Let the rumour mill(ion) churn

RANDY SPORTAK

, Last Updated: 1:15 PM ET

By Wednesday, the Calgary Flames need to pare three players from their roster and more than US$1 million in salary cap space.

Darryl Sutter has plenty of work to do.

"There's a dollar number we'll be at one way or the other, and the plan hasn't changed," the Flames GM said yesterday.

"The decision we made as ownership and management groups last summer hasn't changed. We explore opportunities to find places for players. If not, we want them to honour their contract.

"There are 18 teams that have buyouts as part of their cap this year, and we felt that's not what we want them to do."

The Flames sent centre Mikael Backlund to his men's league team in Sweden yesterday, and assigned centre John Armstrong and goalie Matt Keetley to AHL Quad City.

That leaves 26 players -- two goalies, nine defencemen and 15 forwards -- still with the Flames, who are spending the weekend in Banff.

The blueline brigade will be watched closest over the next few days. Eight defencemen are on one-way contracts, including Rhett Warrener and Anders Eriksson, both of whom were placed on waivers during the summer. The lone defenceman on a two-way deal, Adam Pardy, must clear waivers to go to the AHL.

Trading away Warrener and Eriksson would save the club nearly US$4 million in cap space. Other options include finding places for the duo in Europe or sending them to the minors.

Sutter fully intends to see new blood injected into the team.

"There are young guys we're gonna keep on our team and play on our team," he said.

"There are probably five guys this time last year who were on our farm team and will be on our roster. That is significant.

"My job is to bring the players to camp and put the best team on the ice, and we'll continue to work at it.

"There's still going to be lots of activity."

None of yesterday's moves come as a major surprise.

Backlund, the 2007 first-round draft choice, arrived for camp amidst high hopes he could earn a top-six spot, but the 19-year-old struggled at times during the pre-season.

He'll suit up for Vasteras, which is in the second-best division in Sweden, and should be a big part of his country's squad at the world junior tournament.

Sutter wasn't the least bit disappointed Backlund didn't claim a spot. After all, the Flames don't need him to jump into the lineup immediately, and he'll return home with some lessons learned.

"He knows exactly what he's got to do," Sutter said. "This kid's talented, boy. He's close. He's blue-chip, that's for sure."

In five pre-season games, Backlund registered no points and was a minus-three.

Armstrong, a third-round draft choice in 2006, skated in two exhibition games before suffering a leg injury.

"The two centremen are gems, both of them. They're both close and they're both going to be good NHL centremen," Sutter said. "It's too bad John got hurt. Nobody was talking about him and he was really in the mix.

"Mikael's good, he's 19 and he just needs to polish it up a little."

Keetley, a fifth-round selection in 2005, will likely be the starter in Quad City.

"He's probably, quietly, the best young goalie in the system," Sutter said. "He's made progress every year, and will this year. By this time next year, he'll be pushing to play in the NHL."

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WHO'S LEFT AS '08-09 APPROACHES

FORWARDS

Todd Bertuzzi, RW

Rene Bourque, LW

Dustin Boyd, C/LW

Mike Cammalleri, LW

Craig Conroy, C

Curtis Glencross, LW

Jarome Iginla, RW

Daymond Langkow, C

Matthew Lombardi, C

Jamie Lundmark, C

David Moss, RW

Eric Nystrom, LW

Wayne Primeau, C

Brandon Prust, RW

Andre Roy, LW

DEFENCEMEN

Adrian Aucoin

Anders Eriksson

Mark Giordano

Adam Pardy

Dion Phaneuf

Robyn Regehr

Cory Sarich

Jim Vandermeer

Rhett Warrener

GOALIES

Miikka Kiprusoff

Curtis McElhinney


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