Brad Rempel/USA TODAY Sports
Going into free agency, the Flames were missing two obvious elements: right wingers and a backup goalie. Signing Troy Brouwer and Chad Johnson addressed both issues.
The problem? There are still holes in the lineup that need filling in. So while it’s far too early to do serious lineup projections for this team – some key members have only been around for a day – we can take a look at how things might fill out, and see where there’s still opportunity.
This is still a very young team – and it could stay that way.
Between Brian Elliott and Johnson, the goaltending position is set. If one of them gets hurt, then it could be time to welcome Jon Gillies or David Rittich to the NHL; otherwise, there isn’t really any room there. Which is good – we don’t have to sit through any three goalie messes to start this season.
With all of the contracts on the backend, the defence appears set, too. Jakub Nakladal is still a possibility to (re)join the group, but he’s a known commodity for the Flames. All nine guys who are probable options (in additional to Nakladal: Giordano, Brodie, Hamilton, Wideman, Engelland, Smid, Jokipakka, and Wotherspoon) have already spent extensive time with the Flames. There’s nobody new, and there wouldn’t be any particular surprises from this group.
Here’s where there are holes. Let’s go with a really base lineup based on who’s with the Flames right now:
Shuffle guys around as you will.
Three spots are left open, assuming the Flames go with 14 forwards and seven defencemen. If the Flames do bring back Josh Jooris, that still leaves two spots. They aren’t likely to do another Brouwer-level signing – they’re running out of cap – but more Chiasson-level signings could help fill them in.
Or, there will be a spot or three available in the forward lineup to be filled from within.
Matthew Tkachuk expressed determination to play in the NHL this season. Does he scoop up one of those spots? Hunter Shinkaruk had a good showing at the end of 2015-16. Does one of those spots become his? Daniel Pribyl has the size and at least had the scoring talent in the Czech league. Will one of those spots be his? Freddie Hamilton was one of the few qualified RFAs. Will he take a shot at staying at the next level?
Jooris should have made the 2014-15 opening night roster, but between guys like Devin Setoguchi and Brian McGrattan, there was no room for him. The 2015-16 opening night roster featured Jiri Hudler, David Jones, and Mason Raymond as part of it; Brouwer may replace Hudler and Chiasson Jones, but that’s only two for three. (Two for four, if we include Joe Colborne starting his season injured, but returning soon after to take a spot in the lineup.)
Barring any surprise late off-season signings – you know, like another Setoguchi – it sure looks like there will be spots in the forward lineup open for a prospect to make his way on to. Even if Jooris is brought back and a better Setoguchi experiment is conducted, that’s still a roster spot basically guaranteed for the top prospect out of camp.
This hasn’t been seen during Treliving’s tenure as general manager so far. His first two opening rosters have been completely filled up. Contrast that to Sean Monahan forcing himself on in 2013-14, as did Sven Baertschi and Colborne to start that season.
Maybe that’ll be the case this year: a sixth overall pick and a less-heralded prospect who has distinguished himself nevertheless.
This early into the off-season, at least, it looks like there’s going to be room for opportunity. That could change at a moment’s notice, but so far so good for the hopefuls up front.