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Five (very) early questions heading into training camp

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

  • freethe flames

    I have been saying this for a long time “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” and I don’t see BT addressing it. I also believe for our wingers to progress we should add some veteran depth(AHL) centers. Sending Hamilton down would help Prybil.

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    The more I think about it, the more I see the need to take Tkachuk off the 3M line for the purpose of balance. The top line should stay in tack. Putting Janko on a line with Backs and Frolik would demonstrate a high level of investment. Getting Bennett with Tkachuk makes sense for both the present and future. This line could be supported by either Versteeg/Lazar.

    Any of these 3 lines could be our best line on any given night. The fourth line could feature Stajan, Brouwer, and Lazar/Versteeg. IMO our top nine is far more potent by moving Tkachuk off the 3M line in favour of Janko.

  • Big Ell

    Darren Dreger‏ said on Twitter ” Still a sizable gap in contract talks between the Flames and Sam Bennett. Possibility Bennett heads overseas until a deal in Calgary is done.”

      • BendingCorners

        If a European team will pay him what he wants….. or if the Flames miss his talent when the season starts ….. then Sam has leverage.
        Just like any other business negotiation. you have to be prepared to walk away. Sam’s agent is claiming that he is willing to walk.

      • OYYC

        The comment here was just a repeat of the short version of what I posted on Monday Mailbag about Curtis Lazar. I’d put the B-L-T line together for sure.

        Treliving recently said the team intends to play Lazar at wing and centre. I’m sure hoping he means 3W to start. If Lazar plays 4C…Stajan slides over to the left, Brouwer sits, and one of dem uddr fellas plays right wing.

  • freethe flames

    So much depends on who earns a job and how much guts BT and GG have. If veterans are clearly better you keep them if young guys are clearly better you have to be prepared to bury a salary.

    Training camp should also be a chance to explore some options. I would not be unhappy to see GG use the first 4 exhibition games to explore these options on the following lines Janko with Backs/Frolik and Tkachuk/Bennett/either Versteeg or Lazar. If neither line clicks put Tkachuk back with Backs/Frolik and reunite the 3M line.
    My great fear is that they bury the almost ready prospects with guys like Brouwer/Glass/ and to lesser extent Stajan. We have 4-7 young forwards who need to be seen in their proper roles these are: Janko( former first rounder), Lazar*/Shinkaruk*/Poirier*/Klimchuk all former first rounders who are years removed from their draft year (* waiver eligible) and Foo(oldest of the bunch with no pro experience) and Mangiapane. For me I am pretty sure what Lomberg and Hathaway bring to the table and would be okay with them being saddled with Stajan/Brouwer/Glass in the first exhibition in Edmonton.

  • everton fc

    Our top two lines at last season’s end should remain in tact. 6/7=Kulak/Wotherspoon. Foo won’t make this team out of camp. I can see Brouwer being force-fed to the third line. Sad, but true. If not, Lazar is 3rd line RW. Or, perhaps, Bennett/Jankowski/Versteeg, but it appears Jankowski is a very good two-way centre, which may translate to a 4th line of Stajan/Jankowski/Brouwer. Hamilton and Hathaway are the extra forwards.

  • freethe flames

    The article makes the premise that there are only a couple of spots available up front but if the Flames are honest about it there should be 4-6 spots available and they need to be earned in training camp. In my opinion Ferland/Johnny/Monny/Tkachuk/Backs/Frolik/Bennett/Versteeg and Lazaar are locks(only b/c of his waiver status; for me he still needs to prove more). The other 5 spots need to be earned by their play in the preseason: Stajan/Brouwer/FHamilton need to prove that they are better than Janko*/Hathaway/Foo*/Lomberg/Shinkaruk/Poirier/Klimchuk*/Mangiapane* and any of the other prospects I may have missed.(*waiver exempt). I fully expect Stajan to earn his job but I doubtful that Brouwer(based on his lack of effort last year and poor play; how he kept a letter last year still surprises me)
    should not be given a job just because of his salary. I think he would clear waivers and if someone claimed him; more cap space at the deadline and the next 2 years. FHamilton is an adequate 13/14 forward but might be more helpful as a C in Stockton; this of course depends on how Janko performs at camp and while I think he will make the team he still has a great deal to prove at this level.