Veteran Rhetty to compete for roster spot

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:17 AM ET

Rhett Warrener's birth certificate verifies he's celebrated a birthday with 32 candles on the cake.

The way the Calgary Flames defencemen sees this training camp, though, he may as well be a fresh-faced rookie.

"That's how I'm going into it, it's my job to make the team," Warrener said yesterday after going through the opening-day fitness testing.

"I know I can still play. I'm not questioning that, so it should be easier than being a rookie because you don't have to establish yourself if you play your game.

"I've always wanted to be a Calgary Flame since I've been here. You guys know that, people in this town know that and certainly I know that.

This is my home and this is where my heart is. I was a little surprised and it's hard on your pride, but you swallow your pride. I've still got a chance to be here and that's what, at the end of the day, I want."

During the summer, Warrener, fellow defenceman Anders Eriksson and forward Marcus Nilson were placed on waivers by GM Darryl Sutter. None were claimed.

The Flames need to pare about US$2 million from their payroll before the season opens to get under the league's salary cap, and have found part of the solution with Nilson leaving to play in Russia. The team still needs to rid itself of a contract, with Warrener -- whose salary is US$2.5 million -- and Eriksson (US$1.5 million) as the most likely candidates.

Calgary's roster may seem nearly set, but it'll make for an interesting battle to watch when training camp begins today, although the possibility of a shakeup elsewhere exists.

"You've got to take it on as a challenge," Eriksson said. "It's always good to be pushed.

"Darryl's always been pretty straightforward with what it's all about and where the cards lay. You go out there and do your best, and see what happens when camp's over.

"It's a business. We are over the cap and it is a cap game right now. You can't be over. I've been around long enough to know that it is a business. It's really nothing personal, I think. I think I've still got a few years left, and, as the years go by, the better you get and the smarter you get.

"I feel better every year. You take the bull by the horns, you know the circumstance coming in and work your butt off."

Warrener, who has battled through a litany of injuries over the years, professed himself to be in outstanding shape. He's optimistic that will give him a leg up in camp.

"Last year, I was in great shape and I feel I was a bit unlucky with the injuries I had," he said. "It was really out of my control, wasn't because of my conditioning or anything other than poor luck.

"I think I'm in better shape than last year, so hopefully the run of bad luck has run its course and I'll get a chance to play and go out and prove myself."

Eriksson reported Nilson -- who's on the verge of being officially assigned to Lokomotiv Yaroslavl of the Continental Hockey League -- is happy with the way things turned out.

"He's been around long enough," Eriksson said. "You know when it's time to change the chapter and move on, and he has. I don't think he has any hard feelings.

"It's business. We both know it. Everybody knows it, especially when you get in the situation he was in."

As for whether he's pondered where he could end up, Eriksson said it's not worth it.

"It never turns out that way, does it? You could speculate until the cows come home but the fact is, you come in, play well in the games, do well, and then evaluate after the camp's over," he said. "Then you see where you stand, and if I'm the top six or top seven, I'm staying. If not, we'll probably find a solution. I'm not too worried about that."


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