For the first time since 1995, the Calgary Flames open main training camp without Jarome Iginla. For the first time since 2003, they don’t have a bonafide number-one goalie. Or a number-one center, but that’s not really a “new” issue with this group. They also don’t have a captain and the team is finally starting their long-awaited rebuild.
Anyhoo, camp’s on-ice portion begins today over at Winsport. (On two rinks!)
Looking down the roster, the knee-jerk reaction is to conclude that “These guys don’t look so good.” That may be true, but many of them are quite motivated – hometown boy T.J. Galiardi was reportedly quite displeased with the notions that the Flames will be lousy this year. That’s probably not a rare sentiment in the locker room – much like the rag-tag group in Major League, these guys probably don’t care that they’re "supposed" to be not that good.
The first steps toward providing the critics wrong – or tanking hard – take place this week at the kick-off of main training camp. We’ve already seen the prospects shake off the cobwebs, but now things are amped up and they introduce, for lack of a better term, “live ammo” to the proceedings.
The Flames have split 54 guys into three groups, named after Flames legends – Lanny McDonald, Brad McCrimmon and Jim Peplinski. They’ll have what’s essentially a bunch of short scrimmages in a mini-tournament format. While two teams are scrimmages, the other will be practicing. Pretty cool idea, if you ask me.
On-ice begins on Thursday. Team McDonald plays Team McCrimmon at 10am (along with a concurrent Team Peplinski practice), followed by an 11:05 scrimmage pitting Team McDonald against Peplinski (with McCrimmon practices). The timings make me think that scrimmages will be about 45-50 minutes in length.
Friday at 10am, we have Team McCrimmon against Team Peplinski (and a McDonald practice). At 11:05 it’s McCrimmon against McDonald (and a Peplinski practice).
After that, it’s into even liver-fire exercises, as the Flames split into two groups for a pair of games with Edmonton (one here and one there) on Saturday night, a game in Saskatoon against Ottawa in Saskatoon on Monday and another set of split-squad games against the Islanders, this time in Regina and Calgary.
And on days that there aren’t games, expect the three-group mini-tournament format to continue until cuts are made to bring things down to a more manageable number.
G: Reto Berra and Joni Ortio
D: Dennis Wideman, T.J. Brodie, Derek Smith, Brett Kulak (junior), Zach McKelvie (try-out) and James Martin
F: Tim Jackman, Matt Stajan, Blair Jones, Curtis Glencross, Roman Horak, Lee Stempniak, Carter Bancks (AHLer), Greg Nemisz, Ben Hanowski and Max Reinhart
The team bearing the name of Lanny McDonald has a pretty strong roster, including Ortio, who’s got a lot of momentum going into main camp. The blueline features McKelvie, a US Army veteran who played with the Heat last year, as well as three NHL regulars. (Smith may be in tough to keep his spot with the youngsters pushing for roster spots.)
G: Laurent Brossoit and Karri Ramo
D: Mark Giordano, Patrick Sieloff, Shane O’Brien, Tyler Wotherspoon, Keegan Kanzig (junior) and Brady Lamb (try-out)
F: Corban Knight, Mikael Backlund, Mike Cammalleri, Sean Monahan, Steve Begin (AHLer), Paul Byron, David Eddy, David Jones, Coda Gordon (junior) and Michael Ferland
This team is named after the late, great Brad McCrimmon. Ramo gets arguably the least blueline help, with Giordano and O’Brien being the only established NHLers. But hey, there is Sieloff, Wotherspoon, the towering Keegan Kanzig and Brady Lamb, back on a try-out. Up-front, it’s youngsters (Knight, Backlund, Monahan, Byron, Ferland) and Cammalleri, Begin and David Jones.
G: Joey MacDonald
D: Kris Russell, Chad Billins, Mark Cundari, Chris Butler, John Ramage and Ryan Culkin
F: Brian McGrattan, Lance Bouma, Jiri Hudler, Ben Street, T.J. Galiardi, Sven Baertschi, Emile Poirier (junior), Markus Granlund, Turner Elson, Brett Olson (AHLer) and Josh Jooris
Finally, the team bearing the name of Jim Peplinski features the only returning NHL goalie (MacBackup), two NHL regular blueliners (Russell and Butler) and three NHL forwards (Hudler, McGrattan and Galiardi). After that, a lot of interesting wild cards: How will Cundari and Ramage look? Is Culkin ready for the pros? Is Bouma recovered from his injury? Can Granlund continue his momentum? Can Elson? Can Baertschi create some momentum?
Eric Roy, Morgan Klimchuk and Chris Breen are all in town but aren’t participating in camp quite yet due to injury. It sucks the most arguably for Breen, who was great at last year’s truncated camp and likely would’ve been up in the NHL at season’s end if not for a shoulder injury.
SUM IT UP
Instead of “only” drills and work outs, the Flames are mixing things up this year with a three-group mini-tournament. There are 54 guys in camp (57 if you include the injured guys). There are 23 NHL roster spots, and arguably 16 of them are already spoken for. There are probably spots for two goalies, one defenseman and four forwards.
The next couple weeks will decide which guys get those seven spots. And which guys get shuffled off to juniors, Abbotsford or Alaska to wait their turn.