It's Michael Ferland all over again. Just two periods into Ferland's NHL debut, way back on Oct. 31, 2014, the Flames prospect was knocked out of the game thanks to a headshot by Anton Volchenkov. Exactly three months later, David Wolf made his NHL debut, only to suffer a lacerated leg early in the third period that forced him from the game and, ultimately, to the injured reserve.
Two rookies with the potential to be strong fourth liners, gone before they could even complete a game. When Ferland was first injured, the Flames recalled Sven Baertschi in his stead. With Wolf now down, Markus Granlund has been brought back up. Granlund last played in the NHL on Jan. 19, a 2-1 victory over the Los Angeles Kings in which he had 13:33 of ice time. He has five goals and 13 points over 33 NHL games this season.
This is a problem.
It's a problem because, in the four games since the All-Star break, the Flames have healthy scratched the following players: Sven Baertschi (x3), Markus Granlund, David Wolf (x2), and Tyler Wotherspoon (x4). Mikael Backlund and Jiri Hudler have also been scratched, but they haven't been healthy.
Those are four players on entry level deals. Those are four prospects who may very well develop into key players for the Flames one day. Prospects that aren't playing. Everyone's enjoying bigger pay days in the NHL, but it's coming at the cost of sitting out games.
Your prospects need to play, simple as that. Prior to the game against the Edmonton Oilers, Wolf hadn't played since Jan. 24. That's six days between games. Even worse, before finally suiting up against the Winnipeg Jets, Baertschi hadn't played since the 24th as well: eight days between games.
And then, there's the most ridiculous situation of them all. Wotherspoon was actually recalled before the All-Star Break. He's been a healthy scratch for five straight NHL games. Since Jan. 17 - the last game on Adirondack's schedule before he was recalled - Wotherspoon has played a grand total of one game: that same Jan. 24 game Wolf and Baertschi had last played in.
That's one game in 17 days now (and counting) for Wotherspoon. This is development?
It's one thing to recall a prospect, have him sit for a game or two to bring him up to speed, and then dress him. It's another thing all together to recall a prospect and then completely refuse to play him. And it's something else all together to do that to three prospects all at the same time. Wolf and Baertschi probably wouldn't have even gotten games in if it weren't for an illness apparently in the Flames dressing room.
That is, quite simply, an unacceptable way to handle your prospects. Management and coaching need to be on the same page when it comes to this sort of thing. Curtis Glencross is injured? Here's Sven Baertschi, the highest scoring prospect we have that plays his position. Slot Baertschi into Glencross' spot - don't promote a fourth liner in Lance Bouma and sit the recall instead. Ladislav Smid is injured? Here's Tyler Wotherspoon, likely our most NHL-ready defence prospect. Here he is, sitting in the pressbox while Rafa Diaz dresses with newfound regularity and nobody else is apparently worthy of being taken out of the lineup (even though there are players who should be sitting in normal circumstances, let alone when a prospect who actually needs to play is recalled).
For whatever reason, Brad Treliving and Bob Hartley would seem to just not be talking to one another. That, or the plan all along has been to call up promising prospects, have them participate in NHL practices, and simply watch NHL games, when what they need to be doing is playing. It's not as if Baertschi and Wotherspoon are new to the NHL scene. Both have played in the big league before. They don't need to be recalled just to be babysat.
And now Granlund has been thrown into the mix. What's the bet he gets a regular shift? What's the bet if he does, Baertschi is out?
It's not as if there aren't solutions in place for this sort of thing. Last time Smid was on the injured reserve, the Flames recalled Corey Potter. Potter didn't play, but it didn't matter: he's a 31-year-old minor leaguer. He doesn't have a future in the Flames organization, so having him be a spare body ready to go just in case worked in his situation. That's a situation unacceptable in regards to Wotherspoon, who actually does have a future with the Flames. Why was Wotherspoon recalled instead of Potter if all he was going to do was sit?
Brian McGrattan never should have been sent down, for the simple reason he wasn't hurting anybody by sitting in the pressbox. He was an extra body who wasn't going to play. Now, instead of the 33-year-old enforcer taking a seat, it's been the 20-something kids who actually need that playing time.
There are only two acceptable solutions for the Flames in regards to Baertschi, Granlund, and Wotherspoon: either scratch veterans so they can play, or send them back down to the AHL so they can play. All sitting your top prospects does is speak to poor asset management on the part of the front office, and poor talent evaluation on the part of the coaching staff. This needs to stop.