Cap sure to change Flames crew

STEVE MACFARLANE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:51 PM ET

Someone’s got to go.

Even the most math-challenged Flames fan can see with clarity the situation that lies ahead.

With more than $61 million tied up in 22 one-way contracts, and an NHL salary-cap ceiling set at $59.4M, competition is going to be at an all-time high in training camp less than a month from now.

There’s plenty of time for the management team to make a trade, but heading into September with excess seems like a good idea to Flames assistant GM Jay Feaster.

“What I envision and think will happen is everybody will have the opportunity to show why they ought to wear the Flaming C,” Feaster said earlier this summer.

“I honestly believe when you give players an opportunity and challenge them to show why they deserve to be here, regardless of their contract situation, that’s a healthy training camp.”

Teams can skirt the cap by 10% until the final roster is set for opening day.

The Flames chose not to buy out Ales Kotalik when a second window of opportunity popped up following the unused arbitration date scheduled for defenceman Ian White.

Purging his $3-million hit would have neatly tucked the Flames back under the cap after unsuccessfully dangling the 31-year-old on waivers this summer. But cutting him loose would have cost the team a $1-million penalty the next four seasons.

So the Czech winger is slated to suit up and scrap for an NHL spot this fall.

He’ll have his work cut out for him with fellow flankers Rene Bourque, Niklas Hagman, Alex Tanguay and likely rookie Mikael Backlund — whose $1.27-million salary isn’t even included in the current cap crunch — challenging for top-six spots.

If the Flames truly believe in the idea of open competition, then you can’t discount Curtis Glencross and David Moss from that mix, either.

But nowhere will the battles be as tight as on the blueline.

There are already eight defencemen on one-way contracts for this season.

Jay Bouwmeester, Robyn Regehr, White, Mark Giordano, Steve Staios, Cory Sarich and Adam Pardy all played in the NHL last season, while Staffan Kron-

wall earned his $500,000 paycheque in the American Hockey League with the Abbotsford Heat.

The same eight are in the mix this season, but if one of prospects Matt Pelech or John Negrin proves they’re ready to make the jump, the Flames could save even more money by sending a big-money-making veteran to another team or burying his contract in the minors.

After signing a two-way deal worth $500,000 in the NHL, centre Craig Conroy will be doing his best to avoid his first assignment to the AHL since playing a handful of games with the Worcester Icecats in 1996-97.

The soon-to-be 39-year-old faces stiff competition from youngsters Ryan Stone and John Armstrong for a fourth-line, penalty-killing role. The centre position will be one to watch in camp. Daymond Langkow, who suffered a cracked vertebrae in his neck late last year, is progressing from the injury but there’s a chance he will start the season on the sidelines. If he was to miss enough time, he could be placed on the long term injury list and the Flames would receive additional cap relief.

But they’d prefer to have all their bodies healthy to provide the most competitive atmosphere possible.

Their pre-season play could ultimately decide whether they stay.

Meanwhile, Flames prospects will get a little extra airtime this winter.

The American Hockey League’s Abbotsford Heat will be featured in three games on the CBC television network this season.

They host the Toronto Marlies Jan. 16, and head to Winnipeg March 23 and 27 to face the Manitoba Moose. It’s part of a 10-game AHL on CBC package.

steve.macfarlane@sunmedia.ca


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