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.

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Saturday, September 26, 2015

From Shades of Grey to Black and White: Calgary's Forward Picture Coming into Focus

As I wrote right here in my game story for The Canadian Press on Friday night, the big impact Micheal Ferland had in Calgary's 4-1 win over Vancouver is something we've seen before from the Flames rugged winger.

However, my gut says we may have also witnessed something else of significance last night at the Scotiabank Saddledome.

Going back to the second period specifically, I would not be surprised if the top two lines as deployed by coach Bob Hartley over that 20 minutes isn't the same top six and in the same configuration that we see when Calgary opens the season against the Canucks on Wednesday, October 7.

Now Hartley is still very much in experimental mode. Through the first four preseason games, he's been methodically changing his forward line combinations and defence pairings every period, seeing what works and seeing what doesn't.

To refresh your memory, what worked in the middle period Friday night were these two trios:

Johnny Gaudreau - Sean Monahan - Micheal Ferland
Michael Frolik - Sam Bennett - Jiri Hudler

When Hartley made it known in early September that he planned to use Sam Bennett at centre, it created a top-six opening at winger. From what we've seen to this point, I'd suggest Ferland has put himself into the lead of all the candidates for that job.

There's certainly no denying that Hartley loves the kid.

"He is a force out there," Hartley said after Friday's game. "This kid is so strong and such a great skater and what we're missing with Ferly is he has unbelievable hockey sense. His reads are great, his hands are great. This kid can make plays."

Brings Useful Muscle to the Top Six

While enormously gifted, there is no physical side whatsoever to last year's No. 1 trio of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Jiri Hudler. Monahan has the size to have that element in his game but we've yet to see a hint of a mean streak from him. The only 'fight' we saw out of those three last season was over the Lady Byng Trophy with the three racking up 14, 12 and 14 penalty minutes respectively.

While you can't argue their effectiveness, you'd expect the rest of the league to start defending them with a little more ferocity this season. More whacks on the wrists with sticks, more cross-checks, a variety of nastiness intended to intimidate and get them off their game.

At 6-foot-1 and a thick 210 pounds, Ferland inserted on right-wing for Hudler would be a nice influx of muscle beside the team's two prized kids and would help serve as a deterrent. The attractive part is Ferland's also got the skill to play with those two. His set-up to Monahan on that two-on-one to spree him for the Flames third goal was first-rate.

Remember this isn't the first time this camp we've seen these three together either. They were together last weekend during their two scrimmages also. You started to see the chemistry then and it's already growing.

New Line but Similar Role for Hudler

While moving Hudler off the top line might look like a demotion, that's not necessarily so. Slotting the veteran alongside Bennett and with his fellow countryman Michael Frolik on the opposite wing, that line would have the potential to be a very effective unit.

Hartley has raved about Frolik's versatility and ability to play in different roles and take on different responsibilities. This could be an ideal fit for the newcomer, who has looked very good in his first two games. Sound defensively, the 27-year-old's presence makes this a line that can be trusted at both ends of the ice.

Meanwhile, Frolik would still have plenty of opportunity to leverage the skill we've seen from him in his first two games in which he's picked up two goals, earned a penalty shot, and also chipped in an assist. Last night's goal was a thing of beauty as the Czech neatly kicked the puck up from his skate to his stick and fired it past Jacob Markstrom in the same motion.

Hudler was lauded last year for the valuable mentor-like role he played for Gaudreau and Monahan and he'd get that same opportunity once again with Bennett, who just turned 19.

Meanwhile, we know Hudler is a UFA at year's end and if his contract demands end up too rich for the Flames and he departs and signs elsewhere, at least he's bought enough time for the organization that with a second season in the AHL, maybe Emile Poirier is ready to slide into a top six spot if such a vacancy arises.

Fret Not Backlund Supporters

While media and fans love to number a team's lines and rank them from one to four in order of hierarchy, the truth is that Flames GM Brad Treliving doesn't see it that way. Treliving has spoken in the past about how he envisions Calgary's forward configuration not as a top six and bottom six but more so as a top nine complemented by a functional fourth line.

Sometimes the depth on a team up front doesn't cater to this but Calgary is certainly moving in the direction where there is credence to dividing the forwards in this fashion and separating out a clear top nine.

In this instance, rounding out your top three lines as I see it would be this trio:

Lance Bouma - Mikael Backlund - David Jones

Saddled with additional defensive responsibilities from the other two lines, that doesn't automatically mean they will get less minutes. On some nights against certain opponents, this could be the team's No. 1 line if you insist on putting them in an order.

We're all familiar with how far Backlund's game has developed the last couple years. He has become a very good two-way player. Bouma and Jones are two power forwards that can be tenacious with a heavy forecheck, are solid in their own end, but can also contribute offensively.

Making Sense of the Fourth Line

If I'm on the right track with what the team is thinking in regards to the top nine, this brings some clarity to what we're looking at with the remaining forwards and the much-discussed logjam that we've been dissecting all summer and into training camp.

Now it's simple. There is veteran Matt Stajan locked into centre on the fourth line and the Flames are looking for four others to surround him. Two will open the season as his wingers and the other two will make the season-opening roster but will observe the game from the press box.

As we reach the halfway point in training camp, here are the four that I suggest make it:

  • Josh Jooris - Scored a great goal Thursday in Denver. They love his speed. He does a lot of things well including killing penalties. Has the flexibility to be deployed in different roles when injuries arise. After a breakthrough season last year, his trajectory is pointing up as we don't know yet what his ceiling is. Also, the team doesn't switch him to jersey No. 16 in the summer if he wasn't a big part of their plans.
  • Joe Colborne - A first round draft pick, he continues to add muscle to his big frame that should make him even more effective when it comes to controlling the puck. A great playmaker, who has gotten better each year, he has the size to be an effective fourth line player even if he doesn't have an ornery side to go with it. A good guy to have around as he can elevate to a top nine role if needed.
  • Paul Byron - The NHL game is about speed and Byron packs plenty of that. Able to play multiple positions, he is an ideal depth player to have on the roster. He can be used to kill penalties, his blinding speed makes him a nice ace up the sleeve for Hartley come 3-on-3 overtime. This is no longer an era of fourth line thugs. Byron, an advanced stats darling, can give you an effective 10-12 minutes.
  • Brandon Bollig - He's one of the favorite targets of disdain for fans but the team loves his presence in the dressing room, he's worn an 'A' at times in the preseason to give you a hint of what Hartley thinks of him. Plus, he is someone who plays his best against big physical teams like the LA Kings with his effectiveness growing significantly in meaningful games like the playoffs. Considering Calgary plans to get back to the post-season, they'll want his presence around.

What are the names we're missing?

I'll save you doing the math. Here are the three that at this point, I don't envision opening the season with the team unless there are injuries up front.
  • Mason Raymond - Ferland's emergence is bad news for Raymond. If the Flames construct their top nine as I've suggested, that reduces Raymond's role to fourth liner and that isn't a great fit for him. The physicality, ability to kill penalties, be heavy on the fore-check, the elements the club wants to see from its fourth line isn't Raymond's forte. He's more built to be on a scoring line and I don't see an opening. You wonder about Raymond's relationship with Hartley too, which last year appeared strained. Doubtful you can trade him at his price tag, it would not surprise me if he is placed on waivers, goes unclaimed and ends up in Stockton.
  • Drew Shore - Had a tremendous night at the face-off dot Friday night going 9-1 but there isn't an opening at centre and I don't think he beats out any of the four players above. Perhaps Treliving is able to trade him for a fifth or sixth round pick. If not, expect him to be assigned to Stockton where he may or may not get claimed when he travels through waivers. My gut says he would make it through, especially at this time of year when all teams have their own Drew Shore's. However, even if he is claimed, Derek Grant has had a nice camp and would give Calgary that similarly aged experienced call-up option that can play centre or wing.
  • Markus Granlund - It's a different situation for Granlund, 22, who is someone I still envision having a successful NHL career. He's a smart player defensively and has some nice offensive tools too. It's his contract situation that could cost him this October as the team likely leverages their ability to demote him to the minors without exposing him to waivers. However, I fully expect Granlund to be the first guy called up when injuries set in. 

How the Goalie Conundrum Impacts This

The caveat to everything I've mentioned above is these decisions are all based on the so-called 'conventional' 23-man roster construction of two goalies, seven defencemen and 14 forwards.

The operative words there are "two goalies". As you know, there are currently three.

Ideally, Calgary will find a taker for one of their two veteran goalies prior to the start of the season but if not, they will face a decision. Do they open the season with all three or do they assign either Jonas Hiller or Karri Ramo to the minors?

I am highly skeptical the Flames would risk exposing Joni Ortio on waivers. His play so far this preseason along with his tiny $600,000 NHL salary would make him very attractive. On the other hand, at the exorbitant price tag for Hiller or Ramo, it's doubtful either of them would be claimed on waivers if the club chooses to go down that path. While I still believe Hiller is the guy that ultimately will go, even if it was Ramo and if a team did claim him off waivers, it's no big deal as Calgary was prepared to lose him last summer without compensation anyway when he became a UFA.

If Calgary instead opts to open the season with all three goalies on the roster, that means an additional forward from that list of four (Jooris, Colborne, Byron, Bollig) will need to be either traded or placed on waivers. 

However, I'm doubtful they open with three as other than managing egos, it doesn't make sense. Given there is no real risk to putting Hiller or Ramo on waivers and with the healthy situation of Jon Gillies uncertain at the moment and he is supposed to be Stockton's starter, assigning one of the veterans to the AHL seems like the logical way for this to unfold.

Meanwhile, Treliving would still patiently wait for the goaltender marketplace to switch from excess supply to excess demand and when that eventually happens, even if the team has to retain some salary, you'd expect they'll be able to move one of them.

Final Thought

There are still just under two weeks to go before the Flames open the season and plenty of opportunity for different players to raise or lower their stock. Heck, maybe Hartley decides one more year at left-wing is the right thing to do with Bennett and that changes everything.

But for now, from what I've seen and heard, this is how I see things unfolding when I look into my crystal ball and it's as formidable of a top nine that we've seen in Calgary in a long time. That's something Flames fans should be very excited about. Hang in there folks, just 11 more sleeps.

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Thursday, September 24, 2015

Eight From 80 Feet: Eight Random Thoughts After One Week of Training Camp

One week into main training camp and two weeks away from the season opener, here are eight thoughts on the latest goings-on with the Calgary Flames.

1. Rare Injury for Brodie

Calgary received some bad news Wednesday learning that key defenceman TJ Brodie would be sidelined week-to-week with a broken bone in his right hand, which for a left-shooter is the top hand on his stick. Leaving him in a brace, Brodie broke the fifth metacarpal, which is the bone attached to his right pinkie finger.

GM Brad Treliving said the recovery time should be between three and six weeks and if that turns out to be the case, expect him to miss as few as three regular season games or as many as 13.

While opening the season without him is disappointing for the team, it could have been worse. A six-week injury after the season is underway could cost a player as many as 20 games.

While Brodie told reporters on Wednesday he had never broken a bone before, it's not his first significant injury in his NHL career. The first was a concussion suffered in March 2012, which cost him the final 14 games of his rookie season.

He's been very durable since, missing only one game in each of the last three seasons with two of those for non-injury reasons. He was a healthy scratch in the opening game of the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. Last year, he was 'rested' in game No. 82 although later it was revealed he was playing through a sprained ankle the final month of the season.

2. Blue-Line Hiring Spree

With Ladislav Smid (surgery on a herniated disc in his neck) also expected to open the season on injured reserve, what Brodie's injury has done is not only doubled the quantity of jobs available on the blue-line but it has also changed the quality of jobs available.

When you're looking for a seventh defencemen behind six established players, young prospects generally aren't in that conversation. It's a role typically reserved more for an older journeyman-like player, who won't have their development stunted by spending lots of time in the press box.

But the situation has changed now. Now you're looking for a third pairing guy to open the season in the line-up. So while I'd suggest that Ryan Wilson, 28, and Jakub Nakladal, 27, were the leading candidates battling for that No. 7 job, there are a bunch more players that become viable options to consider when you start taking resumes for the No. 6 job.

It may be as simple as both Wilson and Nakladal make it now, but others vying to fill Brodie's spot would include Tyler Wotherspoon and Brett Kulak, both of whom were steady Monday night at the Saddledome. While I'd rank him behind those two, you could include Kenney Morrison in that mix also.

A long-shot yet another candidate given he can play up to nine NHL games without burning the first year of his contract is 18-year-old Rasmus Andersson, who was so impressive in Penticton and apparently looked just fine on Monday night in Edmonton.

3. Goaltender Idol Starts Tonight

Coming up on three games in three nights (at Colorado, vs. Vancouver, at Vancouver) and with three goalies competing to make the hockey team, I would not be surprised to see Jonas Hiller, Karri Ramo and Joni Ortio each get in a full game in this next stretch.

We don't know if this will happen for sure although we do know Ortio will go the distance tonight in Denver. Coach Bob Hartley declared this yesterday.

Each of the three has made one appearance so far with each giving up one goal.
  • Karri Ramo (40 mins), 1.50 GAA, .952 SV% (21 shots)
  • Joni Ortio (30 mins), 2.00 GAA, .923 SV% (13 shots)
  • Jonas Hiller (29 mins), 2.07 GAA, .938 SV% (16 shots)

In terms of the quality of goal surrendered, it wasn't a very good one for Ramo or Hiller. Ortio's came on a perfectly executed two-on-one he had no chance on.

4. CBA Minimum requirements.

If you're Ortio, there are a couple of ways to look at tonight's game against the Avalanche. One is to look at the inexperienced group of defencemen that travelled to Denver and mutter, "WTF?"

The four pairings that made the trip are:

Ryan Wilson - Rasmus Andersson
Brett Kulak - Jakub Nakladal
Patrick Sieloff - Keegan Kanzig
Dustin Stevenson - Kenney Morrison 

Update: Sieloff-Kanzig pairing will not dress.

Combined, those eight players amassed four NHL games last season.

The other is to embrace the challenge before him, realize that he's probably going to be very busy, and just go for it. There certainly should be plenty of opportunity against an Avs line-up with so much talent up front to showcase himself.

In case you're wondering, there are minimum requirements written into the CBA that NHL teams must abide by with their line-ups for preseason games.

While Wilson is the only player that qualifies from that back end, eight of the 12 forwards Calgary brought to Denver count as "veterans" (in red) so the Flames line-up will be compliant, although barely.

Projected forward lines vs. Colorado:

Micheal Ferland - Matt Stajan - David Jones
Mason Raymond - Sam Bennett - Josh Jooris
Turner Elson - Markus Granlund - Derek Grant
Joe Colborne - Drew Shore - Brandon Bollig

Update: Initial reports had Emile Poirier playing right wing with Granlund and Elson but the projected line-up issued Thursday morning by the hockey club lists Grant in that spot

5. Making the Most of his ATO

When I saw the name Nick Schneider on the Flames rookie camp roster, I didn't bat an eye. While you knew Jon Gillies and Mason McDonald were the guys that would play, obviously the team would bring a third goalie as an emergency back-up so being there on an amateur try-out made sense.

When Schneider relieved Gillies and started the third period of the final game against Vancouver, again I wasn't surprised. I saw it as a nice way to thank the kid for helping the team out. However, my eyebrows did shoot up when right away, he acrobatically jabbed out his pad to rob Jared McCann on a two-on-none. His 20 minutes of work caught the eye of coach Ryan Huska and assistant GM Craig Conroy too, who after the game pointed out how well the kid had played.

It seems he wasn't done impressing. Taking on extra work last weekend with Gillies (concussion protocol) and Hiller (flu) out, he was on the ice a lot and sure enough, all that effort paid off as on Wednesday it was announced that the 18-year-old had signed an entry-level contract with the Flames.

The background on Schneider is he was ranked by NHL Central Scouting as the No. 9 goaltender in North America in their final 2015 draft rankings. However, he was not among the 24 goalies that got drafted. Calgary invited him to rookie camp on an ATO along with eight other players. The others have all since been released but Schneider survived and now he's assured himself that he'll be hanging around Flames development and rookie camps for years to come.

Born in Leduc, Schneider has played two seasons in the WHL. He broke in with Regina but was traded midway through 2013-14 to Medicine Hat. Last year with the Tigers, he posted a 15-7-1 record with a 2.82 goals-against average and a .898 save percentage.

You can bet he'll be assigned to Medicine Hat soon and it's quite likely he plays the next two seasons there but clearly management liked what they saw from him the last couple weeks and he becomes a prospect to monitor moving forward. Chalk it up as a nice no-risk pick-up for Treliving in a year Calgary did not expend a draft pick on a goaltender.

6. Back to Barrie

On Tuesday, the Flames assigned 5-foot-10 spark plug Andrew Mangiapane to the Barrie Colts (OHL). Mangiapane more than doubled his point total last year with 104 points (43 goals, 61 assists) in 68 regular season games. He had 51 points (24 goals, 27 assists) the year prior. After a season in which he finished eighth in OHL scoring, it makes you wonder how many points the sixth round pick in June could amass this year. Is over 120 points possible?

It was a good camp for Mangiapane, who looked especially impressive in Penticton. Playing in his fourth game in six nights, I thought he looked tired in the exhibition game against the U of C last Wednesday and while he did well to earn himself an NHL preseason game, he reportedly struggled Monday night in Edmonton.

But he heads back to junior with his head held high as he certainly got himself noticed in his time in Calgary in demonstrating an electric skill set that makes him a real intriguing prospect to keep an eye on moving forward.

Interestingly, his coach in Barrie is Dale Hawerchuk, who was a sub-six-foot forward himself that enjoyed a phenomenal NHL career. Listed at 5-foot-11, Hawerchuk was picked first overall by the Winnipeg Jets in 1981. He went on to score 518 goals and rack up 1,409 points in his 1,188 NHL games. Not a bad guy for Mangiapane to learn from.

7. Thrilling 3-on-3 OT Coming Soon

The NHL team has identified 45 preseason games in which a five minute 3-on-3 overtime period will be held, regardless of the score after regulation. This gives each NHL team three games to get some practice in with the new format (in addition to any other games that end up tied and go to overtime ).

Calgary's three designated games are:
  • Friday, Sept. 25 vs. Vancouver
  • Saturday, Sept. 26 at Vancouver
  • Thursday, Oct. 1 at Winnipeg

I'm fascinated to see how Hartley deploys his trios in the extra period but given his penchant for having forward pairings that stay together, that would set up nicely with a mobile d-man to round out the group of three.

Here are four potential trios we could see come the regular season:

Monahan - Gaudreau - Giordano
Bennett - Hudler - Hamilton
Frolik - Backlund - Brodie
Byron - Jooris - Russell

Other candidates would include Joe Colborne, Mason Raymond, Lance Bouma, Micheal Ferland and Dennis Wideman.

From what we've seen so far, the new format promises to be very exciting and the way Calgary's defencemen are always activating anyway, I'd suggest the new format sets up nicely for the Flames.

8. Game On!

While we know the Flames get going on October 7 when the Canucks come to the Saddledome, the regular season for some prospects begins earlier than that, although that hinges on when they get cut from camp. Here's a rundown of when seasons begin for various teams that Calgary has (or will have) prospects playing for:

  • Providence College (Mark Jankowski, John Gilmour) - Friday, Oct. 9 at Miami (Ohio)
  • Michigan State (Matt DeBlouw) - Friday, Oct. 9 vs. Maine
  • Boston University (Brandon Hickey) - Saturday, Oct. 10 at Union
  • Brown University (Tim Harrison) - Saturday, Oct. 31 vs Holy Cross

  • Lokomotiv, KHL (Rushan Rafikov) - Season underway, is 0-0-0 in 6 gm
  • Djurgardens, SHL (Anders Ollas-Mattsson) - Season underway, hasn't played in a game yet.

Major Junior
  • Barrie, OHL (Andrew Mangiapane, Rasmus Andersson) - Friday, Sept. 25 at Kingston
  • North Bay, OHL (Riley Bruce) - Friday, Sept. 25 vs. Peterborough
  • Charlottetown, QMJHL (Mason McDonald) - Season underway, team is 4-0-0
  • Brandon, WHL (maybe Morgan Klimchuk and/or Oliver Kylington) - Friday, Sept. 25 vs Swift Current
  • Calgary, WHL (Pavel Karnaukhov) - Friday, Sept. 25 at Kootenay
  • Medicine Hat, WHL (Nick Schneider) - Friday, Sept. 25 at Lethbridge

  • Stockton - Calgary's next-in-line prospects get going on Saturday, Oct. 10 vs. Rockford

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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Preseason is Upon Us: Six Observations From the Flames 3-1 loss to Edmonton

There was no band playing. There was no tailgate party either. The density of home jerseys in the 'C of Red' wasn't quite as thick and the Calgary line-up featured more numbers in the 60s and 70s than in single digits. Monday night's trip to the Saddledome bared little resemblance to my last trip in May but that's OK, just being back in the cozy confines of seat 15 in the east press box meant hockey was back and the fun is just getting started.

On this night, the victory would go to the Edmonton Oilers, who got a go-ahead goal from Benoit Pouliot with 2:52 remaining in the third period then added an empty netter for a 3-1 victory.

However, while the Flames insist that whenever they step on the ice, they want to win, with that loss last night at the Dome, just like the 4-2 loss by the in the other split squad up the highway in Edmonton and just like the loss to the Oilers in Penticton two weeks ago, it's ultimately the performance that matters at this time of year and while mistakes were made, the Flames came away from their first of eight preseason tilts relatively pleased.

Here are some of my observations:

1. Czech Out Frolik

You can tell after just a few minutes of watching him play that free agent signing Michael Frolik does a lot of things well. Very strong on his skates, he is noticeable both offensively and defensively and showed that he will be a very valuable member of the Flames hockey team this season.

"Michael is a great two-way player. A very underrated player. We saw speed, we saw hockey sense tonight and he can score goals," said Calgary coach Bob Hartley. "He's going to be a big, big part of this hockey club. He can fill in in so many roles and in so many responsibilities, he's going to give us some nice options."

He showed an ability to finish 6:07 into the second period, scoring the first goal on a slick set-up from Johnny Gaudreau, taking a puck and whipping a shot past Ben Scrivens.

“Johnny made a great pass onto my stick and I just tried to shoot it and it went in. It was a great play by those two guys.”

He demonstrated his speed later in the period when he earned a penalty shot by winning a race for a loose puck and pulling away from an Oilers defender, who resorted to hooking him from behind. Now it was No. 84 Joey Laleggia, who he pulled away from and not No. 77 Paul Coffey, but it was impressive nonetheless impressive. Once he gets going, he's like a bull on his skates.

“Before the game I was excited for sure,” Frolik said. “It was a long summer and I was waiting for this time. It was a good debut and it felt pretty good.”

He failed to score on the penalty shot but it wasn't weight too heavily on the 27-year-old's mind afterwards.

"Scoring two would have been nice, but one is enough. Save it for the season," he said with a smile.

2. Auditions for Kully, Spooner and Naks

While the Flames blue-line boasted the big three of Mark Giordano, TJ Brodie and Dougie Hamilton, it also featured three others in Tyler Wotherspoon, Jakub Nakladal and Brett Kulak, who are in a mix of five or six guys jockeying for position on the depth chart behind Calgary's entrenched top six. It's a battle with an attractive reward lying in wait for the winner -- a spot on Calgary's opening night roster with Ladislav Smid expected to begin the season on the IR.

Asked about the play of the three competing for a spot, Hartley said his staff had the Flames as having given up nine scoring chances, a quantity he seemed relatively pleased with considering Calgary spent 10 minutes of the game shorthanded.

"They played very well. They showed good composure on the blue-line," said Hartley. "They were sharp, they were alert, they moved pucks out of our zone. I thought they had a good game."

All three saw around the same ice time at even-strength as well as short handed. Nakladal also logged nearly four minutes of power play time to bump him over 20 minutes.

Total ice time:
  • Nakladal, 20:52 (3:40 PP, 4:04 PK)
  • Wotherspoon, 17:02 (0:00 PP, 3:12 PK)
  • Kulak, 16:44 (0:00 PP, 3:58)

Nakladal is the most seasoned of the trio. After several seasons playing in his home country of the Czech Republic, the 27-year-old went to the KHL for three seasons before playing last year in Finland. You notice that experience as he looks poised with the puck and doesn't panic.

"Moves the puck well and has a big shot," assessed Giordano, who played with Nakladal in the third period. "He was good. He's in good position a lot. He's easy to play with, easy to read. You can tell he has that experience under his belt."

Nakladal, a sturdy 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, had two shots on goal and could have had more. However, with the puck on his stick a lot on the power play, instead of trying to force shots through and show off his heavy shot, he was quick to dish off the puck instead, which was the smarter play given the shooting lane wasn't open.

Solid Game for All Three

Giordano also had good things to say about the the other two.

"The two young kids both played solid. They didn't make too many mistakes out there. Good decisions with the puck," said the captain. "It was a good showing for all of them."

Hamilton was also complimentary.

"They all played great. I didn't really notice anyone and as a D, when you don't notice them, it's a good thing," said Hamilton. "They all made really good plays and solid plays and played with poise. It shows the depth in the organization."

Hartley was asked specifically about Kulak.

"He's been at our camps, he's been around us. He knows what's expected," he said. "As a young defenceman, sometimes you need time. The maturation process for a defenceman and a goalie can be longer than for a forward because of the nature of the game. You're more exposed. you make a mistake and everything is magnified out there.

"As a forward, you can make a few mistakes, and the d-men and goalies are there to repair it but as a defenceman, you make a mistake, sometimes you're going to give a breakaway or a 2-on-1 and the puck's in your net. I felt that Kullie and Spooner are growing very well."

3. Same Old, Same Old From the Captain 

Seriously, does Giordano have the slightest clue what month it is?

Having not played a regular season game since February, you'd think Hartley would want to wrap up his club's most important player in bubble wrap and preserve him for the regular season. But that's not how No. 5 rolls, nor the coach for that matter, who trotted him out there for nearly nine minutes of ice time in the first period.

"I enjoyed it," said Giordano. "I need to get these games under my belt. Overall, I didn't feel too great with the puck so I'd like to sharpen that up and get that going."

While there may have been some rust around his hands, there's nothing wrong with his heart. In one sequence, Giordano dove to throw his body in the way of one shot, taking it up high. Later that same shift, he launched himself in front of another. He finished the night with a game-high four blocked shots -- this in the first game of the preseason.

"That's why he's our captain. I see him block shots. He took one in the ribs then slid on that same shift. I'd like to tell him not to do it but it's part of our DNA. That's why he's our captain," said Hartley. "He's fully 100 percent, he leads the charge and we know Mark, it's all about the team, it's all about pain and sacrifices and doing what's best for the hockey club."

Even in mid-September.

4. Dougie's Debut

Pulling on a red sweater for the first time, it wasn't a game that will go on Hamilton's career highlight reel but it's easy to see that he's going to be an impact player, who is always involved in the action at both ends of the ice.

In the first period on an early power play, he showcased a heavy wrist shot firing the puck off the mask of Scrivens, which sent his helmet flying.

“It's a fun team to play on, that's the biggest thing," said Hamilton. "A lot of skilled players, guys doing the little things and all that stuff. I'm really looking forward to being a Flame and playing with these guys.”

On a night where D partners changed each period, Hamilton spent the second period with Giordano, although it didn't go as well as hoped.

"We spent a lot in our own end in the second period, so it could have been better,” he said with a smile. “Playing power play and stuff with him was a lot of fun.”

Hamilton recognizes it will take a while to get acclimatized to new teammates and a new system.

"There's a lot of things I already know I can improve on and, I guess, it's good for me to recognize it right away. It's a good first step. A lot of things to do better, but I felt OK and I guess that's a positive.”

There are still over two weeks to go before the season gets going for real, plenty of time to settle into his new surroundings. Hamilton was acquired in the summer in exchange for three draft picks after the 22-year-old played his first three NHL seasons with the Boston Bruins.

“We were chasing the puck a lot. We need to get the puck quicker and move it up quicker and play with the puck instead of chasing it, me included," said Hamilton, who is entering year one of a six-year/$34.5 million deal. "Other than that, it's about building chemistry with guys. You're not really sure what's going to happen, but that'll come.”

5. Lines in a Blender

All that time spent during the day on Monday analyzing the lines and D pairings and boom, just like that, everything changed in the second period. In the third period, Hartley had the blender going once again.

"With the addition of Dougie, with the addition of Micheal Frolik up front, we have some options but at the same time, we have some decisions to make," said Hartley. "The best way to make those decisions and they might change game-to-game is if I can at least get a taste of what certain players can do playing in certain roles with different players, it's going to be a good investment for the regular season."

Hartley said he was pleased with what he saw from his club on Monday, including the intensity displayed.

Here's how the lines shook down for some notable Flames.


Began the night with Sam Bennett and Mason Raymond. In the second, Jiri Hudler replaced Raymond. In the third, Frolik saw time with Sean Monahan and Gaudreau.

He was asked about his two periods playing with Bennett.

"With Benny, he’s a young guy, so I try to talk to him and calm him down and just get him to play his game, " Frolik said. "When you’ve got a couple years in the league, you try to talk to the younger guys, especially when they are on the same line with you. You want to make sure that you’re on the same page."


Defence pairings have been a hot topic so far in camp and it's safe to say nothing was solved on this night. Giordano, for example, went through three partners -- Brodie in the first, Hamilton in the second and Nakladal in the third. Hamilton's period-by-period dance card was Wotherspoon, Giordano then Brodie.

Monahan and Gaudreau

While there wasn't the same dominance, you saw plenty of flashes of what make Monahan and Gaudreau such good linemates. They began the night with Hudler, who was their regular right winger last year. Micheal Ferland got a chance to audition in that spot in the second period and as mentioned, Frolik was in that spot in the third.

"Try some experiments. As you saw, we changed our lines, we changed our D pairings basically every period and that was the plan," said Hartley.

Expect much of the same through the next few games before experiments come to an end and the focus switches to building chemistry.

6. Other Random Observations 

Hunter Smith - He's certainly far from NHL-ready and not sure his skating will ever get there but good on the 6-foot-7 winger for tangling in the second period with Darnell Nurse, who famously laid a beating on Rasmus Andersson in Penticton 10 days ago. It was a good scrap with a lot of heavy punches landed.

Mason Raymond - If he doesn't crack the starting 12 on October 7, he can't complain about a lack of opportunity as he lined up alongside Bennett and Frolik to start the game. Did he leverage that opportunity? He didn't stand out. He later saw time with Matt Stajan and Emile Poirier. He also saw time on the PK although that didn't go so well.

Micheal Ferland - You got what you wanted as he brought intensity and nastiness from the drop of the puck and had a team-high three body checks. Included was a heavy albeit borderline blindside hit on Rob Klinkhammer. Ferland also sent Jordan Eberle flying in another thundering hit. He was also first into the mix to chat with Greg Chase after he drove Poirier into the boards from behind.

Emile Poirier - His best shift came in the second period. First, he drove the net on an odd-man rush and bowled over the goalie in the process. Shortly after that scrum dissipated, he was at the edge of the crease to jab his stick into the goalie's pads, fishing for a puck that wasn't visible. Again, another skirmish ensued. It's that that kind of agitator-like play that Poirier needs to display more.

Sean Monahan - The chemistry with Gaudreau is still there and it may even be better this season. They just seem to know where each other is on the ice at all times. He also went 15-5 at the face-off dot so that's a positive and perhaps is foreshadowing further progression in that area. After winning 45.9% of his face-offs his rookie season, he improved to 49.3% last year.

Joni Ortio - Was very good. Showed off his athleticism in making some sharp saves early when he entered the game for Jonas Hiller midway through the second period. He had no chance on the game-winner, which came on a perfectly executed 2-on-1. Finished with 12 saves.

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Saturday, September 19, 2015

Six Reasons to be Skeptical that Brodie will end up being Paired with Engelland

The anticipation had been building. It had been 131 days to be exact -- and for many, it probably felt more like double that -- since Flames fans last saw their beloved hockey heroes on the ice.

Finally, training camp was here and like an eight-year-old kid waiting for Christmas Day to arrive then bounding down the stairs at 5:15 am on Christmas morning to open up presents, excitement spread across Flames nation as Team McDonald hit the ice at 9 a.m. on Friday morning at WinSport.

In this town, where hockey talk has become a year-round pastime, finally the conversation could shift to something new as fans and media alike turned their focus to deciphering the groupings, the D pairings and line combos and wondering what it all meant. While at this stage in camp, it's like trying to solve the Da Vinci Code, it didn't stop the speculation from swirling around what the Flames line-up might look like when they take to the ice at the Saddledome on October 7 to open the season against Vancouver.

And for a puck-starved audience, hoo-boy did coach Bob Hartley ever give them something to talk about and fret about in the way the defencemen were divided up and then subsequently paired up for the drills and scrimmage.

Mark Giordano - Dougie Hamilton
Kris Russell - Dennis Wideman
TJ Brodie - Deryk Engelland

Pair one? Makes sense.
Pair two? Makes sense.
Pair three? Wait, what? Brodie-Engelland?

Queue the widespread panic.

While some fans were in an uproar -- "They're ruining Brodie", "What are they thinking?", "This is stupid!", there was another segment that swallowed hard, reminded themselves that Bob Hartley just won the Jack Adams, then got busy rationalizing why a TJ Brodie and Deryk Engelland pairing made sense. e.g. Keep your rights on your right and your lefts on your left, put the new guy with your best guy, No. 7 and No. 29 were pretty good together last year, and yada, yada, yada.

However, I'm not buying it. Not for one minute.

Here are six reasons I'd be stunned if Brodie and Engelland, or 'Brogelland', end up being a couple again this year, despite being paired together and being fairly effective for the last couple months of last season.

1. Bob Already Said Don't Do What You Just Did

It's the warning that plays before most movies: "May contain scenes of violence and coarse language. Viewer discretion is advised." Well, two weeks ago, Hartley provided a similar warning about training camp when he essentially said, "Will contain a constantly-changing line-up. Do not resort to violence and coarse language."

In the interview I'm referring to, Hartley was in-studio at Fan960 radio, visiting with morning hosts Dean 'Boomer' Molberg and Ryan Pinder. He was asked about the club's defence pairings.

"I don't think that even as a coaching staff, we know the answer right now because at training camp, it's going to be fun because we're going to experience many combinations," said Hartley.

Then he talked about what he looks to achieve early in camp.

"We already laugh every day because when you look at our roster and you start looking at making teams for the first three days of camp, well obviously we want to split up the veterans in three different teams so whoever is going to be Dougie Hamilton's partner for those three days. In fans and media's mind, here's what they decided," said Hartley.

Well, he's wasn't wrong.

"You're going to see tons of combinations in the preseason games because not only do you want to try (different pairings), you want our d-men to get to know Dougie because you never know, we're always unfortunately an injury away from re-tooling our blue-line," Hartley said.

2. Differences With the Anaheim Model

The argument in favour of the Flames balancing all three of their pairings is it's what the Ducks did last season and they won the Pacific Division. Their model is one in which last season, the gap between the most-used defenceman and the least-used in terms of average time-on-ice was just over five minutes.

However, does that model make sense given the Flames personnel? Based on ice time allocation, the Ducks top three defencemen were Francois Beachemin, Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen. Would you put that trio on the same level as Mark Giordano, TJ Brodie and Dougie Hamilton?  I wouldn't.

I would suggest Anaheim deployed their pairings like they did because that's what made sense given their personnel. The top end isn't as good, the bottom end is better, and the result is a gap that isn't as big as it is with Calgary so an approach of equally dividing up the pie six ways makes sense for them.

There's one other flaw with that model if you're the Flames.

Rolling three pairs and keeping everybody more fresh has advantages if you are approaching this season with the expectation that it will consist of a couple months of post-season also, once the regular season is complete. However, that's a mighty presumptuous outlook if you're Calgary.

An approach that would be more prudent is play your best four defencemen (Giordano, Brodie, Hamilton and either Wideman or Russell) a lot and give yourself the best chance to just to make it back to the playoffs, which is far from a sure thing. The Flames were an exciting team all last year but we're not exactly talking about a dynasty quite yet. Calgary barely squeaked into the post-season.

3. No History of Balancing Ice Time

From everything we've seen and heard from Hartley historically, he is a guy that likes to ride his top horses and ride them hard. That's his top forwards, guys like Sean Monahan, Jiri Hudler. That's his best defencemen also.

Case in point, in late February when Mark Giordano got hurt, here were the average ice times for the two players we're discussing:
  • Brodie - 25:07
  • Engelland - 12:25

Brodie was averaging over twice as much ice time as Engelland and was right behind Giordano (25:10) for the team lead.

"The acquisition of Dougie Hamilton not only makes our team better, it makes our defensive core better because we will be able to distribute the ice time in a better way. Not in a more even way, because this isn't minor hockey, it's about winning games," said Hartley.

I'd interpret distributing the ice time in a better way, not a more even way, and Bob's remark of "this isn't minor hockey" as him saying he doesn't care about equal ice time. His priority is playing guys in the right situations and that's not Engelland up against other team's top lines (see next point).

4. Thwarts Ability to go Best on Best

One of my favourite Engelland moments last season was his epic 3:22 shift in the Flames series-clinching game 6 win against Vancouver. Remember that one? What a sequence. If you don't recall the 'shift from hell' as I described it or even if you do, I captured the moment right here and it's definitely worth re-visiting.

That kind of thing can happen with Engelland. Let's not forget that when he hit the free agent market at age 32 in the summer of 2014, he was coming off a three-year deal that paid him an annual average value of $567,000, which was just slightly above the NHL's minimum salary. He was making that little money while in his 'prime' for a reason.

Engelland is the guy you want to shelter and keep away from opponents top lines while Brodie -- one of the Flames best defenders -- is exactly who you want on the ice against top lines. Well, you can't have it both ways if they're together, so which is it? Either way, increase Engelland's responsibilities or diminish Brodie's, you're hurting the hockey club and that's another reason why Brodie and Engelland as a pairing is counter-productive.

Giordano gets a lot of attention and for good reason, but make no mistake, Brodie is no slouch just along for the ride. As good as Giordano has been for Brodie, I'd argue Brodie has been just as good for Giordano. Brodie got Norris votes last year and I'd expect him to get even more this year.

When all was said and done last playoffs, it was Brodie that led the team in average ice time at 27:07. Even over those first five months when Giordano was playing, Brodie was right behind him in minutes logged per game. Giordano was at 25:10 compared to Brodies 25:07.

5. Brodie Prefers the Right Side

The other thing with the old left-right thing is as simple as it is in theory, Brodie actually prefers the right side, despite being a left shot. The right side is also where Engelland plays.

"In a perfect world, left-right is a great combination but let's remember that there are some defencemen that prefer playing their off-side," said Hartley. "There are lots of lefties that love to play to play the right D and some right D that play the left side."

Brodie is one of those guys and when you have a player the calibre of Brodie, who has a preference, which he's stated in the past, you have to think that carries some influence also.

6. Russell is a Pending UFA

I like Kris Russell a lot, I like how selfless he is on the ice, his leadership qualities off the ice, and feel he plays hockey with a determination and courage that embodies what the Flames are all about.

However, the reality is he's coming off his best NHL season and his value will may never be higher. Given the over $17 million the team already has committed to Brodie, Giordano and Hamilton for the next several seasons, and with the young forwards that are coming up on needing huge raises, you have to wonder if the team has enough cap space to afford to pay Russell the $4 million or thereabouts he's probably seeking right now in an extension.

General Manager Brad Treliving has said before that with guys that are pending UFAs, you have to make a decision on them. Are you going to try and extend them, or do you look into trading them to try and recoup some assets? Maybe this camp will determine Russell's fate. If the team cannot find a workable dollar figure for an extension, do they keep him and just run him out until the end of his contract and risk losing him for nothing, or do they try to trade him right now?

That could come down to how well wild cards like Ryan Wilson and Jakub Nakladal play in training camp as well as the health of Ladislav Smid. With a big camp, Tyler Wotherspoon could put himself in the mix also.

Russell's departure would leave Wideman to join the big three and would leave Engelland on the third pairing with one of the above more economical options for a third pairing. It's just smart business to not have too much money tied up on your third pairing so as popular of a player Russell has become, this could happen.

Final Thoughts

Engelland was a real nice story last year. He stepped up big time in a time of crisis and performed better after being thrust into a top-four role than anyone could have expected (and many will ever acknowledge). Make no mistake, his efforts played a key role in helping the Flames make the playoffs for the first time in six years.

However, that was then and this is now. This is not a crisis, it's far from it. Giordano is back and Hamilton has been brought in. An average of 10-12 minutes per game from Engelland is just fine.

Resorting to a combination of Brodie-Engelland when you have a no other alternatives is one thing. I hate seafood but when I'm starving and there's no steak or chicken on the menu, I'll nibble at some fish. But when I'm at the Cattle Baron Steakhouse like the Flames are at this moment, I'm sure as heck not ordering halibut.

For me and what I'd do, I'm not sure you drift away from that combination that was so good of Giordano and Brodie. This keeps Brodie on his preferred side. Hamilton gets either Russell or Wideman, whoever earns the top four spot and the other plays with Engelland on the third pairing. Maybe Russell and Wideman switch back and forth between that spot. I realize that means two right-shooters on either the second or third pairing but sometimes the bigger priority is just getting the best players on the ice most often.

We've all seen Brodie's game take off the last few years. He's well on his way to being one of the NHL's best defencemen. The idea of not having Brodie in your top four and logging 23-25 minutes per night is absurd and with Hartley's focus on winning, I can't see the coach viewing it any other way either.

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Thursday, September 17, 2015

Training Camp Gets Going: Breaking Down the 2015-16 Flames Training Camp Roster

Calgary Flames training camp began today with fitness testing at WinSport. They will hit the ice in three groups starting Friday.

The official camp roster including the 31 that attended rookie camp consisted of 69 players. However, that number was immediately reduced after five players (two forwards, three defencemen) from rookie camp were released earlier in the day.

With three players injured, that leaves 61 healthy players that are divided into three groups for the on-ice portion of training camp that begins Friday at WinSport. You can see the camp roster here. The breakdown is:
  • 35 forwards (plus 1 injured)
  • 19 defencemen (plus 2 injured)
  • 7 goalies

As a tribute to the Flames history, the three groups are named Nieuwendyk, McDonald and McCrimmon and the intention is to balance each group equally in terms of calibre to provide maximum competition.

Do not and I repeat, do not look at the make-up of each group and try to conjure up defence pairings or line combinations within groups that will carry through into the regular season. This would be extremely over thinking it. Save that type of forecasting for deeper into training camp once some of the bodies clear out and the number of groups are reduced.

Format for Days 1-3

Each day from Friday through Sunday, all three groups have a practice and two of the groups will also play in a scrimmage. All of this activity will take place at WinSport. Here are the scrimmage match-ups:
  • Friday, Sept. 18, 10 am - Nieuwendyk vs. McDonald
  • Saturday, Sept. 19, 10 am - McCrimmon vs. Nieuwendyk
  • Sunday, Sept. 20, 10 am - McCrimmon vs. McDonald

On Monday, Sept. 21, the format changes as does the venue as that night is the first night of the NHL preseason with two split squads taking on the Edmonton Oilers. One team will play at the Saddledome (7 pm start) and the other group will head up the highway to Rexall Place (7 pm start). The non-game players will practice at the Dome.

Here is a deeper look at how the training camp roster breaks down.

1. Flames Draft Picks in Attendance - By Year

They are 26 Flames draft picks in attendance. That includes at least one player from every draft going back to 2007.

2007 (1)
  • Mikael Backlund (1st)
2008 (2)
  • Lance Bouma (3rd)
  • TJ Brodie (4th)
2009 (1)
  • Joni Ortio (6th)
2010 (2)
  • Bill Arnold (4th)
  • Micheal Ferland (5th)
2011 (3)
  • Markus Granlund (2nd)
  • Tyler Wotherspoon (2nd)
  • Johnny Gaudreau (4th)
2012 (4)
  • Patrick Sieloff (2nd)
  • Jon Gillies (3rd)
  • Brett Kulak (4th)
  • Ryan Culkin (5th)
2013 (4)
  • Sean Monahan (1st)
  • Emile Poirier (1st)
  • Morgan Klimchuk (1st)
  • Keegan Kanzig (3rd)
2014 (4)
  • Sam Bennett (1st)
  • Mason McDonald (2nd)
  • Hunter Smith (2nd)
  • Austin Carroll (7th)
2015 (5)
  • Rasmus Andersson (2nd)
  • Oliver Kylington (2nd)
  • Pavel Karnaukhov (5th)
  • Andrew Mangiapane (6th)
  • Riley Bruce (7th)

2. Flames Draft Picks in Attendance - By GM

Players in camp that have been drafted and developed by the Flames are attached to three different general managers.
  • Darryl Sutter (2003 to 2010) - 6
  • Jay Feaster (2011 to 2013) - 11
  • Brad Treliving (2014 to now) - 9

3. Flames Draft Picks Not in Attendance, But Still in the System

  • Rushan Rafikov, Russia (2013, 7th)
  • Adam Ollas-Mattsson, Sweden (2014, 6th)

  • Mark Jankowski, Providence College, 4th year (2012, 1st)
  • Matt DeBlouw, Michigan State, 4th year (2012, 7th)
  • Tim Harrison, Brown University*, 3rd year (2013, 6th)
  • John Gilmour, Providence College, 4th year (2013, 7th)
  • Brandon Hickey, Boston University, 2nd year (2014, 3rd)
* Played his first two years at Colgate

4. Rookie Camp Holdovers

There were nine players at Flames rookie camp this past week on an amateur try-out (ATO). Of that group, four have been kept around and had their ATO extended to include main training camp:
  • RW Tyson Baillie, 19 - Played last year for Kelowna (WHL) (More on Baillie)
  • C Taylor Burke, 21 - Played last year for Moncton (QMJHL)
  • LW Mason Marchment, 20 - Played last year for Erie (OHL) (More on Marchment)
  • G Nick Schneider, 18 - Played last year for Medicine Hat (WHL)

Players from rookie camp not continuing on and assigned to their junior teams today were D Jason Bell, D Jason Fram, LW Julien Proulx and RW Tomas Soustal. Former Flames draft pick D Eric Roy was released.

5. NHL Vets Attending Camp on a PTO

The Flames are bringing three veteran players to camp on a professional try-out (PTO). All of them are left-shooting defencemen.

D Douglas Murray, 35, last played in NHL with Montreal in 2013-14
- In 518 career NHL games (with SJ, Pit, Mtl), is 7-57-64

D Aaron Johnson, 32, last played in NHL with Boston in 2012-13
- In 291 career NHL games (with Clb, NYI, Chi, Cgy, Edm, Bos), is 17-45-62

D Ryan Wilson, 28, last played in NHL with Colorado in 2014-15
(From earlier, read my A Dozen Things that Intrigue about Ryan Wilson)
- In 230 career NHL games (with Col), is 7-60-67

At the end of camp or sometime prior, the Flames need to make a decision on each of these players and either release them or sign them to a contract.

Wilson would be your best bet, for sure, to make Calgary's roster.

Johnson is a decent bet to be that Corey Potter-like player, who gets a two-way deal and goes to the AHL to help mentor a young Stockton blue-line and be an experienced call-up option if there is a barrage of injuries.

Murray's presence was part of the arrangement agreed to when he arrived in town late last season on a PTO and frankly, it's hard to envision this one turning out any different. I'd suggest he's the player most likely to be cut loose.

6. Flames Injured and Not Scrimmaging

Injured to start main camp and not expected to play in the scrimmages are:
  • D Ladislav Smid (neck)
  • D Ryan Culkin (shoulder)
  • LW Paul Byron (wrist)

Smid is coming off neck surgery last spring. Culkin hurt his shoulder last weekend in Penticton and is out 6-8 weeks. Byron is coming off off-season wrist surgery.

7. Players on AHL-only Deals

These players will be at Calgary's camp until Stockton opens up its training camp and at that point, all of these players -- signed either to one-way AHL deals or two-way AHL/ECHL deals -- will report to California.
  • G Kent Simpson (AHL)
  • D Dustin Stevenson (AHL)
  • C Mitchell Heard (AHL)
  • LW Ryan Lomberg (AHL)
  • RW Louick Marcotte (AHL-ECHL)
  • RW Blair Riley (AHL)

Marcotte and Lomberg were both at rookie camp and of the two, Lomberg really impressed. Stockton coach Ryan Huska was talking about Lomberg once again after Wednesday's game.

With no ability to make Calgary, these players are out to make a good impression on the Flames in hopes of potentially getting an NHL deal next summer. An example of this from last year's camp is Garnet Hathaway, who came in after settling for an AHL deal and had a strong camp. He then followed it up with a good year in Adirondack and this summer signed a NHL deal with the club.

8. Hoping to Break Through

Through the summer, I've been maintaining this roster page, which looks at the Flames current roster and includes salaries and the overall team salary as well as proximity to the salary cap. Now this won't be Calgary's roster to open the season as it consists of 28 players and you can only have 23. As I note, some players could end up on the IR but still, you have too many on this list so some of these players will end up in the minors, or put on waivers and claimed, or traded.

In addition to those 28, here are 13 others on NHL deals that could factor into the mix as well. If these players do not make the Flames, they will be assigned to Stockton:
  • G Jon Gillies
  • D Jakub Nakladal
  • D Brett Kulak
  • D Kenney Morrison
  • D Patrick Sieloff
  • C Bill Arnold
  • C Turner Elson
  • C Derek Grant
  • LW Bryce Van Brabant
  • LW Kenny Agostino
  • RW Austin Carroll
  • RW Emile Poirier
  • RW Garnet Hathaway

9. Hoping to Turn Pro

These four players enter camp on the bubble. They are age-eligible to turn pro and be assigned to the AHL but Flames management is who decides that and they may choose to assign them to major junior instead.
  • D Oliver Kylington (Brandon, WHL)
  • D Keegan Kanzig (Calgary, WHL)
  • RW Hunter Smith (Oshawa, OHL)
  • LW Morgan Klimchuk (Brandon, WHL)

The unique situation on this list is Kylington as he played in Sweden last year. His rights were picked up by the Wheat Kings in July's CHL Import Draft. I have no idea which way the Flames will go when it comes to the fork in the road with this player but having seen him live a couple of times now, Stockton may be best so the organization's coaching staff there can work closely with him as he does have a long way to go with some aspects of his game. We'll see. Earlier in the summer, I weighed the pros and cons of both options in this piece.

10. Make It or Return to the CHL

These recent draft picks are not old enough yet to play in the AHL per the NHL-CHL transfer agreement. Thus, they must either stay in the NHL with the Flames, or be assigned back to junior.

While Sean Monahan is someone that fit this description two years ago and he did make the Flames, it's a bit different this year. While Andersson was really impressive in Penticton, there is little doubt that all five of these players will be eventually returned to major junior.
  • G Mason McDonald (Charlottetown, QMJHL)
  • D Rasmus Andersson (Barrie, OHL)
  • D Riley Bruce (North Bay, OHL)
  • C Pavel Karnaukhov (Calgary, WHL)
  • LW Andrew Mangiapane (Barrie, WHL)

The one option Calgary does have is they can keep a player for up to nine NHL regular season games and still return him to junior. Given how strong Andersson looked in rookie camp and with the fact he has signed his entry-level contract, he has a remote chance of getting in a few games although I'd call it a longshot.

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