Fourteen games into the season, the Calgary Flames have made Mark Jankowski a healthy scratch three times, including the last two games in a row. Already linked to a squashed trade over the summer, Jankowski’s spot in the organization was tenuous entering 2019 camp. Due to uninspiring performance his situation hasn’t improved since September and, with the team in need of cap space, the likelihood of a trade seems higher now than it ever has.
This article is not an attack on Jankowski at all. Instead, it’s just an honest assessment of where Calgary sits. With the team currently exploring Elias Lindholm at centre, Jankowski has been bumped to number five on the depth chart, at least for now. With the Flames in a tight cap situation, a fifth centre at $1.675 million isn’t ideal.
What we’ve seen
We’ve seen good and bad in Jankowski’s two-plus NHL seasons, and it’s important to look at both. Jankowski was decently productive as a rookie and a sophomore, albeit a little older than many other first and second year players. Jankowski posted 17 goals as a rookie and followed up with 14 last season. Those are respectable totals despite a lack of production to start this season.
Jankowski has also developed into an effective penalty killer and averaged almost two minutes (1:57) of shorthanded time per game last year; only Elias Lindholm (2:18) averaged more amongst forwards. On top of that, Jankowski became the first Flames player since Theoren Fleury (1995-96) to score five shorthanded goals in a season, and only the fourth player in franchise history period.
At five-on-five, though, Jankowski has struggled to make a consistent impact over the last two seasons. Despite being used in a sheltered role, Jankowski has spent more time defending than on the attack, which doesn’t move the needle much.
In both his first two NHL seasons, Jankowski was one of Calgary’s three worst forwards by shot rate (CF%), which, considering his role, isn’t going to impress. Jankowski has been deployed mainly against other third and fourth lines without a heavy defensive workload. In theory, you’re hoping for players in that role to do more imposing than the opposite.
Things have actually been solid for Jankowski this year, although the sample size is small. He leads the team in possession early on (56.9%) and has done so with an offensive zone start ratio hovering around 42%. Unfortunately, Jankowski has nothing to show for it; he’s yet to record a point this season, which is why he’s been odd man out in Calgary’s most recent games.
Making a trade
We all know the Flames almost, reportedly, traded Jankowski to Toronto over the summer in a deal eventually nixed by Nazem Kadri. As such, we can surmise Jankowski isn’t untouchable. In saying that, it’s not like Jankowski has been so bad that Calgary is in a rush to get rid of him at any cost; by no means is that the case. Realistically, though, the Flames need to be pragmatic with where where Jankowski fits.
The main benefit of a Jankowski trade would be cap space, which is a valuable commodity for half the league right now. Assuming a deal involving Jankowski wouldn’t bring salary back the other way, Calgary would have the opportunity to open up an additional $1.675 million. Once Austin Czarnik comes off LTIR, the Flames could start accruing daily space calculated on a larger number, which could prove important closer to the deadline.
On the flip side, Calgary would have to accept an underwhelming return on a trade. I’m not suggesting the Flames should give Jankowski away, but to expect a first or second round pick back just isn’t realistic. For me, though, the cap space opened up is more valuable than what would be coming back from another team.
There’s also the risk of Jankowski flourishing elsewhere and turning into “one who got away”, which is a risk with most trades. The Flames can’t worry about that, though; they have to evaluate what Jankowski is now and what he’s likely to become with them. Sean Monahan, Mikael Backlund, and maybe now Lindholm, are all ahead of Jankowski long term and nothing I’ve seen suggests that’s going to change in the future.
Keeping Jankowski in the fold
I see two scenarios where keeping Jankowski in the organization makes sense in the big picture. If Lindholm stays at centre going forward, which is anyone’s guess, Jankowski would have to convince Calgary he’s a viable option as a winger. To this point, the Flames haven’t shown much of an appetite to give that a try, though, so I question how realistic an option it really is.
A more reasonable outcome would see the team revert to having Lindholm on the right side with Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau. In that case, the number four centre slot is wide open again. Of course, Jankowski would have to prove he’s the best fit in that spot; he was healthy scratched earlier this year prior to Lindholm’s move to the middle.
I am not suggesting Calgary needs to “get rid” of Jankowski, because I don’t believe that’s the case. He has organizational competition (Alan Quine, Dillon Dube) behind him, but Jankowski is still an NHL player. His problem is the Flames are desperately trying to figure out what their best forward look is, and the one they’re experimenting with right now doesn’t seem to include him.
Calgary is in a tough spot. They desperately need cap space and don’t have a lot of realistic options to move to help facilitate that. Not everyone agrees, but for me, the writing is on the wall with Jankowski. I think he projects as a serviceable number three or four centre, which isn’t what teams build around. If he’s not replaceable, at the very least I see Jankowski as expendable.
That’s why I think a trade is the best bet for all parties involved. It would open up cap space for the Flames and give Jankowski a fresh start elsewhere. And, of course, this entire conversation probably gets shelved temporarily if the team sustains an injury down the middle in the near future.