SUN Hockey Pool

Old guard on standby duty

ERIC FRANCIS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:36 PM ET

The New York Rangers have a US$6.5-million defenceman toiling in the minors, and the Edmonton Oilers have one collecting $4.5 million.

Not to be outdone, the Calgary Flames will open their season tonight with $6.3 million in blueliners sitting in the press box.

With Wednesday’s news 20-year-old T.J. Brodie had been rewarded for a brilliant camp with a spot on the opening-day roster, pricey veterans Cory Sarich and Steve Staois were essentially relegated to standby duty.

Bumped to seventh and eighth on the defensive depth chart by third pairing Brodie and Adam Pardy, it’s all but certain the aging duo will get word today they’ll open the season watching from above.

So while on one side of the dressing room handshakes were in order for the beaming Brodie, the other side had a few vets working to keep their heads high.

“A guy can spend a lot of time dwelling on it, but I’m at a point mentally where I’ve been around the block and seen kind of everything,” said Sarich, 32, who represents a $3.6-million cap hit while Staois costs the club $2.7 million.

“So you just stay sharp and work on your game and worry about things you can control. If you spend time worrying about things that are out of your hands, it puts you in a tough spot.”

It’s the Flames that are in a tough spot, thanks in part to the no-movement clause in Sarich’s five-year, $18-million deal signed in 2007. That’s right — no movement, meaning he can’t be traded, can’t be sent down and can’t be transferred to Europe without his consent. He still has another season on his pact at $3.3 million in salary ($3.6-million cap hit).

This is the final year of the 37-year-old Staois’ deal.

It certainly doesn’t help their cause that the team is focusing on getting faster by way of defencemen joining the rush. Still, both will undoubtedly be serviceable soon.

“Absolutely — it’s a good thing to have that much depth because you’ll need em’ all,” said Flames head coach Brent Sutter. “That’s the way in the NHL — you need depth on the back end. You look at it in a healthy and positive way.”

Brodie has yet to have his camp-assigned jersey No. 66 swapped, nor has he been told he can start looking for an apartment — both signs his stay here could be short. If the unlikely junior grad doesn’t continue to improve, looks out of place or isn’t given the sort of minutes needed to develop, he’ll be dispensed to AHL Abbotsford in no time.

And he knows it.

“I didn’t really expect to be here. I still have a lot to prove and a lot to work on, so it’s just a day-to-day thing,” said Brodie, a fourth round pick in 2008 whose 180-lb. frame is a concern.

Any Flames fan who watched the club progress to the 2004 Stanley Cup final knows all too well how quickly defencemen can fall.

As does Sarich.

“Hockey is a tough sport, and you always have guys going down so you need guys right there,” said Sarich, putting a positive spin on his new lot in life.

“We’ve seen enough of it already with (forwards) in our training room.”

The rare emergence of a young talent in Calgary’s camp is symbolic of the movement the aging Flames will have to start making more of in the near future.

“Obviously, since rookie camp, Brodie has played well and he deserves to be here,” said Sutter of the former OHLer who scored four times in five pre-season outings.

“It’s exciting to see a young kid play as well as he has. It’s healthy to have competition and guys who are pushing for opportunities to play in the NHL and guys pushing to stay in the NHL. These kids are getting an opportunity because they’ve played well, and in certain situations, they’ve outplayed some veterans. That’s all part of the process.”

Albeit a costly one.

eric.francis@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/ericfrancis


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