Which young NHL players should be retained after their nine-game trial?
Time is nearing for teams to decide what to do with their teenaged kids. The Calgary Flames in particular have to determine what to do with Matthew Tkachuk.
In one article, Eric Francis emphasizes in a tongue and cheek kind of way, that Flames management has a plan for Tkachuk, but only management knows what the plan truly entails. Francis can only get General Manager Brad Treliving to respond the “There’s a plan for him but I tell you it’s written in pencil.”
In an interview by the Calgary Herald, coach Glen Gulutzan was quoted as saying “We told him, ‘There’s a plan.’ There’s a real concrete plan for him.”
When asked, Tkachuk simply answers “I have no idea what The Plan is either,” and “The reason why I didn’t play in two games (Saturday vs. the Blues and Monday vs. the Blackhawks) is they said they had a plan for me. I’m not going to argue with them. They’re smart at what they do, so I trust them.”
Francis continues his article by pointing out Tkachuk’s strengths, effectiveness and hints that if he were to be sent back to the OHL that it would not help him develop into an NHLer any faster.
In another article by Rory Boylen, the positives of Tkachuk’s current play are once again repeated, but the question remains, “What's more valuable to Tkachuk at this point in his career?”
As Boylen indicated early in his article “Players under the age of 20 can play up to nine NHL games before burning a season off their entry-level contracts. A player has to actually play in 10 games for that to happen and not simply be on the roster (as a healthy scratch, for example) at the 10-game mark.”
“[A] player doesn’t move a year closer to unrestricted free agency until he’s played 40 games in a season,” he clarifies.
Before the season started, an article on SB Nation’s Matches & Gasoline ends with the author indicating that, “Considering what he has done so far, it is not unfathomable that we may see Tkachuk for the duration of the season.”
Another by The Hockey Writers has one of their subtitles as “He’s Already Done It All in Junior.”
The writers think he should stay, but the fans reading Boylen’s piece are not so certain. At the time of this writing there were over 5,600 votes on their poll, with 60% indicating that he should be returned to junior.
He was not the only player the fans thought should be seasoned elsewhere either.
In over 6,100 votes, 73% indicated that Jesse Puljujarvi should be in the AHL. Seventy percent of readers said Mikhail Sergachev should be returned to the Windsor Spitfires for one more year.
The only player in the poll that readers felt should stay in the NHL was Arizona Coyotes’ defenseman Jakob Chychrun. Most likely because he “may not have much to gain in the OHL because of his size.”
While the picture is painted in black and white – stay in the NHL or be sent down to protect another year of the entry-level contract – there is a vast grey area.
Players like Tkachuk, Sergachev, Dylan Strome, and Lawson Crouse are sitting in the press box on occasion. No one said that they had to play in each of the first nine games of the season.
Teams are testing them out but also giving them time to breathe, rest, and build on their physical needs. Is it no surprise that the Flames sat Tkachuk for two games before playing him in St. Louis.
Eric Engels indicates a similar situation with how patient the Canadiens are going to be with Sergachev. “He could be here for that nine-game stint all the way up until December. They could stretch it out that long.”
Another part of that grey area is somewhere between games 10 and 40.
The Hockey News’ Ken Campbell applies this to Chychrun. “As long as he proves he belongs in Arizona's top-six defensemen, he'll be around. But if his play falls off, the Coyotes effectively have a half a season to determine what to do with him,” says Campbell.
A team loses a year off the entry-level contract but it is not as big a deal as it sounds. Campbell indicates that it might work out better for the club financially when negotiating the second contract.
This is not news though. Two years ago, Bob McKenzie wrote about this very thing.
He noted at the time, “If a player goes back to junior in a burned first year of an entry-level deal, it's difficult to earn the bonuses available to him. It also makes it more difficult for a player with a lesser body of entry-level work (two years instead of three) to hit a home run in the player's second NHL contract, much more likely to have to take a lower-value bridge deal than a long-term, big dollar pact.”
Between 2010 and 2014, there were 21 players that played beyond the nine-game mark in their draft year. Most played a full season.
10 to 39 Games (3)
40 to 59 Games (5)
More than 60 Games (13)
Along with Tkachuk, here is a list of 21 players that are under 20 years old this year:
Lawson Crouse – Despite his size, he has not done a lot yet. After nine games, he will likely be sent down for more playing time.
Dylan Strome – The staff say that they pleased with his progress so far. Likely to be sent down because the Coyotes do not have to prove anything this year, but could be one of those few that gets to stick around for more than the nine games but play in select situations.
Jakob Chychrun – Likely to play more than 40 games but, as Campbell points out, if his play slides at any point in time the Coyotes will not waste any time to demote him.
Brandon Carlo – They need an injection of youth in their defensive core. Likely to stay all season.
Sebastian Aho – Five points in seven games, he is staying with the club.
Zach Werenski – Six points in seven games, also going to be staying in the NHL.
Jesse Puljujarvi – Another case where spot duty might continue after nine games. However, if they want to ensure they develop him for the future he will likely be sent down well before the 40-game mark. There is no need to rush him.
Denis Malgin – When Nick Bjugstad is ready to return, Malgin will be returned.
Joel Eriksson Ek – Five points in four games. Going to be staying.
Mikhail Sergachev – As mentioned, will see limited action and will return to Windsor, but after a stint of more than nine games.
Pavel Zacha – Being given time on the first line. Will play a lot more than 10 games with the club.
Matthew Barzal – Only two games to show his wares and in one of them he got two bad penalties. Will be sent back to junior to start playing.
Anthony Beauvillier – Like the other guys that have points, he will stick around. Five points in seven games.
Thomas Chabot – One game so far. Will be send down soon enough for his own sake.
Travis Konecny – Philadelphia is not even entertaining the idea of not having him in the lineup.
Ivan Provorov – Ditto.
Mitch Marner – Going to be developed in the NHL.
Auston Matthews – Was there ever any question that he would not be playing in the NHL?
Kyle Connor – There might be times where he will view a game from the press box, but he will remain with the Jets this year.
Patrik Laine – A point a game, six of them goals, will have him stay with the big club.
Which returns us to Matthew Tkachuk – A strong candidate to stay all season. At a minimum play 39 games.
The fuss about The Plan for Tkachuk, whether it is in pencil or concrete, is a misdirection.
Management will not promise him anything, but they look willing to develop him with the main club. As long as he does not start to get cocky, thinking things will be handed to him because of his lineage he will be a Flame.
It makes me think of an old Paul Simon song.
The problem is all inside your heads, believe you me
The answer is easy if you view it logically
I hope I’ve helped you figure out who will be set free
There must be thirty-nine ways to keep a rookie
Give Strome a bit of time to roam
It might take a while for Kyle
Barzal’s penalties were fatal
Eriksson Ek will have a nice trek
Laugh with glee if you have Konecny
Slow like a snail for Mikhail
Go with the flow with Aho
Allow some time for Tkachuk to cook
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