Flames counting on vets again

ERIC FRANCIS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:15 AM ET

CALGARY - It’s been more than a decade since the Calgary Flames scrapped their Young Guns marketing campaign.

Good thing as it’s been at least that long since the organization has had much reason to direct any sort of attention towards the up-and-comers.

Not surprisingly, this year is no different.

On Monday the two most exciting young prospects in the organization, Sven Baertschi and Max Reinhart, were sent back to junior.

And no one inside or outside the organization was surprised.

That’s not to say they didn’t impress in camp — they did.

But both have significant growing to do and will best be served by spending the year dominating the ‘Dub and starring at the World Juniors.

More to the point, it would have taken shockingly heroic efforts — and plenty of points — the last few weeks for management to even consider giving either a nine-game NHL tryout.

And that’s because the opening night roster for the Flames has essentially been set in stone for more than a month.

Oh sure, the Flames would have been thrilled to have to make a tough decision here or there to bump a veteran for a youngster.

They also would have been shocked.

Save for Dion Phaneuf, the organization simply hasn’t been built on developing young players for quite some time. Obviously.

Starting with Darryl Sutter in 2002, this club has survived — and occasionally thrived — on trades to fill in gaps left vacant by poor drafting.

General manager Jay Feaster recognizes the need to focus more on developing and keeping young draft picks but what he’s inherited here will obviously take time.

In that vein, the recent demotions couldn’t have been the least bit disturbing to Feaster as he — more than maybe any other GM in the league — essentially knew his starting 20 long before the leaves started to fall.

None of this is necessarily a bad thing as the Flames’ second-half surge had them amongst the league’s best last year before falling short of the playoffs for the second-straight season.

It’s an identical team, minus Robyn Regehr.

In fact, asked before camp what he figured his lines would be this year, Brent Sutter rhymed off his trios:

Alex Tanguay/Mikael Backlund/Jarome Iginla,

Lee Stempniak/Olli Jokinen/Rene Bourque, Curtis Glencross/David Moss/Tim Jackman,

Pierre-Luc Leblond/Matt Stajan/Tom Kostopoulos.

Defensively, Mark Giordano and Scott Hannan are as set in stone as Jay Bouwmeester and Paul Butler. Anton Babchuk and Cory Sarich should round out the top six.

While Niklas Hagman, Lance Bouma, Paul Byron, Roman Horak and the injured Brendan Morrison are still in the mix, Sutter’s only big decisions now involve line combinations.

Injuries will also help the fringe lads stay in town.

“I think you look at a lot of organizations in the same way,” said Sutter of the pre-set roster he had in mind coming into camp.

“You have a group of returning veterans who you expect to be on your team. Yet if you have a young player who blows your socks off you have to look at that player.

Improving your hockey team is no different than improving your business. I feel good and I trust our veteran group.”

He had little choice, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing given his returning forwards scored the seventh-most goals in the league last year and had the sixth-best powerplay.

The biggest question revolves around the club’s defensive play as two newcomers — Butler and Hannan — are expected to be top-four defencemen.

While Edmonton Oilers fans and management got a thrill last night watching Ryan Nugent-Hopkins take a giant step towards making the team, Flames fans watched Horak, desperately hoping for magic.

While the kid’s doing alright, no one is expecting a breakthrough.

Yet.


Videos

Photos

Canoe Top Headlines