(The FN Contributor search resumes today with the fourth installment. Again, please keep comments either supportive or constructive)
By Derrick Newman**
The middle of summer is not the most exciting time for hockey. Free agency is over and done with – well the exciting parts at least. There’s minor tinkering going on in GM’s offices everywhere and arbitrators are bearing down to make the unbiased decisions that could have drastic repercussions on the state of certain franchises (cough Nashville cough).
The Calgary Flames, for the most part, have done their work and are now simply waiting for training camp to begin and the season to get started. The dream of jettisoning a Matt Stajan or a Niklas Hagman from the roster to free up space is slowing fading and the reality of the Flames being stuck in certain salary cap purgatory is sinking in. As of now they sit with 24 players under contract with roughly $1.3 million of headroom.
They have 14 forwards under contract, plus Raitis Ivanans whose contract will most likely be put in LTIR giving the Flames $600,000 extra to play with. As it sits now the forwards look like this:
Extra: Morrison-Leblond +Rookies
Ivanans – LTIR – $600,000
I was never a fan of bringing back Morrison. I realize he played quite well last year, but I simply see it as a spot that could have been used by a rookie like Nemisz, Bouma, Howse, etc. I’ve never been a fan of supplanting a young up and comer for older player. The team has enough of “these” players and I’m tired of the same old strategy. Morrison is also coming off surgery and likely won’t see the ice until November. That being said I’ll probably eat my words, but I’m sticking to my guns on this point regardless how much flak I receive.
My wish also, as is evident in my proposed line-up, is that Backlund finds himself on the top line to start the season. He played great at the end of last season and I think fits perfectly with Iggy and Tanguay. Once fully developed, his pure skills might be better than anyone on the team (See here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v3txqTGxmX0 ) This is a chance to see if he has the goods and can be a number one center in this league – which I believe he can. My bold prediction: 2011/12 is Backlund’s NHL coming out party. The Flames need it to happen more than anything.
My biggest worry is the lack of depth on defence with the loss of Robyn Regehr. A lot of the pressure, I think, will fall on Chris Butler as he will be seen as the guy filling Regehr’s shoes so to speak.
Fair? Probably not, but its professional sports and it comes with the territory. There is a lot of praise for him coming from Feaster, so hopefully he will step up to the plate and provide that needed stability in the lower ranks of the Calgary defence. I would also hope that we will see one of Brodie, Breen or Negrin make the permanent jump. The big money should be on Brodie as per his performance in last year’s camp, but stranger things have happened. Seeing a towering force like Breen blossom could lessen the burden of losing Keith Aulie in the 2010 Darryl Sutter Panic Button fiasco.
I have no qualms with the current situation in the Flames crease. The only minor thing I would like to see is Irving jump up for a few games. Otherwise, the Flames risk the chance of losing yet another draft pick because he never got the chance in the show. He is the rightful heir to Kipper’s throne. Karlsson is a fill in and a good back-up, and nothing more IMO.
The Flames are a good team on paper. On paper. They aren’t great and will most likely be riding the wave from of the western conference playoff bubble for much of the foreseeable future. They got worse if anything else with the loss of Regehr. But as a wise man once said, you must take one step back to take two steps forward, or something to that degree. Problem being though that the Flames have been taking steps in the wrong direction for so many years that it’s hard to delineate how far BACK the Flames really are in the grand scheme of things.
**Derrick is a budding sports journalist currently freelancing for the Calgary Sun and interning at CTV Calgary. He created TheSportsRoundup.com and also is the lead Flames contributor at TheCheckingline.com. Possibly a little bit pessimistic when it comes to the Flames, but he just calls it tough love.