Saturday, 4 August 2012

Why Toil In Abbotsford?

After having a fairly successful run in the AHL, you'd expect teams to promote their good, young players in an effort to make the franchise stronger as a whole. After all, the next great player may simply be down on the farm, honing his skills while awaiting his big chance to shine. Yesterday, Abbotsford Flame Clay Wilson decided to do something another Flames defenceman has done, and he skipped out of Abbotsford to head to Donetsk, Ukraine for more money, more ice-time, and a shot at honing his skills against somewhat better talent. With nine defencemen on one-way contracts in Calgary, Wilson wouldn't be called upon this season unless something drastic happened, so he'll follow in Mark Giordano's path in making himself better in the KHL.

Wilson signed a two-year deal last year, but his remaining year was terminated by the Flames, making him a free agent to sign with Donbass Donestsk.

"In accordance with NHL rules and regulations the Calgary Flames have terminated the contract of Clay Wilson," said Calgary Flames GM Jay Feaster. "He is no longer on our reserve list. We wish Clay and his family well as he pursues his career."

Wilson had a fantastic season with Abbotsford last year. In 66 games, the blueliner put up 16 goals and 27 assists to finish third in team scoring - 25 points clear of the next best Abbotsford defenceman! Unfortunately, he's only played 36 NHL games between his time in Columbus, Atlanta, and Calgary, so you had to know something had to give. Next season, he'll suit up for the new Ukraine entry in the KHL, Donbass Donestsk.

It appears he'll be given some major minutes in Donestsk as well. Jaroslav Obsut and Karel Pilar are the most recognizable names on the Donbass roster, but the team will have a solid core in goaltender Erik Ersberg, winger Lukas Kaspar, winger Evgenii Dadonov, and captain and centerman Sergei Varlamov. These players will certainly help fill the net for Donbass, but getting a puck-moving defenceman like Wilson will certainly help the transition game and the special teams.

Wilson consistently produced at the AHL level, amassing 60, 48, and 43 points in the last three seasons split between Rochester and Abbotsford. He made his third AHL All-Star Team last season, so it appeared the blueliner wanted more in asking the Flames to terminate his deal. The KHL is generally viewed as being a level of hockey between the NHL and the AHL, so if Wilson can produce in the KHL, he may be ready for an NHL job. While the Abbotsford Flames will certainly miss his production, the Calgary Flames may be better in the future for letting him skip across to the Ukraine if Wilson decides to return to Calgary.

Of course, when the KHL is offering contracts in the range of a million bucks tax-free for mid-level talent, the one-way deal that Wilson had for $525,000 probably made it easier to leave.

If anything, all he has to do is look at Mark Giordano's path. Giordano was used in much the same way as Wilson was this season before he walked away from the Flames and their AHL affiliate, the Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights, to play one year with Moscow Dynamo. When he returned to Calgary one year later, he was a much more complete player instead of a one-dimensional offensive defenceman. Since his return, he has been a mainstay on the Calgary blueline, and one of the Flames' best players.

While some critics have said that players jumping over to the KHL are killing their own careers, a few have found their careers revitalized by getting something they weren't receiving in North America: major minutes at the top level of hockey.

Sometimes, all one needs is an opportunity.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

1 comment:

TedNes said...

I applaud players moving outshide the NHL/AHL domain to perhaps have a real career, or a chance to better themselves at a high level of play. Former Blues and Blue Jackets goalie Curtis Sanford has signed with Lokomotiv in the KHL for the same reason---more playing time, and a sharper re-focus on his career. In speaking with his father, he hopes to have "the experience of a lifetime" for the next couple seasons, and perhaps return a better goalie with still enough time to crack an NHL lineup as a starter.