When the ECHL’s daily transactions today listed Orlando Solar Bears goaltender Garret Sparks as being recalled by the Calgary Flames, it left many puzzled. After some digging, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman was among those to clarify that Sparks has signed a PTO with the Flames and will join the team for training camp.
Sparks, 27, spent this past season with the Vegas Golden Knights and even made an appearance with the team. However, he otherwise spent the entire season in the AHL and had fewer starts and lesser numbers than starter Oscar Dansk. A former Toronto Maple Leafs prospect and occasional backup, Sparks actually has nearly 40 NHL games on his resume as well as very strong career AHL numbers. Yet, in recent years he has failed to capitalize on his NHL chances and has outgrown the prospect label, leaving few options for the unrestricted free agent this off-season. Sparks signed with Orlando earlier this month without any better opportunities at the time.
Sparks now has a second chance to get back into the NHL this season as he is set to attend camp with Calgary. The Flames are set in the NHL with big free agent addition Jacob Markstrom and incumbent David Rittich, but Sparks could still be of value in some other roles. Sparks is likely to compete with fellow veteran Louis Domingue to get the nod as the team’s taxi squad goalie this season. The new roster fixture allows a select group of players to travel and practice with the NHL roster without counting toward roster limits and with salary being treated as if they were in the minors. However, these players – and especially the No. 3 goalie – may not see much game action this season, so the slot is better used on a veteran than a prospect in need of appearances like Artyom Zagidulin or Tyler Parsons. Even if the Flames opt to go with Domingue for the taxi squad, they may still want to sign Sparks as a second AHL goalie. It is still unclear if Zagidulin will be recalled from his loan to the KHL to play in the AHL this year, but if not there will be a hole alongside Parsons for the Stockton Heat.