Flames find their top-six forward

The Flames signed foward Jiri Hudler to a four-year deal Monday. (REBECCA COOK/Reuters file photo)

The Flames signed foward Jiri Hudler to a four-year deal Monday. (REBECCA COOK/Reuters file photo)

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:52 PM ET

CALGARY - Going into next season, the Calgary Flames desperately needed top-six forward skill.

Needed to add some offence from the defence, too.

With the additions of defenceman Dennis Wideman and winger Jiri Hudler, they've done just that.

Does it mean mean run-and-gun hockey at the Saddledome next season? Likely not.

But when incoming head coach Bob Hartley said he wanted to play a more entertaining brand of hockey, critics immediately pointed to the club's lack of talent.

The gauntlet was thrown down for GM Jay Feaster to add skill to the roster.

No matter whether you agree with the contracts handed out to the club's newest players -- everybody knew Wideman was going to get about US$5 million per season and was inked to a five-year pact worth $5.25 million per campaign, while Hudler's contract of $4 million per season was no surprise -- Feaster provided some punch.

Now, in the world where everybody's a critic, the Flames are being criticized for their scorers being too small, with the likes of Hudler, Michael Cammalleri, Alex Tanguay, Mikael Backlund and newcomers Roman Cervenka and Sven Baertschi falling short of the league average.

"We feel, as a group, we need to be tougher to play against, but in terms of size, we feel we have to upgrade our skill," Feaster said Monday. "To the extent you can upgrade your skill and do it with a guy that's seven-feet tall, that's great, but more than worrying how tall we are, how big we are ... we wanted skilled players.

"We feel skilled players, particularly a player as dynamic as Jiri is, they create space. It's one of the things we talk about with Cervenka. He plays in traffic and does create space for himself.

"We recognize it's not an overly intimidating group physically, but we're not concerned about the size."

Hudler scored all but two of his 25 goals last season at even strength, but the Flames are banking on him and Wideman -- a pair of skaters who want to shoot the puck -- sparking their moribund powerplay.

"I think we have a nice mixture of skill and speed and will be able to get us a good powerplay," head caoch Bob Hartley said.

That said, the Flames still have some holes to fill and issues to resolve, starting with their overflowing roster.

The Flames now have 10 forwards signed to one-way contracts, plus Cervenka, Baertschi, Lance Bouma and the yet-to-be-signed Backlund.

As well, they have a defence corps with nine blueliners inked to one-way deals and another in T.J. Brodie, who is fully expected to be in Calgary all season.

Unless they're going to bury three or four players on NHL salaries in the minors, the Flames must deal away somebody.

"We don't feel we have to start paring salary, but as a result of the signings we made and the acquisitions, we are a much deeper team than when we started," Feaster said. "It's clearly an avenue we're going to pursue, but we're not in a position we have to start moving players for salary cap purposes."

Also, unless the Flames believe Henrik Karlsson or Leland Irving will finally be the backup goalie, this team needs to prevent Miikka Kiprusoff from working to exhaustion, so there may be another quest on the go.

Plus, the club right now is thin at centre.

With a couple of months to go before training camp -- or even more depending on how quickly the players and owners can come up with a new collective bargaining agreement -- the Flames have time to make more necessary moves.

For now, though, they deserve some credit for identifying a need, realistically targeting players to fill it and then reeling them in.

"And knowing Jay, I know he's not closed the book," Hartley said. "He will try everything to make this team better. If it's to get better, Jay will keep calling."

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca

On Twitter: @SUNRandySportak


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