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.
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.
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.
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
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!