Inconsistency has been the word of the year for the Calgary Flames this season. The on-ice performance of the team and lack of direction both on and off the ice has put the team in an unfavourable position, something that’s all too common with Flames. With 18 games remaining on the schedule, the team is on the outside looking in.
Even with their latest victory over the Dallas Stars coupled with the Winnipeg Jets’ single point against the San Jose Sharks, the Flames are still six points out of the final wild card position in the west. On top of that, Nashville is only a single point behind Calgary with four games in hand. Not an ideal situation to say the least.
With a Ritchie for Ritchie mentality on deadline day, Brad Treliving made it clear that the organization doesn’t know what to do with this team anymore than the fans do. However, in the prospects pipeline, there is aglimmering light at the end of the proverbial tunnel: Dustin Wolf and Matthew Coronato.
Coronato said last week that he intended to sign his NHL entry-level contract inwith Calgary at the end of this NCAA season. If Coronato’s Harvard Crimson exit the NCAA championship early, keep a look out for Coronato to potentially make his NHL debut somewhere around the last two weeks of the season—this would be very similar to how Johnny Gaudreau’s debut with the team went with perhaps even more games played.
At that point in the schedule and with the team’s recent play, it’s likely that the Flames would have wrote off their slim playoff chances by then. With goaltending being a glaring issue this season and Darryl Sutter’s decision to stick with Jacob Markstrom down the stretch, don’t put it past Treliving to make a call to bring up Dustin Wolf for his NHL debut ahead of the Wranglers’ Calder Cup playoff run.
Wolf’s numbers this season
Wolf’s numbers have been among the best of the best since he entered the AHL three seasons ago. Last year Wolf had a 8–5–0 record with three shutouts, a .929 SV%, and a 2.23 GAA in the Stockton Heat’s playoff run and came home with the AHL’s Goaltender of the Year award. Unsurprisingly Wolf picked up right where he left off last season.
The 21-year-old has appeared in 44 games with a 32–9–2 record with the Wranglers, 11 wins ahead of Coachella Valley’s Joey Daccord who sits in second with 21 wins.
Some people might think it could be premature to call up the AHL phenom at this point in the season. I can’t disagree more with that statement. Wolf also leads the league in SV% with a 0.926%, shutouts with four, and is second in GAA with a 2.28. There’s no doubt the kid can play.
Wolf is on the way to his second consecutive AHL Goalie of the Year title, and with that it may be the perfect time for the undersized goalie to have his first stint in the NHL. Similarly to the Coronato discussion, Wolf could make an appearance within the final five to ten games of the year. From a Flames perspective, it would be a great opportunity for Wolf to see his first regular season games with less pressure pending the Flames’ position in the standings.
A pure goalie mindset
It’s been glaringly obvious for the Flames this season that goalies can be impacted by the mental game even more so than their physical game. In Markstrom’s case, the guy hasn’t looked the same since the Battle of Alberta in the playoffs last year.
Some people might see this as a reason not to call up Wolf because it might be too much for the young goalie right before his team starts a hopeful playoff run to the Calder Cup. With no pressure on Wolf and some NHL competition, he could use the time as a tune up for the playoffs. There in lies the key.
If Dustin gets the call up, he needs to start at least 60% of the remaining games on the schedule. Sitting him on the bench for a game or two would be nice for a playoff rest and a bonus paycheque, but the Wranglers and Flames will want their best prospect ready to perform in the playoffs regardless of a NHL opportunity.
Working Wolf in for a few starts at the end of the Flames season offers an early mental challenge for the goalie ahead of the AHL playoffs and may make coming back for a Calder run, feel like lighter competition than it would be.
There’s no question that Wolf is ready to make the jump and this is both the logical step and best time of year to do it.
Where does that put the Flames on the goalie carousel next season? Honestly, I have no idea.
It’s logical to think nothing changes with Markstrom and Daniel Vladar next season. The team is locked into Markstrom’s contract and he’s had a down year, much like the whole team. Markstrom’s likely to have at least some statistical bounceback next year and stay in a prominent starter position.
Vladar has seen the most action in his career this season and although he too has had ups and downs throughout the season, he’s also had some moments of great play. Vladar has a very attractive contract on the market with the potential to start at the NHL level. Obviously it would have to take the team being comfortable with Wolf being a full time NHL backup, or a small bridge deal with a veteran like Juroslav Halak to tide the team over for another year of Wolf development. Vladar could turn back decent return this offseason in the wild west that is the goaltending trade market.
It’s more likely that even if Wolf get’s a look at the end of this season, the team will stick to its guns going into next season barring a “sell the farm” approach in the offseason. If Brad decides it’s time to rebuild then Wolf could spend a full season with the team next year but in all likely hood the 21-year-old will stick to the AHL for one more season.
Photo by Candace Ward/Calgary Wranglers