One preseason game to go. One.
The season is just around the corner – Oct. 4 is a mere few days away – and the Flames still have five cuts to go, and one preseason game to figure the remaining roster spots out. And with a handful of Flames prospects still at camp, this may be their last chance to prove themselves.
The goaltending battle: Lack vs. Gillies
Honestly, this one probably isn’t much of a battle. Mike Smith will kick off the season as the Flames’ starter; that much should be obvious by now. And Eddie Lack – veteran of 135 NHL games – will very likely be his backup.
That said, Jon Gillies remains at camp. As long as he’s up, there’s the offhand chance he starts his season in the NHL – we just probably shouldn’t bet on it.
The defence battle: Bartkowski vs. Kulak vs. Andersson
This one is a little more complicated, because at least two of these players will be staying up – if not all three, should the Flames decide to carry eight defencemen to start the season.
Matt Bartkowski is probably a lock to make the Flames due to his veteran status. Without him, the team would only be carrying five defenders used to playing in the NHL. Say what you will about promoting prospects, but it’s not necessarily a bad idea to have a just-in-case player waiting in the wings. Bartkowski may have come into the organization due to the expansion draft, but he has stilled played 235 NHL games, and coaches tend to enjoy having that familiarity.
But at least one of Brett Kulak or Rasmus Andersson is going to be on this team.
Kulak started the preseason paired with Michael Stone – seemingly a sign that he would start the season in the NHL – but as of late, has been playing alongside Andersson. The pair could find themselves in this final preseason game, competing against one another for the right to stay up.
Further complicating matters here, however, is that Andersson is a right-shot defender. The Flames already have three established ones in Dougie Hamilton, Travis Hamonic, and Stone, so unless Glen Gulutzan is open to mixing and matching shots this season, there seemingly isn’t a place for him. Furthermore, he’s the only player of these three who does not require waivers to be sent down.
Then again, Andersson must still be up at training camp for a reason – and if he’s able to beat out the competition, then the team should find room for him.
The forward battles: Jankowski vs. Lazar vs. Stajan, Hathaway vs. Hamilton vs. Gazdic vs. Glass
It looks like the Flames have a couple of different battles playing out at forward, a position in which they need to cut two or three players.
The first battle isn’t in quite the same sense as the second. Mark Jankowski looks all but certain to make the Flames; if he’s competing with anyone, it’s less about making the team, and more about his place in the lineup. Curtis Lazar and Matt Stajan are his fellow centres – though Lazar can also play the right wing – so it’s more of a three-way battle for the fourth line centre position, or to at least stay out of the press box.
Jankowski may be on the path to outperforming his competition, but of course, the season hasn’t started yet, and he could always still be cut.
The second battle is more one for the extra forward positions. Freddie Hamilton filled that role to a tee the previous season, and by virtue of that may have the inside track to staying in the NHL this season.
That would turn this into a three-way battle between Garnet Hathaway, Luke Gazdic, and Tanner Glass for the final forward spot on the team. Hathaway has toiled through the Flames’ system for a few years now, and played a career high 26 NHL games this past season. Gazdic was signed to a two-way contract early in the summer, so he has the two-fold advantage of both already being owed money, and being a veteran.
Glass is the interesting case here. We know his numbers in the NHL aren’t great, and he hasn’t exactly been amazing at the AHL level, either. Furthermore, he remains on a professional tryout: he still doesn’t have a contract, and the Flames are not obligated to give him one. That said, Glass has also legitimately been one of the Flames’ more enthusiastic players this preseason, and that could see him – he who has played over 500 games, and remember that often coaches like to have experienced players around – earn not just a contract, but a place on the NHL team.
There’s just one preseason game to go, and a couple of cuts to come soon after.
For my money, I think the victors of these last few battles will be Lack; Bartkowski and Kulak; and Jankowski, Hamilton, and one of Hathaway or Glass.
No matter who wins, though, the picture should become much clearer in the coming days: and perhaps obvious following this final preseason game.