After 16 games, Matt Stajan finally returned. He originally suffered a knee injury in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Canadiens. The Flames lost both Joe Colborne and Mikael Backlund that game as well: Colborne with a damaged wrist, and Backlund finally taken off the active roster due to an abdominal injury that had been plaguing him since at least September. The game before that, a 3-1 loss to the Capitals, the Flames lost Mason Raymond to a shoulder injury.
Four veterans gone in the blink of an eye necessitated a round of call ups. Josh Jooris was already present, initially recalled for a David Jones injury; Jones was cleared about the same time Raymond went to the injured reserve. But with three more on the shelf, up came Markus Granlund, then Michael Ferland, and finally, Sven Baertschi.
All four still remain with the big club, but it remains to be seen for how much longer. While Jooris has, deservedly, been told to find a permanent place to stay in Calgary, that still leaves Granlund, Ferland, and Baertschi twisting in the wind. Raymond is expected to play tomorrow's contest against the Maple Leafs. Colborne, while not yet cleared, is joining the Flames on their four-game road trip. Backlund, on the other hand, finally had surgery on Nov. 25. He still isn't skating and will be out a while yet.
That's still two veterans nearing return, and when they officially come off the injured reserve, two players will have to be sent down.
Now, the Flames have shown they aren't afraid to send down veterans. Devin Setoguchi was the first to go. He was a frequent healthy scratch, and the writing was on the wall. So, while the remaining three call ups could be at risk of losing their spots, they may be able to beat out some of the older guys. After all, Jooris did.
There are just two other veteran forwards who have been healthy scratched: Brandon Bollig has been sat for three games, while Brian McGrattan has been confined to the pressbox for 20.
That leaves a pool of five candidates to be sent down when Raymond and Colborne return. Here's a look at each of them.
Baertschi is almost certainly going to be the first guy sent down as soon as it's necessary. And honestly, it's the best realistic move for him. I say "realistic" because we're talking about a situation where Bob Hartley would rather play Lance Bouma on the first line than try reuniting Baertschi with Sean Monahan and Bob, honey, no. Just no.
Alas, the writing may be on the wall for Baertschi's time with the club. Or maybe not, I don't know. I've been advocating for Curtis Glencross to be traded at the deadline since the off-season, and there are multiple reasons for that, and one of them is that it frees up space for a prospect and you know I'm talking about Sven when I say that. I am very clearly pro-Sven.
Whether Baertschi is still a Flame this time next year or not, he needs to play now. And right now, he isn't. Most recently, he was a healthy scratch so McGrattan could draw into the lineup, which is stupid. In the 14 games he has played for the Flames this season, he's played more than 10 minutes in four of them. His season-high ice time is 11:02. Literally nobody is benefitting from this.
Hopefully he finds his scoring touch again in the AHL, and assuming he gets the chance to come back, actually gets to play with capable linemates and make us forget all about the sordid mess that has been the beginning of his career. But in the meantime, good lord, let the kid play somewhere, anywhere.
Ferland's NHL career could've started out way better. I mean, getting concussed two periods into your debut isn't exactly ideal. He's recovered, though, and has now played eight games straight, albeit with ice times on the lower end (typically just above 10 minutes a game, although there have been a few exceptions). He only has one assist to show for his work so far, but is getting shots on net in every game he's played except one.
Ferland has looked more active and engaged in recent games, and it feels like his first NHL goal is just around the corner, but is that enough to keep him in the lineup? Remember, he's never played a full year of professional hockey. He managed just 25 games for the Abbotsford Heat last season before his season prematurely ended on a knee injury. He's been doing well in putting up points in the AHL and is one of the farm team's top forwards, but that hasn't translated to the NHL. Yet. Hopefully.
So while Ferland is showing a lot of promise, if he goes down to make room for the returning veterans, it'll probably be a good thing for him. He'll get top six minutes instead of bottom six, and he'll have more time to work on his game. We'll definitely be seeing more of him soon enough.
Granlund is an interesting case. When literally every non-Monahan centre went down, the 21-year-old Finn became the Flames' second-line centre by default. The NHL Flames, not the AHL. So. That's quite a jump.
To Granlund's credit, he did pretty well. That's not to say he's ready to be an NHL team's second-line centre - he's not - but things could have gone much, much worse. Instead, he took big minutes in stride, worked well with linemates Johnny Gaudreau and Jiri Hudler, and managed to put up three goals and nine points before cooling off.
Since cooling off, though, his ice time has dropped. Granlund's been put down on the third line while Jooris has been promoted to his spot on the second. With Jooris at centre, Stajan back, and Colborne, who may or may not still play centre (seriously I have no idea what the plan is with this guy), soon to return, there may not be any room for him, even with Backlund out long term.
It's not like the AHL is the worst place for Granlund, though. It's a similar situation to where he'd be in the NHL if he does stay up: easier minutes, easier competition, and probably better results as he continues to develop into what looks like a promising player.
Bollig was a mistake. There's no getting around that. The Flames never should have traded for him.
Nevertheless, he's been a mainstay in the lineup. He's only averaged 9:11 in ice time, and has only played more than 13 minutes once (in a 5-0 victory over the Hurricanes) (that is to say, the game was so comically out of reach the Flames could afford to play Bollig for 13 minutes) (this circumstance has yet to repeat itself), plays against the easiest competition possible and yet has easily the worst possession stats on the team, and has a grand total of two assists to show for it.
But hey, he has a fight this season, and leads the Flames in penalty minutes! These are somehow good things? Because putting the team down a man is ideal? Like the Flames don't have one of the worst penalty kills in the league?? (It is worse than the Sabres'.)
Bollig's edition of truculence is beyond useless and actually detrimental. He somehow has a three-year deal. I do not know why, but I am confident he will not finish it in Calgary. With the prospect quality waiting in Calgary's pipelines, it's simply not possible. Look at Jooris, and he wasn't even someone we were expecting.
That said, I don't know if Bollig is one of the casualties at this point in time, because in the face of all reason, logic, and basic fucking facts, he provides a service the Flames value. Doesn't matter if it isn't actually helpful. The team thinks it is, and so, he'll probably get to keep plugging around a while yet.
And then there's McGrattan, he who has been scratched 20 games this season. And you know what? It's the final year of his deal. There's almost no chance the Flames actually re-sign him. He seems like a good guy, all his teammates love him, and someone's gotta be a healthy scratch. McGrattan probably isn't going anywhere other than the pressbox, and that's totally fine.
After all, you'd rather see McGrattan in the NHL pressbox and Baertschi with a regular shift in the AHL than vice versa.
Raymond's back tomorrow, and since the Flames have yet to put anybody on waivers, one of Baertschi, Ferland, or Granlund is almost definitely going down, and it'll probably be Baertschi. Colborne's returning soon, and then, it'll probably be Ferland returning to Adirondack, by virtue of him having the least pro experience.
And that would be the right decision. Neither has received substantial ice time in the NHL this season, and both can continue to develop and improve in the minors. Granlund isn't getting quite the big minutes he was back in November, but we should see improvement from him as he plays opponents more appropriate for him at this stage in his development.
That leaves two guys who need to be healthy scratches, and the only realistic candidates have to be McGrattan and Bollig. McGrattan's already solidified himself in that role. As for Bollig, who, in the remaining Flames forward group, can he realistically push out?
Nobody, that's who.