Sven Baertschi lasted in Flames main camp for most of the preseason, but on Oct. 5 - his birthday - he was one of the club's final cuts. It was yet another chapter in the now-22-year-old winger's steady fall in the organization, even though he's improved with each passing year.
Since posting impressive junior stats and scoring three goals on emergency recall, what was once the golden child of Flames prospects has been in free fall. First he made the team, was demoted, was recalled. Then, this past season, he made the team, was demoted, and never came back up.
Now we're at the start of the 2014-15 season, and despite having improved over his three years with the Flames organization, Baertschi couldn't crack the opening roster.
Baertschi: "I'm in-between being sad and just really confused." Believes he did everything asked him since last season. #Flames— Randy Sportak (@SUNRandySportak) October 5, 2014
You can't blame him.
Naturally, his demotion caused a stir, and so, Brad Treliving had to comment on it. As he told the Calgary Herald's Kristen Odland:
"I don’t want the thought process to be now that Sven is gone he will never be heard from again. He’s gotta continue to push a long, continue to get better as a young player and wait for his opportunity."
That's all well and good, and Treliving is absolutely correct. There's no reason to think that we'll never seen Sven again.
That is, aside from recent history. Baertschi has, by and large, been jerked around by the Flames organization. Some of it is on him - just one assist in 10 games of your rookie pro season isn't going to do you any favours - but a fair amount of blame falls on Flames brass. He scored 11 points over 26 games at the start of the 2013 season, while his linemate and guy-he-had-actual-chemistry-with, Sean Monahan, managed all of five more over the same number (with a shooting percentage roughly 14% better, i.e., unsustainable).
And yet it was Baertschi who was scapegoated and healthy scratched when the Flames weren't playing well. Out of all players to lay the blame on, the rebuilding organization chose to use that card on one of its top prospects.
Baertschi took the demotion, struggled, worked through it, and came back better than before. And yet, he was still cut. What this all results in is a very demoralized prospect that both parties take fault for, and it isn't a good look.
"Positionally-wise, [left wing is] probably the most crowded position we have."
This is true. While we can point to David Jones and Devin Setoguchi and say, "But Baertschi was better than them," they weren't necessarily competing for the same spots. Jones and Seto play on the right, an area the Flames lack, while Baertschi's natural position is on the left.
Left wingers he's had to compete with have included Mason Raymond, Curtis Glencross, and fellow prospect Johnny Gaudreau. He wasn't likely to beat out the two veterans, and Gaudreau has been one of the Flames' best players, period, at camp. There simply wasn't much room for him.
In part because the Flames made it that way. Under Brian Burke and Treliving, there has been an emphasis placed on toughness, and with that comes the need for not just one fighter on the team (Brian McGrattan), but two (Brandon Bollig) (and even three [Deryk Engelland, but he's on defence]). It's asinine and overkill. The Flames could just as easily forego the idea of having a line suited solely to five minutes a game of punching faces. It's entirely within their power to create additional space for prospects, and even out the distribution of ice time in the forward ranks so it's beneficial for all. The only thing stopping them from doing that is themselves.
So when the Flames say, "We just didn't have room for Sven," remember: they're the ones who made it that way. Nobody forced them to trade for Bollig. Nobody forced them to give McGrattan a career high in games played in 2013-14. They went out of their way to do these things, and they had to have known it was going to cost not just Baertschi, but other prospects, spots.
So where do we go from here? When do we see Sven back in the NHL? Probably when one of the left wingers gets hurt or traded. As Treliving once again pointed out:
"The opening day roster is just that. But after that things can change in a hurry ... we’ve got guys right now that are on the cusp of being there."
Raymond played all 82 games last season, and he's finally earned his big contact, so it's probably not going to be him.
Glencross, on the other hand, has never played a full season in his career. He had just a paltry 38 games this past season due to a variety of injuries. Watch out for him to not only be potentially shelved, but perhaps even traded, because he's in a contract year, and demanding term and money. For as much as he loves Calgary, the Flames probably shouldn't re-sign him: he's getting older, and like Treliving said, the Flames are deep not only at left wing, but with left wing prospects as well (hi, Emile Poirier! [ed: Although he is apparently a right winger, so actually, that's even better.] Hello, Michael Ferland!).
Then there's Gaudreau. Gaudreau is good. Gaudreau has proven himself at every level. Gaudreau has also never played 82 games a year. We don't know if he'll be able to handle the full schedule in his rookie pro year. He might, and that would be ideal, but if he can't, well, then there's Sven.
Of course, the Flames will also have a spare forward, so if somebody gets hurt they may just not bother with Baertschi at all, and just slot in whoever their extra man is and call it a day. It would fit with Baertschi's time with Calgary thus far.