Revamping the Flames
Sutter and Co. busy making team younger and quicker
The Calgary Flames have changed dramatically since the NHL Entry Draft. Three trades; plenty of signings and, essentially, a team that will look much different than the one that finished with a Game 7 loss to San Jose in the first round of the playoffs in the spring.
For starters, the entire left side of the forward group will be different. On the right side, expect two new faces. On the blueline at least one new face -- although Mark Giordano has spent plenty of team in the Flames organization. It will be a younger team, and, most likely, a faster team than the 2007-08 model. The Flames will be promoting from within their farm system and adding from the outside.
"We wanted to keep our centres because we knew we would be changing the wingers," said general manager Darryl Sutter, the man responsible for the shaping of the team. "I'm excited about it because the kids are good players and they are guys who want to be here."
With all the activity, it's time to slow things down a little and take a look at the puzzle that Sutter is building.
The Flames began working out a deal for Alex Tanguay at last season's trade deadline and pulled the trigger on it at the Entry Draft in Ottawa, sending Tanguay to Montreal for a first round pick. That enabled them to make a move to get Mike Cammalleri for their first round pick to begin the off-season makeover. It was an important move, considering the high price being paid in the free agent market today.
Flames Depth Chart
The Flames got a lot of their big names signed over the previous year. Jarome Iginla, Robyn Regehr last summer, then Miikka Kiprusoff and Dion Phaneuf during the season.
Even so, they had four free agents to deal with; Daymond Langkow, Craig Conroy, Eric Nystrom and Curtis McElhinney. They all could have become unrestricted free agents July 1 but the Flames re-signed them prior to that point, helping to shape what they would do when the free agent frenzy hit.
What the Flames did was kick some tires -- they talked with defenceman Wade Redden -- and eventually signed forward Curtis Glencross. There's defencemen Cory Sarich, Adrian Aucoin, Rhett Warrener and Anders Eriksson returning on the blueline, too. That will create some competition on the back-end during training camp, which is some 11 weeks away, for the latter three.
"Our focus always, here, is very simple. Make sure our top guys are kept in place. We were able to do that. I think our defence is in that position and I think our forwards are in that position,"said Sutter.
Forwards Mike Cammalleri, Kyle Greentree, Rene Bourque, Curtis Glencross and defenceman Mark Giordano are the notable newcomers from the outside. Cammalleri is an offensive forward who is expected to play on the top line while Greentree, Bourque and Glencross are young players with upsides offensively.
Giordano, of course, returns to the Flames after a one-year absence while he was in Russia playing in Moscow. Cammalleri, came via a trade on draft day with Los Angeles, Greentree in a deal with Philadelphia, Bourque in a trade with Chicago while Glencross came as a free agent after playing in Columbus and Edmonton last season.
The Flames had an eye on Greentree when he was with the University of Alaska but were outbid for his services by Philadelphia."We just stayed on it," said Sutter. The knock on Greentree is training but Sutter noted that he will be moving to Calgary in early July and "like it or not, he will be in shape." Sutter, however, said the player has an upside offensively. "He is a big kid, good in traffic and has good hands."
Glencross had 15 goals in 62 games last season while Bourque had 10 in 62 games. Greentree had 24 goals in 80 games in the American Hockey League and played just two NHL games for the Flyers this season. All three players are good skaters who are not afraid of the tough places. So, in essence, the team gets faster and a little better along the walls. "They are all big kids that can skate, have upside offensively and are good defensively," said Sutter.
This is where the more significant changes will be. At this point the Flames depth chart has an entire new left side with Cammalleri, Bourque, Greentree and Glencross. Eric Nystrom, who found a regular spot on the team in the playoffs, is in that mix, too. A couple of these guys are versatile and able to move to the right side so training camp will be used to sort some of this out. "We have some guys who play different positions. How it fits is up to the kids and the coaches to determine."
At centre, Langkow remains as the top guy, with Matthew Lombardi, Craig Conroy, Wayne Primeau and perhaps Dustin Boyd, rounding out the position. Both Primeau and Boyd can move to the right wing if necessary.
On the right side, of course, is Iginla, the team's anchor. David Moss and Brandon Prust and one other (Boyd, Primeau, or one of the newcomers) will round out the right side. Expect David Van Der Gulik, who has been in the Flames system for a number of years, to also get a long look with the big club.
Pencil in Dion Phaneuf, Mark Giordano, Jim Vandermeer, Cory Sarich and Robyn Regehr for sure. Adrian Aucoin, Anders Eriksson and Rhett Warrener will battle for the six and seven spots. But the Flames have no intention of keeping eight around. "Robyn, Cory, Dion, Jimmy and Gio, they're still young guys and they are going to improve. Then you have the three veterans, those three guys are going to fight for spots to play on our team. And they're not all going to be here, that's obvious," said Sutter.
Miikka Kiprusoff will be the man in the pipes once again this season. But he will be joined by Curtis McElhinney. Born in London, Ont., but raised in Calgary, McElhinney likely would have been with the team last season but was injured and never returned from the minors. Last training camp the battle was between he and Brent Krahn. This year, it is more likely that he will simply battle for ice time against Kiprusoff, the undisputed No. 1. "We clearly wanted one of those guys to play on our team. Them getting injured hurt that plan and we had to go outside," said Sutter, who brought on veteran Curtis Joseph late in the season.
Calgary wants to be younger and quicker next season. Gone are the days of signing a free agent veteran to be a leader in the dressing room.
"We've taken great pride in the last five years in having a team that is very competitive on a nightly basis," said Sutter. "and when you see guys who aren't competitive on a nightly basis, it bothers me. To be quite honest, I think we've had players in the last couple of years who are prominent players who have not done that and they've hurt us. Now we'll have the young guys who do do it on a nightly basis."
And the leaders are already in the dressing room.
"It's a younger team. It's a quicker team. We will live with some of the little mistakes and it will put a little more onus on some of those veterans who are supposed to be providing great leadership," said Sutter.