Opening Roster Breakdown 10 Days Out

The Calgary Flames have 10 days to get their roster down to the league-mandated 23 players for opening night.

On one hand? Hooray! Hockey is almost back. On the other hand? Yikes, because outside of the blueline, things are a mess and there will be no really “easy” decisions.

Let’s break it down.

GOALIES

It’s between three men for two jobs, as it has been from the beginning. Jonas Hiller, Karri Ramo and Joni Ortio.

Hiller has started twice: against Edmonton in the opener and against Vancouver at home. He’s played a game and a half, and given up a goal. He didn’t really need to steal either game, as each time he played it was the NHL Flames against AHL opponents. But he played as well as you would hope he would.

Ramo has also started twice. He played the two periods of the Edmonton road game (giving up a goal) and then played yesterday against Vancouver. Both games he played were against NHL teams with AHL defensive groups in front of him. From what I heard he was good against Edmonton, and he was pretty decent against Vancouver last night but gave up a bad goal.

Ortio has also played twice. He played the second half of the Edmonton opener, giving up a goal that he had no chance on. And then he shut out Colorado. The Colorado game is arguably his most impressive, as he had an AHL defense in front of him and stood on his head, despite some wonky rebound control early-on.

I think each goalie gets one start apiece so they can decide who gets the jobs. Three pre-season games left for three goalies. Right now, I think I’d go with Jonas Hiller and Joni Ortio as the tandem. Ramo had a rep for giving up a bad goal per game last season, and so far he hasn’t dispelled it in the pre-season.

DEFENSE

Two jobs are open to fill in for left-handed shots Ladislav Smid and T.J. Brodie to begin the season. And so far, two left-handed players have acquitted themselves so far: Ryan Wilson and Brett Kulak.

Wilson is basically a lock. He’s a lefty. He’s experienced. As a try-out, he’s a free asset. He can be signed and play for a month, and if he gets claimed on waivers when everyone is healthy, it’s no big deal. He’s also a guy that you won’t feel bad about putting in the press box occasionally – which is why I think they go with an older guy and a younger guy for the two spots.

Now, of the remaining leftie players, Kulak has been (by far) the most energetic and most likely to join into the rush. He created the 3-on-3 rush last night that led to the game-winning goal. He’s a poor man’s T.J. Brodie right now – not nearly as good a passer or skater, but playing with that kind of up-tempo style that the Flames love to play. And to play the “if not him, who?” game: Tyler Wotherspoon is probably the only other option.

  • Rasmus Andersson and Oliver Kylington are beginning to look very 18.
  • Jakub Nakadal is recovering from an injury of some sort.
  • Kenney Morrison needs to play everyday and learn the AHL game (he’s been okay in pre-season).
  • Patrick Sieloff is not ready and needs to play a ton to develop.

If they want a puck-mover, Kuak’s shown more this pre-season than Wotherspoon has. If they want a stay-at-home guy, then they probably go with Wotherspoon.

FORWARDS

This is a tougher nut to crack.

The top six seems to be set based on the lines used thus far: that grouping is Johnny Gaudreau, Jiri Hudler, Sean Monahan, Sam Bennett, Michael Frolik and Micheal Ferland. The third line is probably something like Lance Bouma, Mikael Backlund and David Jones. Matt Stajan and Josh Jooris are also locks for NHL jobs. I always felt they’d try to retain Brandon Bollig in some role (even as the 14th forward), and his performance last night helps his cause.

If you presume he sticks (locking down 12 forward spots), then there are two NHL roster spots for four forwards: Paul Byron, Joe Colborne, Drew Shore and Mason Raymond. Byron’s played one game and looked decent and Shore was good against Vancouver. I don’t think they waive both of Colborne and Raymond. My gut says they waive Byron and Raymond. Byron under a “he needs to play because he missed a bunch of last season” edict, and Raymond flat-out due to performance issues.

Shore’s a right-handed shot, and the forward group I’ve amassed has just three of them (Jones, Jooris and Shore), which is why I think he sticks – even as an extra body. The challenge is that Colborne and Shore can each only really play the right side, so I don’t know what happens there.

Of the non-waiver bunch, I’d say Emile Poirier, Derek Grant and Garnet Hathaway have done the most to help their causes to be the first call-ups. I don’t think any of them stick in Calgary to start the season, if only because of the waiver situation with the veterans, but they’ve all done well. Morgan Klimchuk’s also been decent, but I think they want to give him a ton of games in Stockton before they think about the NHL.

SUM IT UP

My opening night group:

Johnny Gaudreau – Sean Monahan – Jiri Hudler
Micheal Ferland – Sam Bennett – Michael Frolik
Lance Bouma – Mikael Backlund – David Jones
Brandon Bollig – Matt Stajan – Josh Jooris
(Drew Shore & Joe Colborne)

Mark Giordano – Dougie Hamilton
Kris Russell – Dennis Wideman
Ryan Wilson – Deryk Engelland
(Brett Kulak)

Jonas Hiller
Joni Ortio

Non-Roster/Injured: T.J. Brodie, Ladislav Smid, Ryan Culkin

Waivers: Karri Ramo, Mason Raymond, Paul Byron

(If nobody grabs Ramo or Raymond off the waiver wire, though, that’s a ton of money to pay guys in the minors…)

Sound off in the comments about what changes you would make!

  • Denscafon

    Ryan, I find I’m at odds with your goalie and D picks, but think you are right on with the Forwards.

    First the Goalies. I agree completely with Ortio. With Ramo I’m not sure what bad goals you believe he gave up, I’m not seeing it. In fact in the last three games I’m not seeing any bad goals given up by any goalie. Personally I believe Ramo has had the much tougher games versus Hiller and done very well. The choice between the two vets is a difficult one, but I’d go with younger and perhaps slightly more upside, Ramo.

    As for the D, Andersson has clearly been both the best and the most consistent of them all, so he stays at least until Brodie is back. After that probably Nakladal, then Wilson, then Wotherspoon. Kulak has been good but a little inconsistent plus he’s waiver-free so a little more time in the AHL would do him good and it’s an easy choice for the Flames. Since Nakladal is apparently injured Wilson gets the contract. Killington I like and think in the AHL he’ll get the coaching and competition and time to strengthen up he needs.

    The Forwards I agree, with Raymond definitely going down. Of the other three I like the upside of Shore the most and if Colborne continues to progress him as well. I’ve become a fan of Byron lately but someone has to go and I like your reasoning with might be a better sell while still keeping the player motivated. Poitier can use some more time, which I’m surprised about since I believed he would be the breakout player of TC and Granlund, Arnold, Hathaway and Agostino have to gather strength and consistency and await their shot.

  • beloch

    As good as Bollig was last night, I’d still drop him and add Byron. This team has enough functional toughness without him and Byron would drastically improve the fourth line’s possession.

    • smith

      Last night Bollig exposed their prospects trying to play “get the puck” (an old Oiler’s strategy).

      It’s funny that Pike didn’t mention Granlund…at all.
      He has been one of the most consistent players in the pre-season. More noticeable than Shore.

      His waiver status makes him an obvious choice to send down, but is that the right way to make a decision?
      “Always earned, unless you can be sent down without impact”?

  • FlamesRule

    @ Pike

    “The challenge is that Colborne and Shore can each only really play the right side”

    Can you please explain your reasoning as to why you think they can only play the right side. Is it just your preference or do you know something of the coaches or players preferences?

  • MontanaMan

    I would substitute Byron for Bollig as well and drop Bouma to the fourth line and substitute Byron in on the third as the situation dictates. That gives both lines plenty of speed and some grit. Back’s line should be good driving possession and that fourth line should be as good or better than any other fourth line in the league and good enough not to completely crap the bed if they get caught out against someone else’s best lines.

  • MontanaMan

    I don’t feel that any of the three goaltenders give me confidence of a #1 guy, Ramo and Hiller due to inconsistency and letting in soft goals and Ortio just due to opportunity, age and experience. Hiller has stood on his head, then let in softies. Same with Ramo. The difference between our tenders and a Carey Price type stopper is performing at an elite level consistantly. Not easy to do but necessary if you want to be an NHL #1. For defence, I’m giving the nod to Wilson. He skates well, shows excellent poise and has the experience to handle limited minutes. And forwards, I think you will see Byron gone. He brings speed but lacks size and finish and the Flames forwards need a little sandpaper in an 82 game schedule.

  • T&A4Flames

    I don’t get the lack of love for Wotherspoon. He played more than 22 mins last and was good. He’s ready and has been ready to play in a tougher league for a while. If we weren’t battling for the PO’s last year, he would have been in full time.

    As for Ramo having a rep for giving up a softie, I disagree. That distinction goes to Hiller. How many times last year did he give up an easy goal to start the game and put his team behind. A LOT! Ramo has more ups and downs but when he’s on, he’s better than Hiller. Hopefully this is the year he finds that consistency.

  • smith

    I really think Granlund needs to be looked at. He has always been responsible but now he seems to be scoring as well.

    Wotherspoon on defense and give Kulak a chance to play a lot in the AHL.

    Hiller and Ortio in net. Ramo has not been able to save more than Hiller and I doubt he will.

  • T&A4Flames

    I like to think of it as two scoring lines (#1: Monahan and #2: Bennett) and two checking lines (#1: Backlund and #2: Stajan). That keeps us from labelling Bennett as the #2 center, and also from relegating Stajan to “fourth line” minutes.

  • everton fc

    Kulak should make the team over Wotherspoon. Keep Wilson and Kulak. When Nakladal returns, assess him vs. Kulak, but probably keep Nakladal so Kulak can get more games.

    Kulak has been the real surprise of camp, when it comes to the young guys. Quietly getting the job done.

  • Denscafon

    I agree with others that think Hiller is way more known for giving up a super weak goal when he plays compared to Ramo. Just look at near the end of last season and the playoffs and you can see Hiller letting in very soft goals and being pulled during that time quite often. It’s sad to say but I feel that all trades for hiller has most likely fell apart and we’ll have to bury him in the minors and let him walk. Only thing I think that will save us is if a goalie from another team gets injured in the pre season and gives us a 5th-6th rounder for hiller.

  • everton fc

    Of those shipped down on D, I am not surprised by Kulak, Wotherspoon staying, nor Wilson. Given the injuries however I thought they’d keep Rasmus for more pre-season and maybe the 9 game NHL tryout before going back to junior.