A handy guide to 2016-17 camp battles

Main training camp is now officially underway for the 60+ players that the Calgary Flames have brought in to vie for roster spots. Let’s be brutally honest, though: all 60+ players don’t have the same chance at said spots. Some jobs are spoken for, and only a precious few are up for grabs.

In the interest of sweet, sweet clarity we present to you our guide to 2016-17’s Training Camp Battles (in order of importance).

Three or Four Wing Spots For Nine Guys

The Flames are set up the middle with Sean Monahan, Mikael Backlund, Sam Bennett and Matt Stajan, and given the coaching staff’s (and management’s) preference for pairings, you can expect centers and wingers to pair off. You’ve gotta figure that the general locks for pairings are Monahan & Gaudreau, Backlund & Frolik and Bennett & Brouwer, and beyond that they’ll try to figure out who matches up well. That likely means that Lance Bouma, Micheal Ferland and Alex Chiasson slot in somewhere in the vicinity of the pairings (or with Stajan).

So that equates to something like this:

Gaudreau – Monahan – ???
??? – Bennett – Brouwer
??? – Backlund – Frolik
??? – Stajan – ???
(with one or two extra forwards to rotate in)

The locks for some of those open spots are Bouma, Ferland and Chiasson. That leaves three or four jobs up for grabs for the likes of Matthew Tkachuk, Brandon Bollig, Hunter Shinkaruk, Garnet Hathaway, Emile Poirier, Linden Vey, Freddie Hamilton, Chris Higgins and Daniel Pribyl.

Now, Pribyl is probably gonna head to the AHL for a while since he’s not quite medically cleared yet after ACL surgery. But everybody else is probably a contender for the jobs. Tkachuk, Shinkaruk and maybe Poirier could try for scoring line spots. Bollig, Hathaway, Vey, Hamilton and Higgins are more bottom six guys (and considering the Flames have a lot of non-scoring types, perhaps the 13th and 14th forwards will come from this mix).

My gut says: Higgins, Vey, Bollig and (for a nine-game tryout) Tkachuk make the team. But a lot of that likely depends on both individual performance and what chemistry emerges between the various pairings and the potential third guys on each line.

Seventh NHL Defenseman

With Ladislav Smid done for the year, somebody will inherit his seventh defender role. Who will it be? Brett Kulak, Tyler Wotherspoon, Oliver Kylington and Nicklas Grossmann are in this mix. You’ll note that all of these guys are left shots, which makes sense because the Flames have three locks that are right shots (Deryk Engelland, Dougie Hamilton and Dennis Wideman) and Brodie can play both sides, and an extra body that can play the left side would give them some flexibility.

My gut says: it’s probably between Wotherspoon and Grossmann. Both would require waivers to go to the AHL, and the Flames would likely rather have Kulak and Kylington playing regularly than sitting in the press box.

AHL Depth Forwards

The Flames have two forwards on amateur tryouts (Mikkel Aagaard and Dennis Kravchenko) and one on a pro tryout (Luke Adam) that are almost definitely not destined for the NHL this season, but due to their ages and skill sets could be nice fits at the AHL level.

Aagaard is 20 and could go back to junior, but probably won’t since he’s both an overager and an import (a “two-spotter” in CHL parlance), while Kravchenko is 22 and done with college. Both could be useful depth for the Heat, in a similar way to Ryan Lomberg’s role last season where he bounced between the AHL and ECHL. Adam, 26, probably projects as more of an AHL regular and offensive weapon to help push the Flames’ higher-end farmhands.

AHL Depth Defenseman

This is quite similar to the forward situation.

Stepan Falkovsky is eligible to go back to junior, but he’s also a two-spotter and probably is destined for pro. Colby Robak is an established pro, while Mikhail Grigoriev is attempting to make the jump from the KHL.

AHL Back-Up/ECHL Starter (or QMJHL Overager?)

If Mason McDonald has a good camp, he could end up in the AHL as Jon Gillies’ backup. If he has a decent camp but the braintrust wants him to play a ton, he’ll head to ECHL. If they feel he needs a year of playing against junior-aged players to boost his confidence, he’ll be sent back to the QMJHL for an overage year (which will burn the first year of his entry-level deal since he’s 20).

David Rittich will probably be the Heat’s back-up goalie. If McDonald has an insane camp, Rittich will start in the ECHL.

What About Contracts?

Every tryout player wants an NHL contract. How many do the Flames have to give? They current have 44 players under contract for 2016-17, but Tkachuk, Kylington and Nick Schneider can potentially slide. 

The way slide contracts are handled is this: until a player is in a situation where their contract won’t count (e.g., they’re in junior), it’s counted as part of the 50.

In other words? The Flames will have 43 contracts on the books (42 if they send Tkachuk back to the OHL), which probably gives them some wiggle room of two or three NHL contracts that they can hand out to deserving individuals at camp without hamstringing themselves down the line.

        • freethe flames

          Where there any indications of who might play with whom from yesterdays camp? It was clear from the interview with GG that Bennett/Brouwer were going to be a pairing. The fact that Tkachuk played with them yesterday suggests he will get that opportunity at least for now.

          Who did Janko center? Who did Shinkaruk and Poirier line up with? I know it’s early in camp but these can be indicators of what is come. We will get a much better understanding when all the guys get back, signed or healthy but it would be nice if anyone who saw yesterday would share their insight. The upcoming split squad should also shed some early light on things to come.

        • cberg

          Nice summary of things, though you forgot the Centres. As it stands I’m hoping for Tkachuk, Shinkaruk, Higgins and Hathaway? On D probably Wotherspoon, but I don’t really know Grossman at all.

          Of course, this all assumes no injuries, which wouldn’t happen, as we already have some major ones, namely Monahan(C), Backlund(C), Pribyl(RW) and Klimchuk(LW). That puts Jankowski(C) clearly with an opening to start, along with another Centre (?) and lessens the Wing competition at least temporarily. And lest we forget, or choose to ignore the fact, our (1LW)Gaudreau is a TC holdout and that spot is also available for the moment. That brings the total current available Forward spots to AT LEAST 7 guys, assuming everyone agrees that Ferland, Bouma and Chiasson make it as you’ve written, which is highly probable.

        • Arminius

          If there is no return of the Nak, I’d like to see Wotherspoon finally get his chance. Absolutely NO to Grossman. He is horrid and would be a disaster even if he is the 7th defenseman.
          As well I’d like to see Bouma Backlund and Frolik kept together as much as possible with Bollig stapled to the press box besides the odd game against heavy teams.
          Ferland, Stajan, Chiasson, Tkachuk (for the 9 games possibly the season though I’d be fine seeing him back in Jr), Shinkaruk and Vey make up the other 5 spots to go with the Monahan, Johnny and Bennett, Brouwer combos.
          Higgins..I just can’t get behind signing. He’d need a great camp before I could see it

        • Brent G.

          Given his sporadic results of late, what does everyone see as Poiriers higher end potential? It would sure be a nice turn of events if he could somehow elevate his game to play on the top line. Probably unlikely but nice to dream. Shinkaruk looked okay in this spot last year if memory serves me correctly – probably a better bet for this season.

          I really like the idea of Tkachuk – Bennett – Brouwer forming a line when Tkachuk is ready.

          Buoma – Backlund – Frolik is a no brainer.

          When Stajan is gone, it’d be a nice 4th line of Hathaway – Jankowski – Vey.

          Chiasson as the 13th forward. Please get rid of Bollig ASAP!

          • OKG

            Poirier’s higher end potential is a guy like Max Pacioretty, or at least Frolik – but he needs to seriously dominate the AHL offensively to get back on track.

          • FlamesFanOtherCity

            Bouma playing on Backlund’s wing is a no-brainer, in that he does not deserve to play there. He had one good stretch in 2014/15 there, but Ferland has played a lot better recently. Bouma should play no higher than 4th line, as that is his skill set. And he should be part of the PK unit anymore. Last year he would block a shot and be unable to finish his shift properly due to the block.

            The top 3 lines need to be the best players on the team. Ferland could easily be a LW on Bennett’s or Backlund’s line. Higgins could be signed to use as a PK specialist and 4th liner with offensive skill. Bollig does not fit anymore. Would rather deploy Hathaway as the new “enforcer”. Not that he scares anyone, but he sticks up for every one on the team.

        • Bean-counting cowboy

          I’d prefer Ferland with Backlund and Frolik as opposed to Bouma.

          Love the Brouwer/Bennett pairing. I’ve been touting this since Brouwer was signed.

          As I’ve said before, this is my preference:

          Gaudreau/Monahan/Shinkaruk or Poirer

          Tkachuk (9 games and then see)/Bennett/Brouwer

          Ferland/Backlund/Frolik

          Bouma/Stajan/Chiasson

          If Tkachuck doesn’t stick, Ferland moves up with Bennett & Brouwer, and THEN Bouma with Backlund/Frolik, but I hope Tkachuk makes it and can be a difference maker!

        • Dan the flames fan

          I like B & B line, but Bouma is really going to have to prove that he should be on this line over Shinkaruk. I think the time up with the team last season proved that Shinkaruk could run with the big boys and produce.

          Let’s not forget that Stajan played a few games on the wing pretty effectively last year. That gives us a couple more options….
          ? Jankowski. Stajan
          That would give Jankowski experience in the NHL, with a solid mentor.

          I get the PTO’s, but I struggle with automatically dismissing our projects for them. IMO the PTO’s need to have an absolutely lights out training camp in order to replace a prospect. If they don’t then by order of the prospects potential, they need to gain the time and experience with the big club over the guy who is “just filling a spot”.

        • Pizzaman

          With new coaches in Gulutzan etc it will be interesting to see how they perceive Ferland and Bouma. I don’t think they are locks. How the new coaches perceive the PK specialist will also be critical. I really hope some rookies and young guys blow the doors off at camp and make it really hard to decide who stays. Hopefully Tkachuk will make the team but he has to demonstrate hockey smarts at this level.

        • JumpJet

          I might sound a bit crazy, but I wouldn’t mind giving Bouma a shot with Bennett and Brouwer during the pre-season. His style of play would certainly compliment the other two. All he would need to do to be successful is forecheck hard, turn pucks over, and get to the front of the net.

          Also, has everyone forgotten about Freddie Hamilton already? He should certainly be in the mix for a bottom six job considering he got a one-way contract. 4th line RW or C, if Stajan moves to the wing.

        • OKG

          Lines I would like to see for game 1 opening day assuming Tkachuk doesn’t make the cut.

          Gaudreau-Monahan-Chiasson

          Stajan-Backlund-Frolik

          Ferland-Bennett-Brouwer

          Bouma-Hamilton-Hathaway

          Vey/Whoever

          I think that is a pretty balanced roster. If Tkachuk makes the cut, then maybe:

          Gaudreau-Monahan-Hamilton

          Tkachuk-Bennett-Brouwer

          Ferland-Backlund-Frolik

          Bouma-Stajan-Chiasson

          Hathaway/Vey

          • Sobueno

            I know in today’s NHL it’s good to balance your lines a bit more, but I can’t say either Hamilton or Chiasson on the 1st line inspires much confidence

            • OKG

              A team with Conor Sheary, Bryan Rust, and a verge-of-retirement Chris Kunitz on the wings of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin just stomped their way to cup. Don’t worry about wingers that much as long as they are decent role players.

          • beloch

            For those who missed it, Winnipeg Jet Jacob Trouba has requested a trade to a team where he’ll be able to play on the right-hand side. It’s fair to say he’s second pairing caliber, but the Jets already have two right-hand shots above him on their depth chart.

            Who wouldn’t want to see Trouba round out the Flames top four? That’d give the flames top four two righties (Dougie and Trouba) and two lefties (Gio and Brodie).

            There’s a big problem however: The expansion draft.

            Teams will have to choose between protecting 7 forwards and 3 defenders, or 8 skaters in total. If the Flames want to actually keep Trouba past this season, they will only be able to protect 4 forwards. It gets even worse though! The rules say you *have* to protect players with NMC’s unless they agree to waive. That means three of those four spots could potentially be taken up by Brouwer, Stajan, and Frolik. Obviously, exposing players like Monahan or Backlund to the expansion draft is not going to fly.

            The other option is to treat Trouba as a rental. The Flames have fairly high odds of losing Jokipakka to the expansion draft, so Jokipakka+ for Trouba would work from the Flames standpoint. However, that + can only be worth renting Trouba for one season or it’s a bad deal for the Flames, and that basically ensures the Jets would not be happy with the value of that +. Wideman+ could work as a salary dump for the Flames, but only if that + were something super sweet, like a first rounder.

            Long story short, Trouba pretty much has to be traded to a team where he’ll be the #3D and not the #4D, or Winnipeg is going to get absolutely hosed.

            • Baalzamon

              The rules say you *have* to protect players with NMC’s unless they agree to waive. That means three of those four spots could potentially be taken up by Brouwer, Stajan, and Frolik.

              Wrong: NONE of those three players has a NMC. They have NTCs. NTC is NOT the same thing as a NMC, and NTCs DO NOT have to be protected. I’ve been over this like forty times with people thinking the Flames need to protect Stajan (they don’t. Emphatically).

              The only NMC on Calgary’s roster is Dennis Wideman, and his contract expires in July, so he doesn’t need to be protected.

        • BlueMoonNigel

          In virtually all of the line projections above I note that the $4M a year Frolik is a third-liner. How different is that from having your 5th, 6th, and 7th defencemen all earning a minimum of $3M a year?

          Granted you have to work with what you’ve got and not all of those under contract were Tre’s doing, but in what kind of a bizzaro world does a third-line right winger earn more than four times that of the guy who is playing right-side on the top line assuming that top-liner is not a rookie. (Why a rookie would be playing top-line minutes on any team other than one known as Desperation is discussion for another time.)

          In an unrelated matter, is it possible that the Flames are hanging their hopes for 2016-17 on four members of last-season’s lowly Vancouver Canucks? Gully for sure, but what would it say if Shinkaruk, Vey and Higgins were all wearing Flames’ silks on opening night? Dream the dream.