As the 2022–23 season inches closer towards its conclusion, the Calgary Flames still find themselves in the middle of the playoff race. The odds are heavily stacked against them, but they’re not giving up until the final buzzer goes off in Game 82. Fans can be on Team Go For It or Team Tank, but from a probability standpoint, there’s a real good chance the Flames end up in no man’s land right in the middle.
They might not be good enough to make the playoffs, nor bad enough to be a part of the NHL draft lottery. It looks more and more likely that in a season that has offered little hope, the Flames are destined to finish in a worst-case scenario.
However, to counteract the despair, the team made the announcement that they signed 2021 13th overall pick Matt Coronato to an entry-level contract which starts this season. In other words, Calgary’s highest pick since Matthew Tkachuk is making his NHL debut in a matter of days.
Coronato’s entry-level contract
Since Harvard’s loss to Ohio State in the NCAA Bridgeport Regional Semifinal, a number of Crimson players turned their focus to the future and the NHL. Henry Thrun (drafted 101th overall in 2020 by Anaheim) signed a two-year entry-level contract (ELC) with the San Jose Sharks. Soon after, Sean Farrell (drafted 124th overall in 2019 by Montreal) signed a three-year ELC with the Montreal Canadiens.
Then major news came to Calgary as Matt Coronato became the third Crimson player to sign an ELC with an NHL team, and he stayed true to his intents and signed with the Flames. He’s the highest NHL draft pick out of the Crimson hockey program and is now the highest signed pick.
Coronato’s contract starts in 2022–23 and goes through to 2024–25. He carries a cap hit of $925K with performances bonuses of $850K in the second and third years of his contract. His salary includes signing bonuses of $92.5K on top of his base salary of $832.5K. Finally, his minors salary (in which he is ineligible to play in the AHL for the remainder of the 2022–23 season anyway) is $80K. All contract information from CapFriendly.com.
Anticipating Coronato’s debut
Getting Coronato signed was a big priority for the Flames and getting that contract done now as opposed in the summer represents a big commitment to the player. Calgary came to Coronato after the Crimson were eliminated from the NCAA tournament and immediately got him onboard with the Flames.
His contract begins now and therefore the first year will be burned by season’s end. At times, teams may delay a player’s contract signing to have an additional year of the player’s ELC under their control. Howver, when a player is good enough, teams can show they’re fully committed to a player by purposefully burning the first year of the contract, typically at the tail-end of a regular season.
Most times, teams are either already in playoff spots or are so far out of the playoffs that they can afford to experiment with rookies with no risk whatsoever (see: Sharks and Canadiens with Thrun and Farrell, respectively). However, for the Flames, they’re right in the playoff bubble where every single point they gain in the standings matter. Signing Coronato now and having him slot into the lineup puts him in a unique position to prove he’s ready to be a professional hockey player and make an impact.
The last time the Flames elected to burn the first year of an ELC came all the way back in 2013–14, where they actually had two players signed to ELCs and debut for one game at the end of the season. It was of course no other than Johnny Gaudreau… and Bill Arnold. For those who don’t remember, Arnold’s NHL career lasted the entirety of the single game that the Flames burned one year of his two-year contract for.
Calgary’s remaining schedule
Coronato is expected to join the team today and meet his new teammates during the Flames’ practise. Calgary has eight games remaining in the schedule which leaves no room for error as they push for the playoffs. The Flames play at home tomorrow versus the Los Angeles Kings and then on the road on Friday, March 31 versus the Canucks. Following that, they’ll face the Anaheim Ducks at home on Sunday, April 2 and the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday, April 4, also at home.
No one is expecting Coronato to debut against the Kings. It’d simply be way too soon and he won’t have time to learn the system or get meaningful practise with his potential linemates. Not to mention the quality of competition will be a lot higher compared to if the team waits a couple more days before debuting him.
The following three games could all be potential debut games for the new rookie. All three games are against weaker teams and the Flames should be more than comfortable with giving Coronato seven to ten minutes of ice time or so against any of them.
For now, it’s not clear when Coronato will make his debut yet, or if there were any verbal agreements that he’d slot into more games than not if he were to sign, but it really should be within the next week. As mentioned, the Flames have already committed to using the first year of his contract this season, so it would be silly from a business standpoint to not play him in as many games as possible.
If the Flames are looking to ease him onto the team, having him debut at home versus the Ducks or the Blackhawks could be a solid decision. However, if they want to maximise his usage in the first year of his contract, it could be the case that they’ll have him debut on the road against the Canucks. There’d be some poetry in having Coronato debut against Vancouver, as Gaudreau did the same back in 2013–14.
Coronato’s on-ice performance
Since being drafted in 2021, Coronato has played in the NCAA as well as the World Juniors as a Calgary Flames prospect. He’s been a great player at every level and can potentially chip in on offence with the Flames immediately.
In his two years at Harvard, he’s played 68 regular season games, where he’s scored 38 goals and 34 assists.
He’s been an impact player for the Crimson all year long, as he led the Crimson’s offence in 2021–22, and is third on the team this season behind Farrell and Alex Laferriere (drafted 83rd overall in 2020 by the L.A. Kings)—the trio of them all being Harvard’s only players with at least 20 goals.
In USA’s five games at the 2022 World Juniors this past summer, Coronato scored four goals and three assists in five games played. Had USA not been eliminated in the quarterfinals, perhaps he would have had a better statline for his Juniors resume, but nevertheless he was one of the Americans’ top players.
Coronato’s play this season earned him nominations to the Second Team All-ECAC Hockey and First Team All-Ivy teams. He was also named among Harvard’s Hobey Baker nominations alongside Farrell and Laferriere. Harvard was ultimately represented by Farrell as a top 10 finalist.
Coronato and the Flames’ future
Signing Coronato was a significant step for the Flames franchise. He’s one of the highest profile NCAA signings in franchise history and the hope is that he can make an immediate impact. Let’s be clear here: Coronato isn’t coming onto the roster as the season saviour (although it can’t be ruled out completely).
The bigger picture for Calgary is that Coronato will be a core player for the Flames for years to come and having him sign on with the Flames now rather than staying in the NCAA is as good a step as any to inject youthful energy onto the team as well as hope for all Flames fans to have more reasons to be excited about for the future.
Congratulations Coronato—welcome to Calgary!
Photo by Gil Talbot/gocrimson.com.