Sunday, September 27, 2015

Calgary Flames Cut 15 on Sunday, Leaving Two Finalists for this Year's Josh Jooris Award

The Flames announced a raft of cuts on Sunday afternoon. A dozen players including Oliver Kylington, Morgan Klimchuk and Emile Poirier were assigned to Stockton (AHL), two more -- Derek Grant and Turner Elson -- were placed on waivers in order to be assigned to Stockton, and impressive defenceman Rasmus Andersson was returned to Barrie (OHL).

That leaves 32 players in camp (18 forwards, 11 defencemen, 3 goalies) but more importantly, we're down to two finalists for the 2015 Josh Jooris Award.
  • RW Garnet Hathaway
  • D Brett Kulak

I may be making this award up but I still have some specific criteria that players must meet:
  1. Be in their second pro season.
  2. Are coming from well off the radar. 
  3. Keep hanging around and hanging around in camp as others are shuttled to the minors.

About Hathaway

Fresh out of Brown University, Garnet Hathaway attended Flames training camp for the first time last year but it came with a catch. The rugged 6-foot-2, 210 pound right-winger was only on an AHL deal so he had zero chance of making the NHL team. What he did, however, was make an impression on the NHL team.

His September showcase carried right into his first pro season when he had 36 points (19 goals, 17 assists) and became a real favourite of the Adirondack coaching staff. Testament to the old 'Always earned, never given', he was able to turn that impressive body of work from September through April into an entry-level NHL contract that he signed this spring.

This summer, I sat down with Hathaway, 23, and captured his unique story. For more on the hard-working native of Kennebunkport, Maine, I encourage you to read that feature here.

About Kulak

Brett Kulak's first pro season was supposed to go differently. Oh, it started off fine being assigned to Adirondack as expected for the WHL grad but then the 6-foot-2, 190 pound defencemen suffered the indignity of being dispatched to Colorado of the ECHL.

He was down there for 39 games before he earned his way back to the AHL.

"It opened my eyes a little bit. They told me I have to work harder and I was really upset with myself," Kulak said. "For the first week, I was down there, I was bummed out but then I just changed my mindset and started working and just tried to get better every day."

I had a good chat with Kulak in Penticton about his turbulent 2014-15 season. You can find that post here.

Breaking Down the Final 32

With three preseason games to go -- Tuesday vs Colorado, Thursday at Winnipeg and Saturday vs. Winnipeg -- we're entering the final auditions. While three-quarters of the team will be working on chemistry with the linemates and D partners they'll be opening the season with, the other quarter will be going flat-out in a desperate final push to try to make the hockey club.

Here is quick breakdown of the players remaining along with some subjectivity from me in terms of who are locks and who remain on the bubble:

Forward (18)

Locks (12)
  • C Mikael Backlund
  • C Sam Bennett
  • LW Brandon Bollig
  • RW Josh Jooris
  • LW Lance Bouma
  • LW/RW Micheal Ferland
  • LW/RW Michael Frolik
  • LW Johnny Gaudreau
  • RW Jiri Hudler
  • RW David Jones
  • C Sean Monahan
  • C Matt Stajan

Bubble (6 for 2 jobs)
  • LW Paul Byron
  • LW Joe Colborne
  • C Markus Granlund
  • RW Garnet Hathaway
  • C/RW Drew Shore
  • LW Mason Raymond

Handicapping the Battle
  1. Colborne
  2. Byron
  3. Raymond
  4. Granlund
  5. Shore
  6. Hathaway

I wrote about the battle at forward in depth right here on Saturday so if you haven't yet, that's the place to start as I won't repeat everything I covered yesterday. In that piece, I identified who I thought would make it, who would get waived, etc. I even take an early stab at the opening night line combinations.

However, I am making two minor tweaks today. I'm removing two from the bubble and making them locks.

First, I'm promoting Josh Jooris to a sure thing. They gave him an NHL number (16) in the summer and he's come out in the preseason and has not taken it for granted and has looked very strong while also scoring a pair of nice goals. Last night's 3-on-3 OT winner was a beauty.

Secondly, I'm also promoting Brandon Bollig. I know it looks suspiciously like I did this simply because he recorded his first two-goal game in over seven years (since March 2008 when he played for Lincoln in the USHL). Not true. More so, it was this quote from coach Bob Hartley when speaking to reporters after last night's game that confirmed what I was thinking all along anyway that like it or not fans, Bollig's job is safe. "I can tell you that Bolls' role will not change, but I think his responsibilities will increase," said Hartley.

As for the rest, I think Joe Colborne is nearly a lock and we know how much Bob loves Paul Byron so it's hard to see him not making it either. I'm really struggling to see how Mason Raymond makes this team. I put him next in line but I'm not so sure that is even the case. Again, for further dialogue on the forward race, see yesterday's story.

As for Hathaway, he's definitely the underdog in this group but when you make it to the final 10 days of camp, you always have a chance.

Defence (11)

Locks (5)
  • Deryk Engelland
  • Mark Giordano
  • Dougie Hamilton
  • Kris Russell
  • Dennis Wideman

IR (2)
  • TJ Brodie
  • Ladislav Smid

Bubble (4 for 2 jobs)
  • Brett Kulak
  • Jakub Nakladal
  • Ryan Wilson
  • Tyler Wotherspoon

Handicapping the Battle
  1. Wilson
  2. Nakladal
  3. Kulak
  4. Wotherspoon

Kulak has impressed with his skating, puck movement, assertiveness and decision-making right from day one of the rookie tournament in Penticton. He is right there battling with Jakub Nakladal for that final opening night roster spot.

If Nakladal isn't able to shed his no-contact jersey soon after leaving Thursday's game with an upper body injury, Kulak may even climb ahead of him. What works against Kulak is I think Ryan Wilson is the leader in the running for the No. 6 job on the blue-line and the Flames will not want a young guy like Kulak, 21, sitting in the press box as the extra.

So unless Nakladal goes on the IR, I think the veteran Czech would have the edge on getting that No. 7 job. While starting Nakladal in the minors to get him more accustomed to the small NHL rink would have been fine if the team had that luxury, the Brodie injury changed that.

Wilson isn't the most fleet of foot but he's steady and poised, the decision-makers will love his physicality and at 28, there's some potential upside there.

Tyler Wotherspoon has been pretty good too but I think Kulak has been a bit better. That said, it's close and these next three games could change things. I wouldn't rule out Wotherspoon leapfrogging Kulak if he shows better this final week.

Goaltender (3)

Locks (1)
  • Joni Ortio

Bubble (2 for 1 job)
  • Jonas Hiller
  • Karri Ramo

Handicapping the Battle
  1. Ramo
  2. Hiller

While he reportedly struggled with his rebound control early Thursday in his 35-save shutout of the Avalanche, the bottom line is Joni Ortio has played four-and-a-half periods and has only been beaten once and that was a perfectly executed 2-on-1 in which he had no chance on. He's stopped 47 of 48 shots for a .979 save percentage.

Goalies often pass through waivers because of their contracts -- their salary and/or term scares teams away. Ortio is making just a sliver above the NHL minimum this year at $600,000. With just one year left on his deal, that's a contract any team could absorb easily as a no risk/high reward waiver claim.

While I'm not saying he will be the No. 1 nor am I declaring he's a lock to be here beyond this season, no way can I imagine a scenario unfolding in the next week in which Calgary cuts Ortio and risks losing the 24-year-old for nothing. So for me, the guy that goes comes down to either Jonas Hiller or Karri Ramo.

After the off-season additions the team has made, can Hartley go to the players and tell them he's going back to the guy he pulled in the most important game of the season last year -- game six against Vancouver, who he then kept on the bench for round two?  It's hard to see that happening. Combine that with rumblings that Hiller has already been shopped around by Treliving and the fact he is also nearly five years older than Ramo and you sure get the sense that the Finn is the favourite to tandem with the other Finn, unless things really go sideways for Ramo in his final start.

Final Thought

In another similarity to Jooris, there is a very good chance that neither Hathaway or Kulak will make the team for opening night when Calgary hosts Vancouver on October 7. However, they might well have positioned themselves in a spot to be one of the first call-ups. You'll recall Jooris only spent about a week in the AHL last year before he got called up for good.

So, we may have to wait and see who gets the tap on the shoulder first and when they arrive in Calgary, we'll have an impromptu ceremony to hand over the pretend 2015 Josh Jooris Award -- and all of you guys are invited.

By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Go there and do so now. It's just another way to be alerted to new Calgary Flames articles that I've written.


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