Flames blueline well protected

STEVE MacFARLANE -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:49 AM ET

Before Roman Hamrlik came aboard via free agency, the Calgary Flames had one of the best defensive corps in the NHL.

Now with the former first-overall draft pick joining the defending Western Conference champs, one could argue the Flames have the league's best blueline brigade, bar none.

Veteran savvy, size and a slapshot tough to track with the naked eye are just a few of the assets Hamrlik brings to a blueline bursting with young talent.

Assistant coach Jim Playfair knows just how good the Flames have it.

"Having the size of Hamrlik and the size of Rhett Warrener and the size of Robyn Regehr, we've got some big guys who can play some big minutes for us," said Playfair. "The top four defencemen we have are going to be as good as any top four in the league."

Better than most.

Regehr, Hamrlik, Warrener and slick blueliner Jordan Leopold are a great start.

Add gritty, stay-at-home defender Andrew Ference and steady Steve Montador and you've got unparallelled top-six talent.

There's also rookie Dion Phaneuf, who may supplant Montador at No. 6.

Playfair says, for that very reason, Hamrlik's signing couldn't have come at a better time.

"It's just as important to bring Roman Hamrlik along with Dion Phaneuf because now you're getting a good balance of youth and a veteran guy," Playfair said. "He came here to win as soon as possible and when you have teachers like that on the ice, it really helps bring your young kids along -- and certainly Dion's a good student.

"They both have strengths to their game that allow them to be impact players every shift."

Leopold has offensive upside and Regehr, Warrener, Hamrlik and Ference are always threatening to lay a big hit on the opposition.

Phaneuf appears to be the total package, scoring 56 points in 55 games with the WHL Red Deer Rebels last season in addition to being a constant big-hit threat.

"Dion has been a successful player at every level he's been at so we expect him, in the near future, to be a good player for us," said Playfair.

Darryl Sutter also sings the rookie's praises.

"He's got the ability, the desire and the maturity to go with that, too," said the Flames GM/head coach, adding Phaneuf is always asking questions in an effort to determine how he can play his game within the NHL rules.

The Flames blueliners all share some similar qualities, Playfair points out.

"The thing about our defence is they can all skate and they can all move the puck," he said.

"It doesn't matter which game you're playing, what the rules are, when your defencemen that are mobile, they can move pucks.

"I think the big thing is we really put a lot of details into our defensive corps teaching. I think the players feel good about themselves, they feel like they have a chance to compete each and every night.

"They all love to learn, they're all good people and they all want to find a way to get better."


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