wranglers have fared well since Coronato’s arrival, going 8-4-0.
Meanwhile, the Flames have started to figure things out. Since Coronato was sent down, the Flames have posted a 7-3-2 record. The arrivals of Connor Zary and Martin Pospisil, and their emergence as players that serve key niches alongside Kadri, have solidified the Flames’ lines and ended the constant churn. As a result, the Flames are a much more cohesive five-on-five team than they’ve been all season.
But things are not all rainbows and sunshine for the Flames, as they’ve succeeded despite their power play being poor. Since Coronato’s departure to the AHL, the Flames’ power play is scoring on just 5.9% of its advantages – and they’ve actually seen their goals-for washed out by a pair of shorthanded goals. The Wranglers have scored on 15.8% of their power plays since Coronato’s arrival, which is actually down a little bit from the 23.5% clip they were on before he was sent down.
With Coronato’s goal-scoring prowess and potential to impact the game on special teams, it’s logical to connect the dots and conclude “Hey, just bring Coronato back up and that could help fix the power play!” And that’s not an incorrect conclusion, but it’s also incomplete… because where does Coronato fit on the Flames at five-on-five?
At present, the Flames have a fairly established top nine winger group, all of whom have been performing quite well: Yegor Sharangovich, Andrew Mangiapane, Huberdeau, Blake Coleman, Zary and Pospisil. These wingers have performed well enough that former top-niner Dillon Dube has dropped to the fourth line, Adam Ruzicka has been squished into the fourth line centre role, and Walker Duehr has been bumped to the press box.
Therein lies the issue: Coronato was always pretty good on the Flames’ power play. Heck, with how wonky the Flames were at five-on-five it was often the only time he got a lot of time to operate with the puck. But he lacked a clear role on any forward line and with the way the Flames are playing right now, it seems unwise to really muck around with lines that are working pretty well. (If the idea in bringing in Zary and Pospisil originally was to give the team an injection of energy, it may have worked too well, as now you can’t really justify taking either of them out of the mix.)
As challenging as it may be, the right move for the Flames right now – and for Coronato – may be keeping him in the AHL for the next little while. His five-on-five game continues to grow and get polished in the AHL as he gets to play a lot in a wider variety of game situations than he would in the NHL. An extra month or two on the farm could do him a lot of good, and with the many pending free agents on the Flames’ roster there’s always the potential for trades that clear a path to him returning to the big league for good.
In 2010, TJ Brodie made the Flames’ roster after a great training camp. Once the games started to count in the standings, Brodie didn’t fare as well. He was sent down to the AHL after a few games, spent the rest of the season rounding out his game, and returned to the NHL early in the following season, never to play in the AHL again.
As disappointing as an early demotion can be for a highly-touted player, a bit of time in the AHL to polish rough spots in a player’s game can be crucial in cementing them as an NHLer. There doesn’t seem to be an obvious spot for Coronato in the NHL right now, but his time should come soon enough.

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