Charlton: Left Wing
Charlton: Right Wing
Depth ... For Now
Rick Charlton
August 24th, 2003

Can the Jarome Iginla gravy train stretch into a third season, a contract year at that, for Craig Conroy?

The Flames enter the 2003-2004 campaign with some decent depth down centre ice but the looming free agent status of Conroy may mean a late season trade deadline shuffle, lending a further element of uncertainty to Calgary's forward ranks.

Conroy came to the Flames two years ago with credentials suggesting a life-long checking centre but blossomed offensively alongside Iginla, making the pair one of the more dynamic duos in all of hockey.

The Calgary captain, however, was the subject of more than a few salty, ill-disguised, whacks to the back of the head from coach and now GM Darryl Sutter in the second half of last season and the fact Conroy will be a UFA next summer makes his future with the Flames somewhat gray.

It wouldn't be a surprise at all if Sutter were to spend the early part of the season liberally experimenting with newcomer Steve Reinprecht centering Iginla to see if some chemistry might be ignited.

In turn, it wouldn't be unreasonable to see the logic in dropping an experienced pivot like Conroy between two relative newcomers, Oleg Saprykin and Chuck Kobasew, adding some veteran reinforcement to the prospects for Calgary's desperately needed second line.

Sutter may simply want to find out if it's Conroy who made Iginla (as the latter has suggested on occasion) or if Iginla can make Reinprecht's career as well.

In spite of those mental machinations, it remains somewhat probable the newly acquired Reinprecht will begin the season on the second line, replacing Chris Drury, with still wet behind the ears cohorts Saprykin and Kobasew.

Sutter was quoted in San Jose and later in Calgary as saying he considers his third line pivot to be the most important on his team and his superlatives for the work of Stephane Yelle through the second half last year would lend weight to that argument.

Sutter's thinking is the third line on his team is the one that controls the primary offensive threat of the opposition while setting the physical tone for his own team.

Just as Mike Ricci played a central role in Sutter's Sharks, so too will Yelle fill the same role with the Flames next season.

This should be the coming out year for Blair Betts, a 23 year-old 1998 draftee who's development has been slowed somewhat by a series of crippling injuries.

Betts, however, appears to be an ideal fourth line centre for the Flames, with size, some speed and decent hands.

The most logical - and maybe the only - credible reinforcement likely to come from the farm this year is second year speed demon Matthew Lombardi. Still only 21, Lombardi will need to refine his work on the defensive side of the puck but still seems destined to begin a decent NHL career in fairly short order.

At some point through the season, it may well come to pass the Flames and Conroy come to a joint epiphany that both parties have a pretty good fit and we see them end up agreeing to a longer term deal to keep Conroy in Calgary.

As the weeks turn into months, however, Conroy's ongoing contract status may well have a deep impact on how coach/GM Sutter plays his four primary centers.

And Conroy himself, the man rated number one on the depth chart right now, may well be gone before the end of the season.


  1. Craig Conroy 
  2. Steve Reinprecht 
  3. Stephane Yelle 
  4. Blair Betts 
  5. Matthew Lombardi

ORGANIZATIONAL GRADE:  C+ - If the Flames are out of the race by Christmas yet again Conroy - sans contract extension - isn't likely to survive in a Flames uniform as GM Sutter gears his team for a post-2004 world. But is Reinprecht, his probable replacement, a number one pivot in the NHL?

Centre is one of the more solid positions on the Flames going into the season, but no other position carries as many riddles.


  Back to
Read other Stories
Talk About it!