What to make of Nick Ritchie’s performance with the Calgary Flames so far

Photo credit:Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Middleton
1 year ago
Nick Ritchie has been around the NHL in his eight-year career, and at the 2023 NHL trade deadline, he was moved from the Arizona Coyotes to the Calgary Flames, notably in exchange for his brother, Brett. And even though the sample size is still small, I believe it’s important to look into how he has played under Darryl Sutter over the last seven games.
Ritchie started pretty high in the lineup and has moved down over time. He played over 14 minutes in two of his first four games, and in the two games he didn’t reach that mark, he still played 13:26 and 13:52, respectively. In his first game with the team against the Dallas Stars, he got more ice time than Jonathan Huberdeau, Jakob Pelletier, and Tyler Toffoli.
His time on ice for the next two games hovered around 10 minutes, and he was even demoted to being an extra skater in practice. Still, nothing came of that, as his ice time went back up against the Anaheim Ducks in the Flames’ 5-1 win, where he played almost 15:30, which was fifth among all Calgary forwards.
The analytics suggest that Ritchie hasn’t been all that bad, and there are some times when he makes a convincing case for that to be true. To some, he might be doing his job just fine. He forechecks hard; he can occasionally win a puck battle; he hits people; and every once and a while, he can put the puck in the back of the net, especially after going to the front and screening the goaltender.
However, it feels as if the opposite is true most of the time, and he’s really a detriment to the team. One of the main problems around Ritchie’s game is his issue with taking penalties. He has eight penalty minutes in seven games with Calgary, and even though four of them came in the same game, the problem is when the penalties are being taken and not just that they’re happening.
Ritchie is fourth worst on the Flames in penalties taken goals above replacement (via Evolving Hockey), which, for obvious reasons, hurts his overall value, especially since he’s not drawing many penalties either. The penalties he is taking are momentum killers or penalties that are lapses in judgment and shouldn’t happen. Eventually, that will cost the team a valuable goal or two in an important game.
Ritchie is a slower forward being paid $2.5 million for the rest of the season, and the Flames have guys that can do the job better than he can for much cheaper. So, have there been situations where I think Ritchie has been effective throughout these last seven games? Yes. He’s an okay bottom-six player that can provide some value on the physical side of the game plus some other areas, like in front of the net, and he can chip in on the scoresheet, too, from time to time. But when Sutter put him in the top six directly after arriving to play with the team, I got worried, as did many fans.
Ritchie is a very Sutter-esque player, so it’s not surprising that he’s getting the opportunities he is. However, the experiment thus far has not worked as well as I’m sure general manager Brad Treliving had hoped it would, which means, even though it’s a small sample, I don’t see a place for him next season.
Ritchie’s performance hasn’t been the worst of his career, but he has also been a hindrance in many situations, and the fact that he was getting top-six opportunities over some other players was mind-boggling. The penalties and some boneheaded plays with the puck have made fans sour on him very quickly (for good reason), considering the margin of error this time of year is minuscule. And instead of giving him tons of playing time, why not give those minutes who can do parts of the job just as well but other parts more effectively?

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