It’s finally September, which means that training camp is just around the corner. Before too long the Calgary Flames will open main camp and a slew of veterans and hopefuls will skate around and jockey for National Hockey League jobs. Until then, it’s time for us to sit under the proverbial learning tree and ponder some things that will undoubtedly become clearer in the coming weeks.
Here are five very, very early questions we have before training camp opens.
Who’s gonna start in goal for Stockton?
The two NHL jobs are locked down by Mike Smith and Eddie Lack, respectively, but after that it’s a bit of a free-for-all. Who’s going to get the net to start the year in the AHL (and presumably be the first call-up)? Jon Gillies and David Rittich split duties last year almost 50-50. But 2016 draft pick Tyler Parsons is going pro and is, in a word, good at goaltending.
Who’s going to fill the 6th and 7th defender spots in Calgary?
The Flames’ top five defensive spots are locked down and the 2017-18 opening day blueline looks basically like this:
Mark Giordano – Dougie Hamilton
T.J. Brodie – Travis Hamonic
??? – Michael Stone
There are a few contenders to fill those two remaining spots, but all come with their own quirks and wrinkles:
- Brett Kulak is a young left-shot defender that needs to play. He arguably fits the team’s playing style best and would require waivers to demote. He’s got enough buzz around the league as a smart young defender that he probably wouldn’t clear waivers, but bear in mind that Vegas is going to be throwing plenty of more established NHL blueliners on the waiver wire so Kulak could squeak through.
- Matt Bartkowski is likely the default choice as the seventh defender because he’s a veteran who plays a simple, no-frills game but also won’t be hurt by sitting for extended periods in the press box. He’s also inexpensive, with a cap hit near the league minimum. There’s probably a value to him going to the AHL and mentoring the younger players, but that probably only happens if the team wants somebody else as the seventh defender.
- Tyler Wotherspoon could end up as the seventh defender with a great camp. He’s older than many of the team’s prospects and probably won’t be hurt too much by sitting in the press box, as he’s closer to his developmental ceiling than the youngsters are. That said, he might be more useful in Stockton.
- Oliver Kylington is young and talented and a good skater, but he’s also just 20 and still capable of major gaffes with the puck. He’s a left shot and his skating will make him a contender here, but he needs more seasoning.
Because he’s a right shot, and the Flames already have three of them on their NHL roster (Hamilton, Hamonic and Stone), it’s not likely that Rasmus Andersson cracks the opening night roster.
Who replaces Alex Chiasson and Lance Bouma?
Based on everything we’ve seen and heard this summer, the Flames’ top nine probably won’t be tremendously different to begin 2017-18. Michael Ferland probably starts the year alongside Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau, while the 3M Line (Matthew Tkachuk, Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik) will probably remain together. But the departure of Alex Chiasson opens up a top-nine spot alongside Kris Versteeg and Sam Bennett, while a fourth line spot is vacant with Lance Bouma’s buyout.
Presuming that the Flames don’t bring in any free agents or experienced PTO players, it seems likely that the two spots go to one (or both) of Curtis Lazar or Spencer Foo – if the spots are exclusively for wingers – though someone like Garnet Hathaway, Marek Hrivik, Emile Poirier or Hunter Shinkaruk could creep in with a strong camp given their waiver statuses. However, Matt Stajan has dabbled with playing on the left side here and there, so it’s completely possible that Stajan gets bumped to Bouma’s old spot to open a spot up the middle for one of the aforementioned Lazar and Foo…or perhaps Mark Jankowski.
That said, it’s completely probable – given Brad Treliving’s history – that a few PTO players come in and complicate things.
Who will be the 13th and 14th forwards?
Presuming the Flames roll with a full 23-man roster, they’ll probably carry two extra forwards. One is likely to be Freddie Hamilton, who was the designated sitter more often than not last season and was perfectly capable of jumping into the lineup at a moment’s notice. Who will join him on the Popcorn Brigade on Oct. 4?
The obvious contenders include Lazar, Stajan, Garnet Hathaway and perhaps even Troy Brouwer. Lazar would require waivers to be demoted if he had a bad training camp. Stajan’s the oldest forward currently under contract and is probably destined to be transitioned to an extra body role eventually – though his penalty killing work could keep him in the fourth line center spot for a little while. Brouwer’s coming off a horrid first year of his deal and it wouldn’t be shocking to see him sat for a bit if he had a bad camp.
That said, the probable scenario is that a free agent signing or PTO bumps somebody like Lazar down the rotation into the press box.
Who will be the first forward called up from Stockton?
As you have probably seen from skimming the previous forward-related questions, the Flames have amassed a fair amount of depth on their farm team in the form of, gasp, players that could actually be useful replacement players. Presuming that Jankowski starts the season in the NHL, that still leaves Foo, Klimchuk, Shinkaruk, Poirier, Hathaway, Lomberg and Hrivik as suitable call-ups. The center depth is pretty shallow if Jankowski is in the NHL, but on the wings there are a ton of players that have had success at the AHL level and have gotten their feet wet in the NHL already.
It seems likely that the last player cut from Calgary’s camp, barring someone having a tremendous opening to the AHL season, will be the first guy up. But because of the depth in the organization, it’s not immediately clear just who that would be.