Flames’ Matthew Phillips Deserves an NHL Opportunity

Over the past few seasons, Matthew Phillips has become a pretty popular player amongst Calgary Flames fans. It doesn’t have a lot to do with his on-ice play for the team, though. In fact, he has played just one game in his NHL career with the franchise that selected him in the sixth round (166 overall) of the 2016 Draft.

Related: Flames’ Biggest Training Camp Battles for 2022-23

The reason for Phillips’ popularity is solely because of the fact that fans want him to get a chance. The 5-foot-7 forward has produced at nearly a point-per-game pace over his past three seasons in the American Hockey League (AHL). The 2021-22 campaign saw him put up career highs with 31 goals and 68 points in just 65 outings. Despite the impressive production, however, he has never gotten a legitimate shot with the big club.

Phillips Assigned Once Again

After agreeing to a one-year deal as a restricted free agent this summer, it was clear to everyone that the 2022-23 season may be his final shot to crack the Flames’ lineup. By all accounts, Phillips was having himself a solid camp, one that had his supporters hopeful this would finally be the year. That hope was taken away on Sunday, however, as it was announced that he had been placed on waivers.

Whether it truly is the case or not, it doesn’t feel like Phillips ever had a shot at making the club this season. Not only was he sent down with three exhibition games still remaining, but he also wasn’t given much of a shot either, as TSN’s Salim Nadim Valji brought up the fact that he was never given the opportunity to play alongside skilled players.

The good news, if you can call it that, is that Phillips did go unclaimed on waivers. That is exciting for Flames fans to hear, as they can hold out any slim hope they have that he will somehow get a shot with the team later on in the 2022-23 season. That said, it more than likely means he will be forced to spend yet another year in the AHL, which is extremely disappointing for someone with as high of a skill set as he possesses.

Small Stature Hurting Phillips

In recent years, NHL teams have seemingly become more willing to give undersized players a shot. 20 years ago it seemed that all general managers wanted were players well north of six feet, regardless of their skating ability. However, when given a chance, many smaller players have proven they can not only play at the NHL level but also make a serious impact. With Phillips’ situation, however, it feels that the main reason he hasn’t been given a shot is directly due to his size.

What helps prove that true is the fact that less than 24 hours after waiving Phillips, the Flames claimed forward Radim Zohorna off of waivers from the Pittsburgh Penguins. The 26-year-old winger has played in just 25 career games at the NHL level, registering four goals and 10 points. His AHL numbers over the years, while not bad, pale in comparison to Phillips.

Matthew Phillips Calgary Flames
Matthew Phillips, Calgary Flames (Photo by Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images)

That may make you think, why claim a player who isn’t as skilled as the one just waived? The answer comes down to size, as Zohorna stands at a massive 6-foot-6, 220 pounds. This likely has plenty to do with head coach Darryl Sutter, who is regarded as more of an old-school coach, though it is important to note that this isn’t the first time the Flames have failed to give an undersized player a true shot.

Back in the late 90s, the Flames had an undrafted prospect by the name of Martin St. Louis, who, despite putting up incredible numbers in the AHL failed to impress the coaching staff with the big club. He played a total of just 69 games before having his contract bought out, only to then latch on with the Tampa Bay Lightning and go on to have a Hall of Fame career. (from ‘George Johnson: St. Louis remains the one that got away from Flames,’ Calgary Herald, 10/03/22).

By no means am I suggesting that Phillips is anywhere close to the same caliber of player St. Louis was. My point is that, until given a chance, we don’t know what he can be. His AHL numbers prove he has plenty of skill, and he may very well be able to translate that success to the NHL if given the right opportunity. Whether that comes in Calgary or not remains to be seen, but this is a player who deserves a chance to show what he can do in the big leagues at some point.

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