The Calgary Flames made some airwaves prior to training camp. First, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman tweeted out that the Flames had signed winger Sonny Milano to a professional tryout (PTO). Following that exciting news, Sportsnet’s Eric Francis reported that the Flames were bringing back Brett Ritchie on a one-year contract. The Flames are getting busy figuring out their roster for 2022–23.
Flames prepare for training camp
As training camp is set to begin on Wednesday, the Flames took a look at the remaining free agents on the market, and added to their forward depth. Given the long history of the use of PTOs from the Flames, this is certainly not surprising.
What does the Flames forward group look like now?
A quick depth chart now reads as follows:
Huberdeau – Lindholm – Toffoli
Milano (PTO) – Kadri – Mangiapane
Dube – Backlund – Coleman
Lucic – Rooney – Lewis
Ruzicka (RFA) – Eakin (PTO) – Ritchie
That forward group doesn’t have the ample top end talent as other teams, but there is a ton of depth. Should Milano sign—which I am hopeful of—the Flames will be able to run three competitive lines and depth for the fourth line.
I have already assessed Milano and the unique offensive game he possesses, plus the risks and rewards of signing him. Because of that, I will focus on Ritchie in this article, and the somewhat controversial idea of bringing him back.
Brett Ritchie is a controversial player among the Flames fanbase
There is definitely a large variety of opinions when it comes to Brett Ritchie. Some like his feisty presence and big-bodied frame. Others look at his four points in 41 games last year and think someone else could be playing his minutes. I think the outlook of Ritchie falls somewhere between the two schools of thought.
Four points in 41 games is not anywhere close to ideal, and grades out among the league’s worst point per game played totals. But realistically, the Flames aren’t playing Ritchie to score points. The Ritchie-in-the-top-six ship has hopefully sailed with the amount of forward depth the Flames now have, so it isn’t much of a worry.
A deeper look into Ritchie’s game
While the offensive output certainly isn’t ideal, Ritchie does provide some good attributes. First off, Ritchie grades out as a very physical and dump-and-chase player, which perfectly fits the “grind and possession” fourth line that Darryl Sutter loves to play.
Speaking of possession, Ritchie also grades out as a very good possession player, putting up a whopping 58.11 CF% and 59.07 xG% results at unadjusted 5v5 last season. Couple that with his 0.953 PDO value and Ritchie should continue to contribute strong in terms of possession and physicality—all while seeing his offensive numbers increase a bit. Sample size must be considered, as Ritchie only played 41 games in 2021–22, but the results are there.
A look into Ritchie’s isolated 5v5 impact (courtesy of HockeyViz.com) provides us with further detail. As we can see below, Ritchie hasn’t been known to be an offensive player, but did contribute positive metrics throughout his first four career years.
Those metrics subsided, but returned last year. On the defensive side, Ritchie had good results in his first four seasons, but just like his offensive metrics, flipped to the negative until last season. In 2021–22, Ritchie was on another level in terms of impacts in both zones. The offensive totals aren’t there, but Ritchie’s raw impacts look very nice.
Is bringing back Brett Ritchie a good thing?
I think bringing back Ritchie to play the role he has held over the past couple years is fine. Could you find a player that possesses his physical attributes and can also get on the scoresheet a bit more? Probably.
However, Ritchie has familiarity with the Flames already, and the insane possession metrics he has posted is a big plus. He won’t be an everyday NHLer with the current look of Calgary’s lineup. Ritchie can contribute to the fourth line should injury strike, or if Sutter needs to insert a spark.
Contract details are unknown, but assuming a one-year contract near league-minimum, there is little risk in bringing back a player that posted very positive impacts last year. The competition for forward roster spots just became greater after today’s moves, which you always look for. Rookies like Jakob Pelletier will have to push extremely hard to make this roster, while veteran players will have to show they can still contribute in ways they have before.
The last stop before training camp
Training camp opens on Wednesday, and the excitement is certainly building across the Flames fanbase. As the Flames look to have a deep playoff run, they continue to tweak and add depth to their roster, which is crucial should injuries strike.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire
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