The Calgary Flames had a night they won’t soon forget, and it’s not just because they lost a hard-fought game. It’s also because one of their own former prospects, Matthew Phillips, delivered a stunning performance that left the Flames questioning their decision to let him slip through their fingers.
Phillips—a sixth-round draft pick by the Flames in 2016—showcased his talent wearing a Washington Capitals jersey as the Flames visited the state of D.C. He was a pivotal figure in the Flames’ 3–2 shootout loss at the Capital One Arena. The young forward, who signed a one-year league-minimum contract with Washington in July, made the Flames rue the day they didn’t hold on to him in his very first game against them.
Phillips shines against the Flames
On Monday night, Phillips played a major role in Washington’s victory, scoring his first NHL goal and providing an assist. It was a performance that highlighted his growth as a player with a measurable NHL impact since the Flames let him go.
Phillips’ goal came during the second period when he expertly capitalised on a saucer pass from former Flame PTO Sonny Milano. This well-timed play brought the Capitals within one goal of the Flames, setting the stage for an eventual comeback.
But Phillips’ impact didn’t stop there. He also played a part in the game-tying goal, getting the primary assist on Connor McMichael‘s second-period marker, which levelled the score at 2–2. The Flames’ couldn’t retain Phillips’ services on paper and they couldn’t contain him on the ice either.
Calgary’s regret immediately set in
For the Flames and their fans, watching the player the team once drafted and allowed to depart get a picture-perfect revenge game against them was undoubtedly a tough pill to swallow. As Phillips continued to make his presence felt on the ice, it became painfully clear that the Flames underestimated his potential. Phillips was one of the organisation’s most promising prospects who was never given a proper chance. His last season in Calgary was the epitome of unrealised potential as he didn’t get to showcase his talent at the NHL level.
Somehow, Phillips’ first game against his former team stung even worse than his decision to move on from them.
A lesson for the future
While hindsight is 20/20, the Flames’ loss is clearly the Capitals’ gain. Phillips’ stellar performance against the Flames serves as a stark reminder of how poorly the team managed his path to the NHL. When someone is the AHL’s leader in goals per game across a season, they should get a proper look in the NHL the following year. Simple as that. The Flames didn’t give Phillips that look, nor did they offer him a contract good enough to keep him in the organisation. At 25 years old, the Flames let one of the AHL’s most dominant scorers in 2022–23 walk away right as he is entering his prime years.
It’s a lesson that the Flames may carry with heavy weight for years to come. A homegrown prospect drafted by his hometown team, left unnurtured as he was ready to fly.
As Phillips finally gets his chance to make a mark in the NHL, the Flames can’t help but wonder how different things might have been had he remained with the team. His standout performance against the Flames will linger as a missed opportunity and keep the question of “What if he did get a shot with the Flames?” unanswered. Hockey is unpredictable as it is, but you can almost always bet on players finding new gears against their old clubs. For Phillips, he found a way to haunt the Flames and was able to send his message—loud and clear.