Case for the defence

RANDY SPORTAK -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:52 AM ET

Of the three veteran defencemen who joined the Flames this past off-season, two shoot the puck right-handed.

Aside from the fact both Adrian Aucoin and Cory Sarich add top-four veteran depth, they fire pucks from the starboard side.

Which brings an interesting benefit for Rhett Warrener.

"Yeah, I've got more sticks to try now," quipped Warrener.

When the Flames begin the 2007-08 season, their seven-man defence corps will be completely overhauled from the crew that hit the ice in the playoffs.

In fact, only three members of the blueline brigade -- Warrener, Robyn Regehr and Dion Phaneuf -- were with the club prior to last season's trade deadline, when David Hale was brought into the fold. Anders Eriksson was also added in the summer.

That kind of rebuilding could make for tough times, but Warrener doesn't think it'll have a negative impact.

"It's different if you bring in three 19-year-olds, but these guys are veteran guys who've been around," Warrener said.

"They know the game, know the roles. It's not a learning curve. They'll step in and will contribute.

"The results will be as good, if not better."

One big complaint about the Flames' disappointing 2006-07 campaign was their defensive play.

They went from being the No.-1 team in the league in goals against the year before to 11th, allowing one-third of a goal more per game.

They surrendered an average of three more shots against per contest.

As much as the Flames improved their offence -- going from an average of 2.6 goals per game to 3.1 -- it was erased by a significant reduction in defensive play.

"There will be more emphasis on being better in our own zone and giving up fewer shots," Regehr said. "That doesn't just come down to the defence corps, but we gave up way too many shots last year and when you're giving up lots of shots, you're giving up more goals."

Which is one reason for the big turnover among the defencemen.

There is a common theme to the newcomers, they're more defensive minded as opposed to being offensively oriented.

Aucoin, who can produce his share of offence, is a big-minute muncher. When healthy, he can play 30 minutes a night in all situations.

Sarich is a defensive stalwart, a top-rate penalty killer.

Eriksson is a perfect No.-6 rearguard, capable of an increased workload for short spurts, but more adept in his own zone. Note the plus-12 rating he put together on a dreadful Columbus Blue Jackets squad last year.

Sure, the crew lost some of Roman Hamrlik's potential for dynamic games but is certainly more steady.

"You have a little more offensive upside with Roman, but you can't forget about Adrian. He's put up big numbers in the past. He just has to stay healthy," Regehr said. "I think we're more well rounded, maybe possessing more skill in defending."

Still, you know there will be an adjustment period.

As it looks, Regehr will be mainly paired with Aucoin as the top-minute unit. Sarich will be alongside Dion Phaneuf, and needs to learn how to react to Phaneuf's play that can sometimes be too high-spirited. Phaneuf is also adjusting to playing on the left side, as opposed to be on the right side as he was in his first two NHL seasons, and mainly with Hamrlik.

That leaves Warrener with Eriksson -- with Hale jumping in once in a while -- meaning no pairings were together last year.

It'll take time to find a flow.

"You're always learning, that's just a given," Regehr said. "It takes a few games and practices to be able to feel comfortable."

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BLUELINE BRIGADE

ROBYN REGEHR

DOB: April 19, 1980

6-ft.-3, 225-lb.

2006-07 (Calgary): 78GP 2-19-21 75 PIM +27

Career: 590 GP 20-81-101 512 PIM +5

Scouting report: A top-level shutdown defenceman, with great size and solid hockey sense. Doesn't put up big scoring numbers, but is consider to still have the ability to score more.

ADRIAN AUCOIN

DOB: July 3, 1973

6-ft.-2, 215-lb.

2006-07 (Chicago): 59 GP 4-12-16 50 PIM -22

Career: 694 GP 88-179-267 544 PIM +15

Scouting report: Possessing an extremely hard point shot, he has very good offensive game. Injury limited him in each of the last two seasons and can struggle in his own zone.

ANDERS ERIKSSON

DOB: Jan. 9, 1975

6-ft.-2, 220-lb.

2006-07 (Columbus): 79 GP 0-23-23 46 PIM +12

Career: 491 GP 21-132-153 204 PIM +46

Scouting report: Has good size and mobility with a decent ability to move the puck up the play. Tends to over-handle the puck at times.

CORY SARICH

DOB: Aug. 16, 1978

6-ft.-3, 210-lb.

2006-07 (Tampa Bay): 82 GP 0-15-15 70 PIM -6

Career: 536 GP 10-79-89 589 PIM -39

Scouting report: A perfect second-pairing defenceman with a strong defensive game and great poise. Not an offensive threat, but at his best when playing a steady defensive game.

RHETT WARRENER

DOB: Jan. 27, 1976

6-ft.-1, 208-lb.

2006-07 (Calgary): 62 GP 4-6-10 67 PIM +6

Career: 683 GP 23-79-102 878 PIM +75

Scouting report: Plays a tough game and is smart and reliable in his own zone. Physical game has caused a plethora of injuries, almost all of which he'll try to play through.

DION PHANEUF

DOB: April 10, 1985

6-ft.-3, 210-lb.

2006-07 (Calgary): 79 GP 17-33-50 98 PIM +10

Career: 161 GP 37-62-99 191 PIM +15

Scouting report: A potential No.-1 defenceman with his fantastic point shot and willingness to hit everything. Needs to work on defensive-zone play and can be too exuberant.

DAVID HALE

DOB: June 18, 1981

6-ft.-2, 215-lb.

2006-07 (New Jersey/Calgary): 54 GP 0-1-1 36 PIM 0+/-

Career: 157 GP 0-9-9 129 PIM +17

Scouting report: Sound defensive game and can be a punishing hitter. Not offensively gifted, but can play on the powerplay if needed. Upside is he provides excellent depth.


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