Flames Training Camp Primer

 

 

With the propsect tournament drawing to a close, the Calgary Flames main camp is right around the corner. Practies and such start this coming weekend while the first exhibition game goes September 20th in a split-squad game in/vs Vancouver. The rest of the pre-season schedule is here.

The Flames start camp with a full compliment of NHL players and one-way contracts, so there isn’t going to be much in the way of training camp battles for roster spots. In addition, the importance of training camp to a players ability to make the team or move up the depth chart is often exagerrated and magnified at this time of year. With such a limited amount of games against often less than NHL-quality competition, results from the pre-season have to be taken with a large helping of salt. There’s a reason guys like Brandon Bochenski lead their clubs in scoring in September only to be returned to the AHL when the puck drops in October.

With those caveats attached, training camp can still definitely yield some interesting information. Adam Pardy and Mark Giordano both stood out in a couple of exhibition tournaments before cracking the squad, for example. The coach’s choices can also give us some insight into how the depth chart and line combinations are shaping up heading into the regular season. It’s also a good time to assess how close or far some of the younger guys are to becoming effective pros.

With that in mind, here are some things worth keeping an eye on once main camp opens in a few days:

The Hopefuls

While there isn’t a lot of room for a rookie to crack the main roster this year, there are still a number of interesting names to watch, particularly when the games get going. Primary amongst which is the somewhat revelatory trio of Patrick Holland, Max Reinhart and Sven Baertschi. The three teenagers will all be returned to their respective WHL teams at some point this month, but their notable performance in the rookie tournament may have granted them a date or two against real NHLers next week. It will be instructive to see how each does against men rather than their peers. Baertschi ini particular ended up looking a few paces ahead of the pack by the end of the prospect proceedings, so he’s naturally a guy worth watching. A couple of years ago Mikael Backlund came into camp as a teen who looked to be ahead of the curve only to find himself completely overwhelmed when the adults hit the ice. That’s obviously not atypical for most youngsters and Backlund has come a long way since, but the degree to which Baertschi sinks or swims may give us an idea of how far along he is.

The other hopefuls and youngsters worth watching include:

Ryan Howse – WHL sniper didn’t really stand-out in the rookie tournament and is rumored to have shown up for his first season of pro hockey somewhat out of shape. Howse scored a lot of goals on a fairly lousy team in junior. He was criticized as a one-dimensional player in his draft year and was more reliant on PP scoring than other Flames prospects in the past. He’s certainly a player that can be dangerous inside the hashmarks, but as Bryan Cameron showed last year, that is not necessarily enough to get you ice time and points at the pro level.

Roman Horak – Acquired from New York in the Tim Erixon fiasco trade, Horak was Howse’s regular linemate last season and was the Adam Oates to Howse’s Brett Hull as it were. He showed some flashes during the recent rookie gathering, although he was also inevitably overshadowed by Baertschi and company. Horak is a smaller, flashier player who is known for speed and passing, although he never put up mind-blowing numbers in junior.

Mitch Wahl – Former Flames second rounder was a scorer and leader in junior, but had his first professional season essentially wiped out by a headshot that caused a severe concussion. Wahl is a smaller, cerebral center who gets by on wits and vision but was always criticized for his lackluster willingness to engage physically. He will likely be behind the pace for awhile as he tries to recover from his lost season.

Greg Nemisz – Former first rounder seems to be lost in the fold a bit. An uninspiring skater and player without one stand-out above average skill, Nemisz’ managed an okay scoring rate last year for the Heat and was praised for his versatility by former head coach Jim Playfair. For me, Nemisz is a guy who seems to blend in to the background of games whenever I watch him, although his most notable play in the prospect camp was an egregious turn-over at his own blueline that caused a goal against. Expectations for Nemisz have started to deflate a little, although he may still have a future as a David Moss-type player if he can continue be an effective jack-of-all trades up front.

Paul Byron – The "other guy" in the Regehr trade, Byron appeared in a few games for the Sabres last year and at 22-years old with a couple of pro seasons under his belt, might be the closest of the hopefuls to challenging for a roster spot on the big club. Another smaller, skilled guy in the Baertschi/Horak mold, Bryon will be no doubt counted on to improve the Heat’s formerly punchless offense this year.

Lance Bouma – Bouma made his debut with the Flames after a spate of injuries last year and didn’t look terribly out of place on the fourth line. Big and fast with a willingness to engage in physical battles, Bouma probably isn’t going to make the NHL because of his scoring totals (although his marker against the Oilers kids showed that he isn’t completely without hands). Bouma is probably in for a the full three year internship at the AHL level, but may again place near the top of the list when it comes to potential injury call-ups.

Carter Bancks – Free agent invitee from last year impressed during his brief showing in the AHL before being felled by injury. A smallish winger who works ceaseslessly and skates well, Bancks doesn’t have the highest ceiling but could be in the mix for a 4th line, energy-player type role down the road.

TJ Brodie – Young defender is the best homegrown prospect on the blueline now that Tim Erixon is plying his trade in New York. Although this past week showed Brodie still has some things to work on in the defensive end, there’s no question he has top-end mobility and offensive instincts. Was the stand-out of training camp last season and managed a better point-per-game pace than most of the Heat’s forwards once he was sent down.

John Negrin – The most senior of Flames draft picks on the blueline now that Pelech is gone. Negrin had high marks coming out of junior but his pro career has been sullied by constant injury problems. A big defender who can skate, Negrin will need to stand-out and remain healthy this year in order to remain relevant in the organization.

Chris Breen – Big free agent signing moved up the depth chart under Jim Playfair last season. Breen hasn’t shown well in my limited viewings of him, with siginficant deficits in skating and mobility being his primary weakness. However, the org seems high on the kid so he may get a long look this training camp. That is, assuming the injury he suffered in the rookie camp doesn’t keep him out of the line-up.

The Parent Club Questions – Blueline and Center

As mentioned, there isn’t a lot of movement expected on the big club. The only two areas with minor question marks heading into camp are the back-end and the center rotation. With the exit of Robyn Regehr and Daymond Langkow, there is uncertainty about how particular roles will ultimately shake out. Training camp won’t be where these questions are ultimately answered as it’s likely Brent Sutter will experiment with things based on results during the regular season. The coach may, however, give us some indication of the direction he’s leaning. 

The first line center shuffle

The Flames have a lot of middle-rotation centermen. In a way, the club’s depth is impressive, boasting Olli Jokinen, Mikael Backlund, Matt Stajan, Brendan Morrison and sometimes pivot David Moss. In another way, it’s congested and confusing: none of the guys in question are proven heavy lifters or front-line offensive threats. There is therefore no clear depth chart or pecking order when it comes to the Flames centers – the race to land on a line with Alex Tanguay and Jarome Iginla will begin in earnest next Tueday. Current favorites for the position range from Moss to Backlund, although no one has things locked down. 

Filling the Robyn Hole

Regehr has been the Flames primary shut-down option since 2003. His absence will likely be assuaged with the addition of Scott Hannan as well as a promotion up the rotation of Mark Giordano. The Flames depth chart beneath Hannan, Gio and Bouwmeester is somewhat unsettled as well: Cory Sarich, Chris Butler, Anton Babchuk, Brendan Mikkelson, Brett Carson will all be dueling to see who can land in positions four-through-seven. Not to mention wild cards like AHL veterans Clay Wilson and Derek Smith, both of whom have been amongst the top point producers amongst defensemen in the minors the last few years.

Other Stuff

– There’s a chance the team will opt to carry at least one enforcer this year with both P3L and Raitis Ivanans on one-way contracts. The big guys may well be battling to show the brass who should stick with the parent club.

– For all the flack Jarome Iginla catches for being a slow starter, Miikka Kiprusoff tends to be pretty unreliable in October himself. The Flames goalie had probably his worst season in the Calgary colors last year, so it be would be nice to see him start off on the right foot for a change.

– Training camp usually yields some surprises/dark horses. Sometimes stand-outs prove to be true future NHLers like Giordano and sometimes they end up being false alarms like John Armstrong. It will be interesting to see if any unknowns poke their head above the fray this fall.  

    • BobB

      This is one of the stupidest comments I’ve ever read… how do you hope for that?

      @Kent

      Kiprusoff actually had a pretty good start last October. The team was 6W 3L, and Kipper had 2 shutouts going into the fiasco weekend.

      Then the team shit the bed entirely, got outshot by 17 with Karl in net by freaking COL! and got blown out.

      Then the next game they continued the stupid play got a million PIM’s against Wash and got lit up with 5PPGA if I remember correctly, and that was when the wheels started to fall off the team.

      @Brent G.
      “You know to keep it in perspective, a defensive top 6 of Jaybo, Gio, Hannan, Sarich, Butler and Babchuk is not the best line up in the NHL but far from the worst.”

      Damn, you’re optimistic. I look at that… and it’s freaking brutal, unless Butler is a stud.
      Bottom half of the league is a generous statement.

  • mayhemsince1977

    I am really trying to be optimistic, but I see this year’s camp as a mere formality. Based on NHL contracts, Mr. Erixon (spits on floor) may have been right about the kids not really getting a chance.

    I think the truely interesting aspect of training camp to watch will be IF an NHLer plays himself off the big club. Will Jay Feaster have the balls to send two or three of the one-way contracts to the AHL? The team seems to have a insane amount of depth defensmen. Does it not seem odd that Management would make such a deal out of ensuring the kids would get an honest shot and then sign a handfull of proven AHLer that are immediately higher on the depth chart?

    • Vintage Flame

      “I am really trying to be optimistic, but I see this year’s camp as a mere formality. Based on NHL contracts, Mr. Erixon (spits on floor) may have been right about the kids not really getting a chance.”

      That wasn’t the issue when Erixon walked though. There was room for him to make this team. Training camp might be a formality at THIS point.. but not when Erixon walked.

      • mayhemsince1977

        True enough. I guess Henry and Co. had not been signed yet.

        I still have a gut feeling that we will be underwhelmed by the roster moves this year due to the lack of contract flexibility and unwillingness to demote big contracts.

        Yes, Kotalik was demoted last year, but the situation was helped by the injury that greatly reduced the salary. I will be convinced if the flames send down a healthy player or two.

        • Vintage Flame

          “I still have a gut feeling that we will be underwhelmed by the roster moves this year due to the lack of contract flexibility and unwillingness to demote big contracts.”

          That very well may be the case. Feaster seemed quite adamant about going into this season with the guys that ‘went to war’ for him the last half of 2010-11.

          As for the unwillingness part though.. Feaster has also said that if even the guys on one way contracts don’t perform, then he would have no issue in sitting them for the younger prospects, or other players in general.

          Kind of sounds like a situation where one hand doesn’t know what the other hand is doing, but I guess in a weird way it makes sense.

    • SmellOfVictory

      Erixon would’ve been all but guaranteed a spot. He’s on another level in terms of NHL readiness compared to even Brodie. Brodie is borderline ready; Erixon is legitimately better than probably the bottom 25% of NHL defenders right now.

  • Super_Gio

    I cant remember where I heard it but I read today Sarich isn’t cleared for contact so he might not be starting the season either. I would think then the flames will ice a blue line of Jaybo, Gio, Hannan, Butler, Babchuk and Carson in his place. I seem to recall Carson didnt do too poorly last year and Mikkelson sucked.

    You know to keep it in perspective, a defensive top 6 of Jaybo, Gio, Hannan, Sarich, Butler and Babchuk is not the best line up in the NHL but far from the worst. I think it’s going to be an entertaining year. I would love it if the Flames could somehow get Reinharts brother at the draft next year. I hear he’s really good.

  • joel

    I for one am not expecting any real surprises at camp. I would love to see jay send down some one way contracts, but I would love it even more if those guys earned a spot on the team. apparently Hagman is in the best shape in a long time, hopefully that translates to some better on ice performance. as far as the first line goes, i would be happy with either Moss or Backlund centering Iggy and Tanguay. excited to see how Stempniak does in his contract year, previously while playing for a contract he has netted 28 and 29.

  • BobB

    @Kent

    Actually Kiprusoff had a pretty good start last year.

    The team was 6W – 3L

    He had two shutouts

    THEN it wasn’t until the disaster weekend when they got outshot by 17 by COL! and blownout with Karl in net…

    and then responded “physically” got a slew of PIM’s and got blasted by Washington for something like 5PPGA and were blown out.

    …. then the wheels fell off the team, winning only 4 games next month, even though Kipper was great in November with a .922sv%

    • icedawg_42

      Wow – im in the “lighten up” camp. And furthermore, here’s me not trying to be funny: I hope Ivanans remains on the LTR all of this season too! (Take that to mean whatever you want), that guy’s a waste of a contract.

  • xis10ce

    it might just be “motivational talk” from Feaster, but I read in the paper that he intends to start those who show and prove they deserve to play, and if they preform they will get another game, and so on and so forth.

    from the article:


    Under the Darryl Sutter regime, whispers persisted that brother Brent wanted to bench the likes of Matt Stajan ($3.5 million) and Niklas Hagman ($3 million), among others. The siblings disagreed. As a result, Stajan and Hagman played, leaving a youngster like Mikael Backlund to sit.”

    As he says, if the performance is there he intends to sit one of those one way contracts in place of a young up and comer.

    Read more: http://www.calgaryherald.com/sports/Flames+Feaster+tells+players+performance+will+dictate+plays/5399939/story.html#ixzz1Y3LkzlSj

  • The Saint

    Curious people’s thoughts on Bouma?

    Watching the kid play during this year’s tourney, and last year with the big club for 10 games, I’m pleased to see the effort he gives on every shift. Skates well, hits hard, plays a good 2-way game, and is willing to drop the gloves to defend a teammate whenever the opportunity arises.

    Sure he needs to improve his hands, but watching the likes of Wahl and Nemisz shy away from contact and skate only when it counts, it suprises me that Lance doesn’t have more supporters, especially being from Alberta.

  • icedawg_42

    @Kent Wilson: Kipper came into training camp last year in better shape than ever didn’t he? We saw how that worked. I hope this summer he did more smoking, drinking and partying with ol’ Neon Dion.

    • The Saint

      My memory might be foggy, but I thought Kipper was find in October and November. Statistically November was one of his stronger months. I think he was around .920 SV%.

      He absolutely collapsed in December though. Might have been he just gave up. He turned it around in mid January. Maybe when he realized the team was actually going to compete.

      He was never a 6-million dollar goalie last season. But outside of December and the first half of January he wasn’t dreadful.

        • mayhemsince1977

          Oct .901 2.78 28.1 shots
          Nov .921 2.50 31.8 shots
          Dec .888 2.73 24.4 shots
          Jan .885 2.80 24.4 shots
          Feb .929 2.00 28.0 shots
          Mar .885 3.00 26.1 shots
          Apr .953 1.33 28.3 shots

          I was curious so I pulled the numbers. Kipper’s stats by month. Kipper only played 3 games in April.

          Not a strong March by the numbers.

  • Subversive

    …and is willing to drop the gloves to defend a teammate whenever the opportunity arises.

    I hate this line of thinking, and it really does come back to the whole ‘culture of hockey’ thing that people think it’s a good thing. Simply ridiculous that we should be evaluating athletes in a sport on their ability or willingness to fight.

    • The Saint

      Hate…come on really?

      I was basing my comments on the character of the player, not on the debate of whether fighting should or should not be in the game.

      Following Lance while he was in the WHL as Captain for the Giants, he always showed strong leadership skills by sticking up for smaller, more skilled players on his team.

      Is it ridiculous to question the heart of a player when evaluating them? Look at any scouting report or camp evaluation…how many times do scouts or GM’s mention the “heart” of the player. Do you think guys like to fight, risking their careers and jeopardizing their health?

      Showing players and management that you are willing to stick up and defend a teammate, goes a long way in building respect on a team, especially if you’re a rookie trying to crack a roster spot.

  • Dr. Nick

    I hope that Feaster has scouts really watching his youngsters this year so when he has plenty of spots open next year he knows how many free agents he has to sign. If some of the prospects seem like they may be able to fill a role on the Flames, even if it is a bottom six forward or a bottom pair defensemen, that is one less over-priced free agent he has to sign.

  • mayhemsince1977

    @Kent Wilson

    Does the Nation have anyone down at the Dome for the Testing? I think it will be interesting to see who took Rich Hesketh seriously this summer. Especially with the attention that Management was giving the topic.

    Kipper, J-Bow, Hagman, Stajan are some of the guys I can remember Feaster mentioning.

  • mayhemsince1977

    I know hes pretty low on the list, but Im curious what your opinions on Henry are. I knew him growing up, but havent kept in touch. Looks like he put up solid numbers in Rochester before heading to KHL. Numbers there were poor but I imagine its not an easy transition. Ive noticed some people slotting him for ECHL action. What are your thoughts Kent?