The genius that was the Matt Bartkowski signing should not be understated. By now, the extension for the purpose of Expansion Draft exposure has become commonplace, but what GM Brad Treliving and the Calgary Flames did was unique. They went outside the organization to sign a player to a multi-year deal who fulfilled the criteria of having played in 40 games this season or 70 games over the past two years. Except Bartkowski hadn’t played a single NHL game this season; he had been on a minor league contract with the AHL’s Providence Bruins. What that means is Bartkowski had to have played in over 70 games last season alone, and indeed he had skated in 80 games with the Vancouver Canucks in 2015-16. In fact, Bartkowksi was the only defenseman on the planet who played in over 70 games last season yet was not signed to an NHL contract this season. Therein lies the genius that was the unassuming signing of Bartkowski. The Flames picked up the only player on the market who could automatically fill their need for an exposure-eligible defenseman.
With a reportedly quiet trade market this season, there are bound to be teams facing expansion protection problems after the March 1st Trade Deadline comes and goes, whether it’s on the blue line or up front. Will someone follow in Treliving’s footsteps and scoop up a player who played in 70 or so games last season but remains unsigned as of now? The short answer is probably not.
Looking at the short list of players who meet the games played criteria, it very well could be that Bartkowski stands alone as an unsigned player looking to continue playing hockey, even if that means signing a two-year, two-way contract and likely logging major AHL minutes. Especially on defense, a team like the Carolina Hurricanes is likely out of luck if they want to replicate the Bartkowksi maneuver. The only unsigned player who qualifies for exposure is Matt Carle, who played in 64 games with the Tampa Bay Lightning last year and six earlier this year with the Nashville Predators. However, Carle announced his retirement in November when he cleared waivers and was likely going to be moved to the AHL. Carle seems content with collecting buyout checks from the Lightning and almost certainly would have no interest is returning to hockey with a two-year, two-way deal. There are really no other defensemen that even have a reasonable chance of meeting the 40/70 criteria. Bartkowski was essentially it.