CALGARY - Hockey is officially back in Calgary.
With the prospects back from their tournament in Penticton, and the veteran Flames making their way through the Saddledome for fitness testing and medicals Friday, you can turn the page on the off-season and look forward to a few weeks of internally competitive action before the puck drops on their regular-season Oct. 8.
There has been plenty of change with the Flames over the past few months, and many questions remain in the minds of the team’s fans. Here’s a quick look at some issues and players to keep an eye on in the coming weeks and months.
Newcomers to watch
The 32-year-old veteran defenceman was signed to help replace Robyn Regehr’s experience and physical presence on a blueline now focusing more on speed and puck-movement than big bodies.
For those still in disbelief the Flames turned Daymond Langkow into a younger, healthier potential goal-scorer, it will be interesting to see how the winger fits in with his new teammates on the ice.
The agitator was clearly a favourite of head coach Brent Sutter’s in Jersey and is looking to lock down a forward spot in the NHL again with the Flames after spending most of last year on the farm.
The most experienced player to come Calgary’s way in the Regehr deal isn’t expected to take on a top-four role right away, but there are some who believe the defenceman is capable of it.
Farmhands hoping to stick around a while
An exciting young player with skill and determination, fans may be hoping the winger forces his way into the NHL lineup sooner than later. He’ll have to have a stellar pre-season to stick full-time.
Last year’s big camp surprise, the smooth-skating defenceman will have to prove he is reliable in his own end. He showed last year how good he is at joining the rush and pinching to keep plays alive.
Not as talked about as Chris Butler, but the diminutive centre has speed and skill and was said to be knocking on the NHL door with the Buffalo Sabres last year. How he plays throughout camp could be a big story.
The gritty winger earned 16 games in the NHL last season because of his attitude and work ethic. He’ll be looking to translate that into a full-time energy role in camp this year and isn’t a bad bet to do it.
Who will be the de facto No. 1 centre?
We know left-winger Alex Tanguay and right-flanker Jarome Iginla will make up two-thirds of the Flames’ top line. But the question is who will be the guy taking faceoffs between the two veteran stars? With Brendan Morrison still rehabbing his surgically-repaired knee, the answer seems pretty obvious. Young Swede Mikael Backlund finished the regular-season in that spot and seems likely to begin camp there, too. But don’t count out Olli Jokinen — stop groaning — who has played in that spot in the past and was once considered the only legitimate top centre the Flames had. If Matt Stajan has a good camp, he could work his way up the depth chart, and David Moss is a darkhorse after converting from the wing last year and playing very well in the middle before being hurt.
Can Matt Stajan and Nicklas Hagman rebound?
Stajan’s year-and-a-half with the Flames has been abysmal, and Hagman took a huge dip in production last season. Both are determined to turn their fortunes around knowing their camp and early-season performance could be their last opportunities with the Flames — who waived Hagman last year and now have the threat of demotion to the minors as a motivating tool for both veterans. Stajan has reportedly worked hard this summer to be in the best shape of his life, while Hagman admitted to Flames brass he knows this may be his last chance to prove he’s still an NHLer.
Is this blueline corps better or worse without Robyn Regehr?
With Regehr gone, Jay Bouwmeester and Mark Giordano take on sole custody of top billing, but the depth behind them consists of veterans Scott Hannan and Cory Sarich — who play rugged styles that often mean games missed due to injury — and unproven or inconsistent commodities in Chris Butler, Anton Babchuk and Brett Carson. There is potential in the system now with Brendan Mikkelson, T.J. Brodie, Chris Breen and John Negrin leading the pack of players on two-way deals salivating at the idea of getting into NHL action this season, but the back end may be the biggest question mark on the team this year. Regehr isn’t irreplaceable, but the grumpy veteran did make life difficult for opposition forwards and give the unit an identity.
Does Curtis Glencross continue to take steps forward?
Becoming a 20-goal-scorer in the NHL takes both talent and try, and Glencross, for most of last season, was the very definition of the type of player the Flames want — a gritty, speedy and (usually) determined workhorse who scored 24 goals and 43 points while also playing a major role in special teams on the penalty kill. He was rewarded with a long-term contract worth more than $2.5 million a season. But there’s a lot to live up to now for the 28-year-old. He can’t get comfortable now that he’s got job security, and he will have to work for every goal even harder now that other NHLers know what he’s capable of. The Flames need him to establish himself as a full-time second-line forward rather than see him regress.
Will Rene Bourque finally find consistency and live up to his potential?
There aren’t many who disagree about the idea Bourque could be a superstar in this league much like his captain Jarome Iginla. Bourque has enough size (6-foot-1, 200 lb.) and speed to be a serious power forward but is one of the most streaky wingers in the league. He has scored 27 goals in each of the last two seasons, but the potential is there for upwards of 35-40 annually if he finds a way to play with the kind of drive he displays during contests when he’s mentally engaged to the highest level. Bourque scores in bunches when he’s feeling it, but he can also disappear for long stretches of the season. If he plays to his potential, he’d be talked about as one of the game’s biggest offensive stars.
Is Miikka Kiprusoff really going to see his starts cut back?
Flames GM Jay Feaster said recently he would “guarantee” his starting goaltender would not be starting 70-plus games this season. Flames fans have heard similar words spoken before — although not out of Feaster’s mouth — only to see the Finn face the same heavy workload and burden during the season. Tough to imagine the team sitting old reliable if they’re in a down-to-the-wire playoff race, but both Feaster and head coach Brent Sutter seem to have a lot of confidence in returning backup Henrik Karlsson, who went 4-5-6 with a .908 save percentage and 2.58 goals-against average in his first NHL season. They’ll pick their spots to hand the pipes to the towering Swede, but he’ll need to re-affirm their belief in him with a strong training camp now that he’s been through it before.
Players on one-way deals
Raitis Ivanans (injured)
Brendan Morrison (injured)