With 28 players left in camp as of this morning (16 forwards, 9 defencemen, 3 goaltenders), there are two cuts to go as three players will open the season on injured reserve.
Here is a position-by-position look at who remains and my thoughts on what could unfold.
- 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
- Joe Colborne (broken thumb)
- LW Paul Byron
- LW Mason Raymond
- C Markus Granlund
I really think Mason Raymond's immediate future with this club changed significantly in the span of two-and-a-half hours Thursday night in Winnipeg. Not only did he play the best game I've seen him play in a long time, he also obviously impressed coach Bob Hartley, who kept sending him over the boards. In the end, he played 24:50, which is more ice time than he's ever logged in 513 career regular season games.
Nightly, ice time is how Hartley rewards the players he feels are playing well so clearly he liked what he saw from the enigmatic winger on that night, which came after a mostly meh pre-season up until that point.
Combine that with the injury that night to Joe Colborne that means one less cut is required and Raymond, owed $3.15 million over each of the next two seasons, should be safe -- at least for now. He may not be in the starting dozen on Wednesday night, as hinted at by Hartley's forward configuration against the Jets on Saturday, but he should at least be on the roster.
As for Markus Granlund, an off-night in Winnipeg on Thursday in the second-last game didn't help his case. His waiver status in which he can be sent down without being exposed to waivers also makes him an easy guy to assign to Stockton.
The other thing that works against Granlund is he's a centre. For 17 of 18 periods in the pre-season, centre is also where Sam Bennett has been deployed. Add in veteran Matt Stajan -- who has had a great camp -- and Sean Monahan and Mikael Backlund and there are no vacancies up the middle. Keeping Granlund would make no sense at all.
I wouldn't rule out Bennett eventually being shifted back to left wing later in the season but until that happens or there is an injury, Granlund doesn't have anywhere to play so he best be playing big minutes in the AHL and continuing to work on his face-offs, which is one glaring weakness in his game.
- Deryk Engelland
- Mark Giordano
- Dougie Hamilton
- Kris Russell
- Dennis Wideman
- TJ Brodie
- Ladislav Smid
Bubble (2 players for 1 or 2 spots)
- Brett Kulak
- Ryan Wilson
Brett Kulak has become the story of training camp. After a year spent mostly in the ECHL, which is a long, long way away from the NHL, he's completely turned things around for himself and in my eyes has earned the right to play opening night.
What did Hartley think of the 21-year-old's final audition Saturday night against the Jets? I wrote about that earlier this morning. As I see it, you don't play him in your final game, give him a rave review afterwards about how he performed, then cut him the next day. I would be shocked if Kulak is not in the starting six on the blue-line Wednesday night against the Vancouver Canucks.
As for Ryan Wilson, the decision for the Flames is do they offer him a contract and keep him around also, or do they says 'thanks, but no thanks' and release the 28-year-old.
From what I had seen for the first part of camp and granted it was a limited sample as I did not see all his pre-season appearances, I liked his poise and his physicality and I figured he was well on his way to earning a modest one-year deal and an opportunity to resurrect a career that was looking pretty good until injuries limited him to 43 games over the last three seasons.
Reversal of Fortune
However, Thursday night was a game-changer for me and in the opposite way of how it went for Raymond. In his stiffest test yet but also against a line-up that most resembled what he'll face nightly in the regular season, Wilson had a rough night. He spent a lot of time in his own end, looked a step behind the speedy Jets and paired with Deryk Engelland, no speed skater himself, the two struggled.
For me, Kulak is a much better complement to Engelland as he's someone that is a great skater and can be the guy that carries the puck out, distributes the puck up ice, etc.
Another factor is the injury situation with TJ Brodie. While there has been no further update on his recovery timeline -- originally called 3-to-6 weeks -- he should be back within a month and when that time comes, you no longer have a spot for Kulak if Wilson is also on the team on a one-way contract.
Ladislav Smid's potential return too, while still uncertain in terms of timeline, further crowds the blue-line.
With Jakub Nakladal and Tyler Wotherspoon at Stockton as injury insurance in the short term, I would lean against Wilson getting a contract unless it's a two-way and still, you would have to question -- unless there is fear Smid is not anywhere close -- whether you should use up one of your precious 50 contracts on Wilson given what else is in the system.
Also, by keeping six defencemen instead of seven, which the team could get away with briefly given the light schedule to begin the year, you then give yourself the ability to begin the season with all three goaltenders on the roster, while management tries to resolve that mess.
- Karri Ramo
- Joni Ortio
- Jonas Hiller
After Saturday's game, as captured in my game story Saturday night for The Canadian Press, Hartley was asked if he knew who his starter was going to be now that the pre-season was over. He said, "I think it's pretty clear in our mind but I don't know yet on which day we're going to come out with it, but I don't think it will be a big surprise."
For as long as I can remember and I've been traipsing to the Saddledome with my laptop for over 25 years, a team's starting goaltender in the final pre-season game is almost always the starting goaltender when the regular season begins.
So count on Karri Ramo getting the nod against the Canucks.
As for Joni Ortio, whether or not he would be claimed on waivers is impossible to know for sure, but at his very economical price tag of $600,000 and with just one year of term left on his contract, I'd say there's a good chance some team would take a chance on him so I can't envision the Flames rolling the dice on the youngest of their three goalies and the one still under team control as he's still an RFA after this season. Hiller and Ramo are both unrestricted free agents at year's end.
While there are many proponents of Jonas Hiller, who will point out his superior statistics, here are few reasons why I think Ramo ends up being the goalie that stays.
- Ramo Has a Higher Upside - Whether or not he'll ever turn into a star, it's fair to be skeptical as he is already 29 years old. However, he's four-and-a-half years younger than Hiller so of the two, Ramo would have a better chance. It comes down to regrets. Given where they're at in their careers, it's less likely you'll end up regretting moving Hiller. With Ramo and Ortio, there is still some unknown.
- Ortio's Presence - If the Flames were looking for a goalie to play 65 games, Hiller would be a better choice as he's more consistent than Ramo. However, if you feel Ortio is the guy to play 30-35 games or as many as 50 games if he plays like he did in his call-up last year, then Ramo's inconsistency you can live with. Ride his hot streaks than turn to Ortio when he goes cold. Call this the 'catch lightning in a bottle' type of goaltender rotation and Hartley was quite good at it last year.
- Hiller's History - Fair or not fair, the bottom line is Hiller got pulled from the team's most important game last year -- game 6 in the playoffs against Vancouver -- in which Calgary came back to win. He then watched the second round from the bench. That hurts Hiller's case. Let's not forget things unfolded for him similarly in Anaheim the year prior.
- Scott Clemmensen, 37
- Dan Ellis, 34
- Joey MacDonald, 34
- Jason Labarbera, 34
- Michael Leighton, 33
- Yann Danis, 33
By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Go there and do so now. It's just another way to be alerted to new Calgary Flames articles that I've written.
- Closing in on Making the Team, Kulak Shines in the "Biggest Test of his Life" - His makeshift dressing room 'stall' has been a folding chair, but Brett Kulak doesn't care as he's still in Calgary and should be for a while after earning rave reviews from coach Bob Hartley for his play Saturday night. (Oct. 3, 2015)
- Flames Cut 15, Leaving Two Finalists for this year's Josh Jooris Award - It's down to 32 players left in camp. With two headed to the IR, that leaves seven cuts to be made. Here are my locks as well as favourites of those on the bubble. (Sept. 27, 2015)
- Calgary's Forward Picture Coming into Focus - At the halfway point in training camp and coming off a game in which Micheal Ferland looked good on a line with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, I looked at how the lines could look to start the season. (Sept. 26, 2015)
- Eight From 80 Feet: Eight Random Thoughts After One Week of Training Camp - Topics covered include TJ Brodie's injury history, the sudden hiring spree on the blue-line, how 'Goaltender Idol' is shaping up and the newly inked Nick Schneider. (Sept. 24, 2015)