Mark Cundari eyeing full-time job on the Calgary Flames blueline
Undersized defenceman signs leaving forward Lance Bouma as the only remaining restricted free agent
It’s not lost on Mark Cundari, of course.
He knows full well that a handful of defenders have vacated the premises.
However, even without those relatively seasoned presences — Shane O’Brien, Chris Butler, Derek Smith, Chad Billins, Chris Breen — Cundari isn’t expecting a paved path to the Calgary Flames’ opening-day lineup.
Then again, the situation is quite tantalizing.
“As of right now, being a guy who has been there in the past, who has played with all these guys ... I do kind of get the feeling that it has opened up a little bit for me,” Cundari said Saturday from his Woodbridge, Ont., home. “With them leaving, it does open up some doors for me — I’m not going to say it guarantees me anything — and it does give me an extra chance to perhaps take advantage of the situation in front of me.
“But I know we have a lot of young talent coming up.”
Cundari, 24, is the latest of the Flames’ restricted free agents to sign on the dotted line.
He agreed to a one-year (two-way) pact — made public by an unprecedented 7:30 a.m. weekend news release. Centre Joe Colborne and goalie Joni Ortio also recently signed.
“It’s not like being drafted or anything like that, it’s more of a relief for me to know that it’s finally taken care of,” said Cundari, whose AHL/NHL salary split is $125,000 and $660,000. “I can move forward and prepare for the upcoming camp.”
The burly blue-liner did himself no favours last fall, showing up with an iffy cardio base. Coach Bob Hartley had not been impressed, ensuring Cundari’s early demotion to Abbotsford.
That, he promises, is going to change.
Cundari has modified his training -- “not crazy different.” Less weightlifting. More running and cycling, more muscular-endurance work.
“High-intensity, high-tempo stuff.”
Good idea, especially with yet another gentleman, Brad Treliving, sitting on the general manager’s throne.
“You know what? Any time there’s a new face, there’s going to be first impressions,” said Cundari. “For me, the ability to show up at camp in shape and at the top of my game is going to be what could make it or break it for me early with Brad. This year, it’s a really major goal of mine to show up and actually turn some heads at camp — start the season better than I have in years past.
“Turning the page and starting fresh and kind of getting another chance to play in the NHL.”
Part of the return for Jay Bouwmeester, with goalie Reto Berra and a first-round pick (Emile Poirier), Cundari has played eight games in the NHL, all for the Flames — four times shortly after the trade with the St. Louis Blues, four times this past season.
“I’ve been trying to watch my weight ... in terms of how heavy I want to be,” said Cundari, listed at five foot nine, 200 pounds. “For a smaller guy, you can’t get too big or else you’re not as agile.”
Splitting his time between two American Hockey League centres — Abbotsford and Chicago — in 2013-14, he operated on a two-way deal that paid him $100,000 in the minors, $600,000 in the NHL.
Restricted free agents left to sort out?
Only one. Lance Bouma.
The 24-year-old forward suited up for 78 games last season, picking up 15 points, on a two-way deal that paid him $577,500 at the NHL level.
Bouma averaged 12:36 of ice time per night.
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