5 burning questions going into Flames camp

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:04 PM ET

Has summer has washed away all the disappointment of the 2009-10 season for the Calgary Flames faithful?

No, that actually was all the rain we had during what we can call “summer”.

Still, the sting of missing the playoffs has been flushed, and hope springs eternal again among the team’s faithful fans.

Training camp begins Friday, and frankly there there are more questions than answers with the franchise looking to get back to the post-season and maybe even win their first Stanley Cup since 1989.

Here are five to think about and follow during the coming season:

1. How will the high-spending Flames get under

the league’s US$59.4 million salary cap?

With all their one-way contracts, the Flames are nearly $2 million over the cap, and that doesn’t include top prospect Mikael Backlund.

For years, GM Darryl Sutter has gone into training camp saying NHL jobs will be won and lost, but it’s rarely happened. Very few youngsters have managed to play their way onto the opening-day roster, and even fewer veterans have lost their jobs.

The speculation all summer was the likes of Ales Kotalik (two years worth $6 million on his contract) would be found a place in Europe or trade, or somebody such as Cory Sarich (two more years with a $3.6 million hit), Steve Staios ($2.7 million hit) or even Robyn Regehr ($4.02 million hit) would be dealt.

None of those rumours have come to fruition. Sutter insisted he expects some young players to push for jobs, and would push a veteran out of a roster spot. We’ll see.

2. Will this team score more goals?

They have to. It’s not possible for a salary-cap ceiling squad to be second-last in offence. Is it?

On the surface, some — if not all of their veterans — should be better this year. But the way Alex Tanguay, Olli Jokinen and Jay Bouwmeester fell off cliff last season, and even Jarome Iginla struggled, it’s hard to imagine that much of a turnaround.

The Flames actually were going gangbusters in the first month last season, but tailed off miserably. So, how they do in training camp and the early going of the season isn’t necessarily a sign of what will come.

But, we’ll certainly be able to tell whether players are actually thinking about offence if Bouwmeester is more active, Tanguay is able to make the kind of passes he completed during his first season in Calgary, and Jokinen and Iginla start finding the mark.

3. Do they have a real back-up goalie in Henrik Karlsson?

Another year, another player to sit on the bench while Miikka Kiprusoff is between the pipes. Jamie McLennan, Roman Turek, Dany Sabourin, Philippe Sauve, Brian Boucher, Matt Keetley, Curtis McElhinney, Curtis Joseph and Vesa Toskala have all filled that role. It’s not a great track record for the organization, and considering Karlsson has not a second of NHL action under his belt — but still received a one-way contract — it’s hardly a slam dunk they’ve found their man.

Leland Irving and Matt Keetley still must prove they’re able to be AHL standouts, and if Karlsson is over his head in the pre-season, it doesn’t bode well for the short-term and the long-term, since once again Kiprusoff will play too many games.

4. What will 12 and 13 add up to this time?

Jokinen has opted for No. 13 in his second tour of duty, switching from No. 21. Maybe it will change his fortunes, since the 50 points he collected over 75 games during his first stint in Calgary won’t cut it.

Last time the Flames had a player wearing No. 13, it was Michael Cammalleri, and it was good news for both the team and Iginla.

During Jokinen’s time here before, he and Iginla were like a chemistry experiment gone wrong, because both are shooters. Maybe Tanguay’s addition will help, but you’re forgiven for being skeptical.

5. How will they solve the logjam on defence?

Eight defencemen have one-way contracts. Another, Matt Pelech, must clear waivers to go to the minors. The Flames want Pelech to earn a job, therefore likely want to move two blueliners.

If the Flames have a market for one of their bigger ticket blueliners, it makes sense to simply put a lowered salary player, such as Staffan Kronwall or Adam Pardy, in the minors to give them a seven-man blueline corps.

It will truly be a training camp battle to watch.

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca


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