Meetings are set. Pro scouts drop in this week. Amateur scouts in two weeks.
Dates are set. Draft day is June 30. Development camp goes July 10-16. Rookie tourney is slated for Sept. 5-9, in Penticton, B.C.
But, concerning the Calgary Flames, little else is set in stone.
After a winter in which there had been a long overdue shift in philosophy, much needs to be sorted out. Rebuild plans are being cooked up at this very moment. General manager Jay Feaster promises action.
Make no mistake, it is an interesting time to be an observer.
Here are a few questions that need answering:
What about Miikka Kiprusoff?With one season remaining on his contract — paying him a relative pittance, $1.5 million US — and with his 37th birthday in October, Kiprusoff’s departure appears to be a foregone conclusion.
But should the Finn decide to extend his NHL career, his rights could be flipped this summer. The bigger question, however, is who replaces No. 34? Joey MacDonald is aboard for another season. Better than anyone could have hoped, the laid-back journeyman can be expected to hold down the fort. But he is no one’s idea of a franchise goalie.
Karri Ramo — drafted by Feaster (and Tampa) in 2004 and acquired again by Feaster last winter — figures to get a long look this fall, despite so-so NHL numbers (11-21-10, 3.35 goals-against average). The 26-year-old spent the last four seasons with Omsk of the KHL.
Reto Berra, part of the return for Jay Bouwmeester, is also 26, and freshly signed by the Flames. A long-time pro in Switzerland.
What about the NHL draft?At the Prudential Center, in Newark, N.J., the Flames own three first-round selections. Feaster has indicated that all picks are in play.
Which is exciting.
It’s worth glancing at the Flames’ fortunes with first-rounders. Far from great. Derek Morris, 13th overall in 1996, turned into a useful skater — in fact, he’s still active.
However, Morris was followed by: 1997’s Daniel Tkaczuk (out of hockey); 1998’s Rico Fata (regular in Switzerland); 1999’s Oleg Saprykin (regular in KHL); 2000’s Brent Krahn (one NHL appearance); 2001’s Chuck Kobasew (checker in Colorado); 2002’s Eric Nystrom (checker in Dallas); 2003’s Dion Phaneuf (captain in Toronto); 2004’s Kris Chucko (out of hockey); 2005’s Matt Pelech (winger on San Jose’s farm); 2006’s Leland Irving (about to be cut adrift); 2007’s Mikael Backlund (keeper in Calgary); 2008’s Greg Nemisz (minor-leaguer); 2009’s Tim Erixon (parlayed into Roman Horak and second-rounders Markus Granlund and Tyler Wotherspoon); 2011’s Sven Baertschi (keeper in Calgary); 2012’s Mark Jankowski (freshman at Princeton).
Moral of the story — getting first-round shouts is only half of the battle.
What about their restricted free agents?At the top of this list is T.J. Brodie, who, down the stretch, soaked up loads of ice time. More than once, staffers referred to him as the second coming of Jay Bouwmeester. Don’t think Brodie’s agent didn’t take note.
After an entry-level contract that paid him $742,000 annually, Brodie, 22, is in the market for a sizeable raise as part of a sizeable extension.
“We believe that this has been truly a break-out season for him,” said Feaster. “I think there are special things ahead. We’ll put together a couple different scenarios . . . as far as what a multi-year deal would look like. The idea being, to get him taken care of before (free agency opens) July 5.”
Mikael Backlund is another restricted free agent who is not going anywhere. Lance Bouma, too.
But for the Flames, it’s decision time on a herd of other RFAs — forwards Greg Nemisz, Paul Byron, Akim Aliu, Carter Bancks, Gaelan Patterson, Bryan Cameron; defencemen Chris Butler, Mark Cundari, Brady Lamb, Chris Breen.
What about their unrestricted free agents?Roman Cervenka had a single solid game down the stretch, with two goals in Nashville. Is that enough for the Flames to tender an offer? Does he even want another winter of NHL hockey? Another free agent is brute Brian McGrattan. For the Flames — small and soft and young — it makes sense to re-sign the peace-maker.
Also unrestricted free agent is goalie Leland Irving, who’d earned the backup gig in training camp, forcing the Flames to trade Henrik (The Calgary Tower) Karlsson. Irving soon fell out of favour, getting demoted to Abbotsford. As the final indignity, the Flames down the stretch opted to start a sick 33-year-old three times in six nights instead of a healthy Irving.
Other UFAs included goalie Danny Taylor; defencemen Anton Babchuk, Brett Carson; forwards Steve Begin, Ben Walter, Krys Kolanos, Michael Testwuide.
What about other teams’ unrestricted free agents?Feaster has gone to great lengths to point out that the Flames have a wild amount of cap-space available for next season — while other clubs may be in trouble.
So the Flames, having identified panic-stricken outfits, are ready to pounce the second the salary-shedding begins.
A nice luxury to have -- cap-space and team owners willing to go to the max — but they must exercise caution.
Wisely, they’ve made it known that they’re not interested in “post-apex” commodities (a polite way to refer to players on the downside). Being able to resist temptation is another story. Deep pockets and (past-prime) name-players can be a bad combination.
What are the kids doing this summer?Coach Bob Hartley made it clear that the stretch drive allowed some of the youngsters to get a taste of the NHL. He also made it clear that the experience was for their benefit — not the club’s.
In other words, it’s a clean slate at training camp, but big-league toe-dipping should have forced the lads to realize what they need to do in the off-season.
Meaning the ball is in your court Mark Cundari, Max Reinhart, Roman Horak, Sven Baertschi, Ben Hanowski, et al.
What about buyouts here?Teams, under the new collective bargaining agreement, can buy out zero or one or two gents this summer (or next summer). And, as a bonus, there is no salary-cap blowback. For instance, the Flames can buy out, say, Alex Tanguay for two-thirds of his remaining salary (about $7 million) — and that’s it. He’s gone. And nothing counts toward the salary cap.
The team is not near the cap, but Feaster acknowledged that the Flames may take advantage of the amnesty buyouts with “organizational direction” in mind.
What about managers, coaches?With four straight playoff misses, the team has seen struggles.
However, tightly embracing a rebuild, an optimist might say the Flames are on the right track. But a pessimist might wonder — is this the right group of folks to see it through? After all, no one wants to duplicate the Edmonton Oilers, who, in the midst of their own rebuild, have had costly staff start-overs.
Furthermore, do the Flames bring back Troy G. Ward as the skipper of the Abbotsford Heat?
C-NOTES: C Mikael Backlund, because of a fracture in his right foot, will not skate for Sweden at the world championship.
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