SUN Hockey Pool

Flames easy to recognize

Calgary Flames president Ken King, left, and GM/coach Darryl Sutter are not only in the Stampede...

Calgary Flames president Ken King, left, and GM/coach Darryl Sutter are not only in the Stampede spirit, they're in the mood to play hockey again after tentative labour peace was announced yesterday. (Calgary Sun/Mike Drew)

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:37 AM ET

When the puck drops on a new NHL season, the roster you'll spot at the Saddledome won't change much from what you should have seen a year ago.

Last summer, in anticipation a deal would be consummated in time to save the season, Flames GM/head coach Darryl Sutter constructed a roster he believed would be worthy of hoisting the 2004 Western Conference banner.

That celebration will still happen -- be it a year late -- and expect most of those who were pegged to be part of it in the fall of '04 to be there.

Roughly one-third of the NHLPA's membership is under contract for the 2005-06 season, which means we'll see unprecedented player movement throughout the 30-team loop.

In the Flames' case, however, the turnover should be minimal.

Especially since Sutter has made it known Calgary's payroll won't brush up to the $39-million US maximum. It'll be more like $30 million.

"We call it budget, now they call it a cap," Sutter said. "All along we said we need a system that brings everybody onto sort of a level playing field. We hope to do that."

Number one goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff, one of 10 key restricted free agents, should be back to mind the twine.

Who his backup will be, however, is up in the air.

Roman Turek restructured his deal to make it much more favourable for the Flames but rumblings persist he won't return from the Czech Republic.

It's possible Brent Krahn would then take the backup role but more likely they would go after a veteran with solid NHL experience and an affordable price tag.

Changes to the defence corps may come simply because of its sheer strength.

Most teams carry seven rearguards, at most. With a group that includes Robyn Regehr, Jordan Leopold, Rhett Warrener, Toni Lydman, Andrew Ference, Steve Montador, Mike Commodore and uber-prospect Dion Phaneuf, the stable is overflowing.

Leopold and Ference are restricted free agents. Only Montador and Phaneuf have two-way contracts, which will pay them less to be in the minors but one rearguard quite possibly could be on the way out via trade.

The most excitement could come among the forwards, or could be as mundane as one press release after another.

Still, it's a critical crew.

Jarome Iginla, arguably the best player in hockey, needs a new deal, which also goes for top-six forwards Steve Reinprecht and Daymond Langkow, as well as Chuck Kobasew, Chris Clark, Matthew Lombardi and Ville Nieminen.

What's important is all of them are in Sutter's plans.

Whether they all re-sign could be another story but after missing one full season on the sidelines, it's hard to imagine any of them threatening to withhold services for a better deal.

Sutter has already lobbed the salvo.

"We'll look at the restricted free agent players we have, see what we have to work with, see who our priorities are and we'll see how much of the pie goes to those players," he said.

Besides, the list of free agents available for any taker will allow Sutter to pick and choose from will be extensive.

Barring a shocker, one departure is all but assured. Martin Gelinas, the Eliminator, is an unrestricted free agent and doesn't fit in the Sutter mantra of younger and bigger.

Let it be known Gelinas decided to come here as a free agent three years ago and doesn't want to leave.

He may not have a choice, though, much as it was for Craig Conroy when he left for Los Angeles a year ago.


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