For a year or two now, Tyler Wotherspoon has been the go-to option for the "why isn't X playing?" fans. You get it in all kinds of sports - why isn't the young, talented prospect playing instead of the under-performing, over-earning veteran. It's a question that held some merit last season.
Ignoring the glaringly obvious Deryk Engelland-shaped elephant in the room (Hartley likes him, folks, he's not going anywhere for a while), it seemed like the exciting kid was being overlooked for such car crashes as Ladislav Smid and Corey Potter. Indeed, he was. He was oftentimes the ninth defenceman, and only got anywhere near the team when injuries dictated it so.
When Smid went down, Raphael Diaz was the man to partner Engelland. When Mark Giordano went down, the Flames initially went to Potter, then claimed David Schlemko from waivers. It took an injury to Diaz to give Wotherspoon any ice time, and even then it was only after Potter had been tried out.
This summer, he had another chance to impress. With Diaz, Potter and Schlemko gone, T.J. Brodie's injury opened up a chance for somebody new to come in off the back of a successful training camp. A talented youngster, one with maybe a point to prove. They went for Brett Kulak.
Why's this the case? The supposedly then-best defensive prospect the Flames have has been assigned to the AHL once again. Why isn't he getting his Flames chance?
1) Bob Hartley doesn't like him, doesn't trust young defencemen
I suppose this is a possibility, although any idea of him not trusting the youth is immediately blown out of the water with Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Sam Bennett, Micheal Ferland... the list goes on. It is said that defencemen take longer to develop but you feel that if Hartley felt the potential was there, he'd be playing. It could also be a clash of personalities, or he isn't one of Hartley's favourites (which he has, there's no denying), but to put this over the overall end game? I don't reckon so.
2) He had his chance, and didn't take it
While Wotherspoon had limited minutes last year in the NHL, they were actual minutes. As in, he had a chance. His possession numbers were worse than Potter's - he had a worse CF%, a worse CF60 and CA60. He failed to impress in training camp despite the Flames being a D down. He's had lots of chances to make an impression and it just hasn't worked for him.
3) Brett Kulak has just passed him by
This. All of this. Wotherspoon didn't take his chance, and he was surpassed by a potentially better talent in Kulak. You could even say Jakub Nakladal is ahead of him after his good pre-season, too. Tyler's probably the 10th defenceman in the system right now (when everyone is fit), and that's only until Rasmus Andersson and Oliver Kylington start to bear fruit.
So where does Wotherspoon go from here? In all likelihood, somewhere else. He's had multiple chances to make his mark in the organisation, and he's not taken them. He's now a long way down the depth chart, and it would take a multitude of injuries for him to be considered. He becomes an RFA in the summer, and it wouldn't surprise me to see him not get qualified.
He might not even make it that far - if another team decides they need some AHL depth, they may offer a late pick for him. In the current position, it would likely be an offer that the Flames would take. Sorry to say, it looks like it may be the end of T-Spoon in Cowtown.