Nine burning questions as the Flames head into training camp
With the rebuild in full swing, Calgary’s NHL team faces fresh challenges
Give the Calgary Flames credit. They admitted — finally — that they were going to rebuild.
Sure enough, they used all three of their first-round picks at the NHL draft.
Sure enough, they refused to be conned into any summertime mistakes on the open market.
The Flames did stubbornly stick to their guns. Now comes the hard part — playing the games, a telling 82 games.
First, though, main camp. On-ice auditions open Thursday.
"I think it’s going to be good," Flames general manager Jay Feaster said the other day in Penticton. "There are a lot of jobs to win. Once of the things that Bob (Hartley) and I have talked about is, there’s no one entitled. It doesn’t matter what draft pick you were. It doesn’t matter what the dollars are invested in you in your contract. You’re going to have to make this hockey team.
"Brian (Burke) coming on board, I think he’ll reinforce that — you either play the way we want you to play or you won’t play. And if you’re not going to play the way we want you to play, we’ll do our best, as a management group, to move you out. Because there’s only going to be one way to do it now."
And while the losses will surely pile up this winter, it’s guaranteed to be a season brimming with intrigue, with storylines, with franchise-defining moments.
1. Who is C-worthy?
After Jarome Iginla scampered out of town last spring, the Flames declined to name a replacement as captain. Fair enough.
But they will have to pick one now.
The common sense choice is Mark Giordano, the tough-as-nails defender. If the Flames want a blueprint for sacrifice, for hard-nosed hockey, this is the dude. A classic lead-by-example presence. A role model for both rookies and veterans.
Some observers, though, like the leadership possibilities of Curtis Glencross and Michael Cammalleri.
Whatever the identity, someone is about to become the 19th captain in franchise history.
Iginla, by the way, served as captain since the start of the 2003-04 season when Craig Conroy passed him the torch.
2. Who will shoulder the netminding chores?
With Miikka Kiprusoff now history, the workload falls to, well, someone.
Retained as backup for another season, Joey MacDonald proved to be capable last winter. But the Flames are in the market for a mail-carrier, a go-to guy. There are two candidates — Finland’s Karri Ramo, whose rights were acquired, along with Michael Cammalleri, in the deal that sent Rene Bourque to the Montreal Canadiens; Switzerland’s Reto Berra, whose rights were acquired, along with Mark Cundari and a first-round pick (Emile Poirier), in the deal that sent Jay Bouwmeester to the St. Louis Blues.
Both men have sterling records overseas. But what can they do behind a raw group in Calgary?
With no plans for a three-headed monster in net, the starter’s job will be declared.
Joni Ortio, by the way, also wants to be considered.
3. How low can they go?
In the baby-steps of a rebuild, this will be an awfully trying season for the locals — and their fans.
Bookies are predicting the Flames to finish 29th or 30th overall, depending on their confidence in the lowly Florida Panthers. It’s difficult to argue. Playing in a newfangled division that features the three California clubs — all big and tough, not to mention strong up the middle — will be hard on the Calgarians.
Bravely committed to the teardown, the Flames will take their lumps. However, there is a prize for getting crushed — it’s called a high (or the highest) draft pick. Which is worth it, even if it won’t feel like it on many nights.
The Flames’ worst season was 1997-98. That winter, they went 26-41-15, collecting 67 points. Only four teams — Anaheim, Vancouver, Florida, Tampa — finished below them in the 26-club loop.
4. Where does Brian Burke fit?
New on the scene, sure, but everyone knows who he. And what he is — he’s the man at the top of the Flames’ food chain.
His mandate is to make the Flames bigger and tougher. The organization’s mandate is to make the Flames younger and better. How well will those mandates mesh?
And — is Burke patient enough to stay the (rebuilding) course?
Nearly as interesting is the topic of his public profile.
Owner of an outsized personality, Burke says he intends to let general manager Jay Feaster continue to do the heavy lifting with the media. But for how long? No expects to have to wait too long for the first tie-loosening tirade. And when the inevitable blast comes, how easily will Burke be able to fade back into the shadows?
5. Which young centres will emerge?
The Flames have identified two team needs — getting younger, getting stronger at centre.
As luck would have it, there are qualified candidates to fill both bills. Sean Monahan, 18. Markus Granlund, 20. Max Reinhart, 21. Roman Horak, 22. Corban Knight, 22.
With only Matt Stajan and Mikael Backlund in place, there is plenty of room for the newcomers. All they have to do is earn the spot. It’s up to them. As coach Bob Hartley is fond of saying, those auditioning, have to leave their "business card" each day. In other words, make a statement of some sort.
And anyone who can win a darn faceoff — the Flames were 28th and 30th in that department the past two seasons — will get a long look.
6. Which veterans are packing their bags?
Part of the reshaping process is to ship out coveted veterans for prospects and picks. That started last spring with walking papers for Jarome Iginla, Jay Bouwmeester and Blake Comeau.
General manager Jay Feaster, at the draft, had made it very clear that he’s listen to all offers for winger Michael Cammalleri, who’s in the final year of a deal that pays him a $6-million salary. So he’s a candidate for greener pastures.
Other players in the last year of contracts include centre Matt Stajan, winger Lee Stempniak.
Off-loading could begin well before the trade deadline.
7. What are the contributions of the new fellers?
Kids aside, the Flames will be working three veterans into the lineup this fall — defenceman Shane O’Brien, forwards David Jones and T.J. Galiardi.
O’Brien is a physical sort, a shover and a face-washer and a yapper. And the Flames’ blue line, too polite in recent years, could definitely use those attributes.
Jones can score. Twice with the Colorado Avalanche, the right-winger bagged 20 or more goals.
And Galiardi, a Calgary kid, is versatile presence. He can play any forward position. Too, he can play comfortably on any of the four lines.
8. What does this team look like without No. 12?
Think about this — the last time the Flames started a season without Jarome Iginla was way back in 1995. At that point, he was still property of the Kamloops Blazers — and Dallas Stars, who had drafted him 11th overall a few months earlier.
And while the Band-Aid was ripped off in March, locals now have a full season ahead without the services of their all-time scoring leader.
Iginla holds the franchise records for games (1,219), goals (525), points (1,095), power play goals (161), game-winning goals (83), overtime goals (six), shots (3,992).
9. How far can T.J. Brodie go?
Bridge contract in pocket, the Flames’ smooth-skating young defender is ready for a full season of showcasing.
A healthy scratch in Game 1 last season — believe it or not — Brodie capped the campaign as the team’s go-to defender. In April’s 15 games, he got more than 22 minutes’ worth of ice time 13 times — and more than 26 minutes three times.
Can the 23-year-old withstand a top-pairing workload for a full season? He and the Flames are about to find out.
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