The Calgary Flames had a rough start to free agency, making absolutely no moves on July 1st and having a few UFAs leave the organization for greener pastures. Surely things couldn’t get worse right?
Unfortunately, they did.
The organization suffered their most disappointing loss of the offseason (so far) as it was announced that Matthew Phillips signed a one-year, one-way deal with the Washington Capitals.
Despite only logging three NHL games with the Flames, this is yet another fumbling of a young prospect by the organization.
Career with the Flames
After being drafted by the team in 2016 with the 166th overall selection in the sixth round, Phillips was looked down on by many simply due to his size. Despite putting up 76 points in 72 games in his draft season, and then subsequently putting up 90 and 112 in his next two WHL seasons, there was still some hesitancy in his ability to translate to the NHL, or even the AHL.
He also proved those doubters wrong.
During his AHL career, he put up 236 points in 264 games, including 76 points in 66 games last season. He did everything he could at the AHL level to justify an NHL call-up.
Of course, Darryl Sutter had his own opinion on Phillips, meaning he never had a chance of being a full time NHL player under him as a head coach. Luckily with the organization firing Sutter back in May, things were looking up for Phillips for the 2023-34 season.
But, the damage was likely already done.
Fit with the Capitals
First and foremost, I think Phillips was most likely looking for a change of scenery. Being with the Flames organization for nearly seven years and constantly being looked over must not have sat well with him or his representation. The last few seasons, the team kept offering him one-year deals, never truly showing faith in his long term NHL prospects.
Add in the fact that he was apparently offered a two-year, two-way deal by the organization this offseason, that was probably the straw that broke the camel’s back. The one-year, one-way deal worth $775,000 gives him an opportunity to bet on himself in Washington and guarantees him NHL level salary regardless of where he plays.
The Capitals make a ton of sense for a fresh start for a number of reasons. First, the hiring of Mitch Love as an assistant coach is significant. Phillips played some of his best professional hockey under Love as a head coach for the Wranglers. The familiarity not only gives him a chance to make the NHL roster, but an internal voice to vouch for him.
Additionally, if Phillips doesn’t make the NHL roster he would be playing for the reigning AHL champions in the Hershey Bears. A mix of a genuine NHL opportunity as well as playing for one of the best AHL franchises is the best move for Phillips’ career.
The Flames just truly cannot get out of their own way when it comes to young players and giving them a chance to succeed. Phillips was right in front of their eyes the last two seasons, playing some incredible hockey, and yet still wouldn’t give him a significant NHL chance.
You can place all the blame on Darryl Sutter, but the organization should shoulder a lot of the blame here as well. Filling NHL roster spots with older and slower players made it impossible for Phillips to break in. Additionally, giving him only three NHL games, one of which was an end of season exhibition, after everything he proved in the AHL is the exact opposite of what you should do with young players.
Here’s wishing Phillips nothing but the utmost success in Washington. Hopefully he can make the NHL and come back to torch the Flames, and hopefully we see a change in mentality from the front office going forward.