A few injuries and a few surprising performances in the first two weeks of October may force the Calgary Flames into making some tough decisions in the last two weeks of October. The Flames currently sit at 23 roster players, including Chris Breen (who’s on a conditioning stint in the AHL) and excluding three injured players (Mike Cammalleri, Matt Stajan and David Jones).
Here’s a brief summary of what factors are going to make life complicated for Flames management near the end of the month.
LW Mike Cammalleri: Suffered a hand injury in the first set of pre-season games on September 14 and placed on the injured reserve to open the season. Under the rules of the IR he can return at any point, but he’s yet to skate with the main roster (he’s skating with the other injured players) and as of last word was still considered week-to-week. In theory, Cammalleri could be back by the end of the month.
C Matt Stajan: Suffered a leg contusion in the first regular season game against Washington on October 3, moving Joe Colborne – who was on the sidelines learning the systems after being acquired from Toronto at the end of training camp – into the line-up. Stajan is also on the IR and eligible to come back at any point, but is also reportedly week-to-week. He could also, theoretically, be back by the end of October.
RW David Jones: Suffered an upper-body (likely a shoulder) injury in Calgary’s win over Montreal on October 9. He was also placed on the IR and can come back at any point, but he’s been noted as being week-to-week by the club. Like the other two, he could potentially be back by the end of October.
THE WAIVED (AND WAIVING)
On September 30, three Flames players cleared waivers. Two of them were kept on the NHL roster to open the season.
C Ben Street: Named to the main roster on October 1 despite clearing waivers. Street was suspected to be a stop-gap player while Joe Colborne got accustomed to the Flames systems, but he has acquitted himself incredibly well given the circumstances. The injury to Matt Stajan basically threw Street into out-and-out top-nine duty and he’s made he most of it – slotting in behind Mikael Backlund and ahead of Sean Monahan on the pivot depth charts, playing just under 15 minutes a night and winning 43% of face-offs (tops for regular centers). Street’s waivers expire when he plays his tenth game (potentially on October 24) and based on his excellent play and tiny cap hit ($575,000), it’s not likely he’ll clear again.
C/W Blair Jones: Assigned to the AHL’s Abbotsford Heat to begin the season, Jones was recalled when the other Jones (David) went down with his injury. No stranger to Coach Hartley’s systems – he played 15 games in Calgary last season – he’s also no stranger to the press box and based on his experience level, wouldn’t be harmed too much by sitting. While he does play a decent two-way game, he probably doesn’t fit into the team’s top-nine, though he could jump into the rotation if someone is injured. Either way, his waivers expire on October 30, so he’ll either need to be returned to Abbotsford by then or clear waivers to go back down.
D Derek Smith: Kept on the NHL roster as the seventh defender, Smith has yet to play a single minute of hockey this season. His waivers expire on October 30. While the Abbotsford club has decent blueline depth, it’s unclear if any of them are good enough yet to unseat any of the six guys currently playing in Calgary – there’s no point in sending Smith down and replacing him with somebody who’s going to sit.
D Chris Breen: Began the season on the non-roster injured reserve while recovering from shoulder surgery. Breen was activated from the IR and sent to Abbotsford on October 10 on a conditioning stint. He’ll be required to return to the Flames on October 24, where he still counts against the main roster. He’ll need to clear waivers to be sent to the AHL.
C Sean Monahan: Made team out of camp. Conventional wisdom was that the team would use the nine-game junior-player window to gauge his progress and then return him to the Ontario Hockey League. But Monahan turned out not only to look like a fine NHL player at age 19, but also one of the Flames’ most relied-upon contributors. It’s becoming increasingly unlikely that Monahan will be sent back to the Ottawa 67’s.
Up to three injured regulars could be returning to the Flames by the end of the month. Blair Jones and Chris Breen seem the most likely candidates to be sent to the minors to make room, but that still leaves one roster spot left to be cleared prior to the injured reserve emptying out. It’s becoming tremendously unlikely that either Sean Monahan or Ben Street will be the players shipped out, so it’s yet to be determined what the Flames will do in the event all three of Cammalleri, Jones and Stajan are ready for activation by the end of October.