Playoff Hopes Gone, Calgary Flames Prepare For the Future

Max Reinhart made his NHL debut on April 6 in Vancouver. (Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports)
Max Reinhart made his NHL debut on April 6 in Vancouver. (Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports)

To say that the 2012-13 hockey season hasn’t gone as planned for the Calgary Flames would be a tremendous understatement. After being derailed by a 119-day lockout, the club found that it generally excelled at home and struggled on the road. With the trade deadline approaching, the team decided to pull the ripcord on the present – trading away captain Jarome Iginla and top defender Jay Bouwmeester to playoff teams in exchange for future assets.

While the moves and the team’s lengthy road losing streak have spelled the end of the Flames’ playoff hopes for this season – according to they have a 0.02% chance of qualifying for the post-season as of this writing – they’ve also allowed the team to audition some players for future roles.

The Flames followed the trade deadline by recalling a trio of their top prospects – forwards Roman Horak (April 3), Max Reinhart (April 6) and Sven Baertschi (April 7). Horak and Baertschi began the season with the Flames but were later sent down to the AHL’s Abbotsford Heat. Horak was a victim of the numbers game, putting up good offensive numbers in a bottom-six role but getting crowded out by players returning from injury. Baertschi was also used as a complementary player, although his talents are likely more suited to top-six duty and his offensive numbers (and confidence level) weren’t anywhere near what was hoped from him.

“Roman Horak has been very good,” said Flames head coach Bob Hartley. “Not that I can say it’s been a surprise, but his understanding of the game, his compete level.”

Baertschi, the Flames’ top prospect and first round selection in the 2011 NHL Draft, was understandably disappointed when he was sent down to the AHL. He shared his feelings with the Calgary Herald’s Vicki Hall and spoke about his approach to his return to the NHL following practice on Wednesday.

“It’s in the past now and I’ve had some thoughts about it, was thinking about it, and in the end I understood what was going on and what I have to work on,” said Baertschi regarding his demotion to the AHL. “There wasn’t much I could do about it except playing hockey down there. I was excited to play there and in the end I wanted to be up here.”

Reinhart is notable as the only recalled player that wasn’t at the truncated Flames training camp in January. The eldest of ex-Flame defender Paul Reinhart’s three sons – the others being Griffin and Sam, both excellent hockey players – Reinhart was originally chosen with Calgary’s third round selection in the 2010 NHL Draft. In his first year of pro, Reinhart was brought along slowly in Abbotsford under coach Troy Ward. Originally he was given bottom-six minutes during the lockout, but he’s been given more ice-time and allowed to gain experience in a lot of different situations since the NHL returned.

“I think I had a slow start,” shared Reinhart. “It’s been a pretty big roller-coaster of a year for me. I had a lot of adjusting to do down in Abbotsford at the start of the year, but you know, I think I’ve had a lot of help with the coaching staff down there. The coaching staff up here has helped me when I got here. I’ve had a lot of learning to do this year and I’m pretty thankful for the opportunity that they’re giving me right now.”

With ten games left in the season and the pressure off, the Flames will use the remaining games to evaluate their youngest players and figure out how they mesh with their remaining veteran stars. The team likely hopes to replicate the success of Ottawa’s “retool” model, which saw the Senators crash and burn in the 2010-11 campaign, only to bring in their prospects and a couple new veterans for 2011-12, which saw the team rebound considerably and make the playoffs.

Only time will tell if the Flames can be as successful.

QUICK NOTES: The Flames also signed 2011 draft picks D Tyler Wotherspoon and G Laurent Brossoit to entry-level contracts. Both players had excellent seasons in the Western Hockey League, with both being named Second-Team All-Stars in their respective conferences. Both are entering their overage season in the WHL and may turn pro… 2012 draft pick D Brett Kulak has joined the Abbotsford Heat on an amateur try-out. He’s heading into his 19-year-old season with the WHL’s Vancouver Giants… The Flames have also recalled C Blair Jones and D Brett Carson, both of whom are on one-way NHL contracts but cleared waivers and were assigned to the AHL earlier this season.