SUN Hockey Pool

Welcome Matt?

ERIC FRANCIS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:12 AM ET

Let the debate rage on over Matthew Lombardi and his future with the Calgary Flames.

Early in his stint at the world championships, one could easily have assumed the 'A' he wore on his jersey yesterday was there simply to appease French politicians barking up Shane Doan's tree.

However, by scoring twice in Canada's quarter-final win over Switzerland yesterday -- his fifth and sixth goals in seven games -- it's clear the 25-year-old Montreal native has earned it.

By using the tourney as his coming-out party it appears -- at the moment -- he belongs among the world's elite.

However, as Flames fans know, the only thing consistent about Lombardi is the tough love his bosses, GM Darryl Sutter and Jim Playfair, shower him with at every turn.

While tremendously gifted, it seems no one knows what to expect from the speedy centre night after night.

On the heels of a breakthrough 20-goal campaign that gave fans glimpses of his junior greatness, Lombardi was signed to a contract extension that will pay him $5.5 million over three years. Exactly who will pay his salary is anyone's guess as it appears he'll be used as trade bait this summer as the Flames go looking to add grit and character to a team finally stocked with offensive talent.

Even when it appeared to the casual observer Lombardi's flashy neutral-zone speed had him poised to make a Daniel Briere-type emergence, Playfair would shrug it off, suggesting he needed 'Lombo' to drive the net and muck around in the "dirty areas" more.

Right or wrong, it seems Flames brass is frustrated with the 6-ft., 195-lb. forward.

His showing in Russia has certainly upped his value in a marketplace coveting speed, youth and (relatively) cheap labour above all else.

Should he be offered up this summer there would be plenty of takers.

The question is, with an upside like his and such recurring flashes of brilliance, would his departure wind up haunting the Flames a la Martin St. Louis? You bet it would.

Obviously benefiting from his time on the top line between Rick Nash and Doan the last few weeks, Lombardi's supporters suggest all he needs is talent around him to take that next step.

His detractors will point out his five goals in the last two games have come against the U.S. and lowly Switzerland.

Sutter played hardball with Lombardi last summer, signing him to a one-year, $800,000 deal and then saying he needed more from players like him.

He got it this year but there's still an overwhelming feeling he's capable of so much more. After all, the development of the former 57-goal scorer in Victoriaville, Que., was stunted by a filthy hit from Derian Hatcher in 2004 that ended Lombardi's playoffs and sidelined him almost a full year.

Certainly it was too much to expect he'd be able to play shotgun to Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay in just his third NHL season -- a notion shot down after training camp.

After spending the year as perhaps the fifth or sixth-best forward on the Flames, Lombardi will take centre stage tomorrow when Canada faces Sweden in the semifinal.

Will it produce another development in the progression of a future Flames star, or will it up the ante for GMs looking to relocate the gifted forward?


Videos

Photos