Prove It!
Rick Charlton
September 2nd, 2003

Promises, promises, promises.

Calgary Flames coach and GM Darryl Sutter has thrown the gauntlet down for a defence corps alternately hailed for its potential but also ripped for its reality.

Finish in the top ten defensively or the Flames have little chance of making the post-season.

"When its all said and done, for this to be a playoff team, you need to be in the top 10 in goals-against and the top half in goals for," Sutter told The Hockey News preview issue. "Simple really."

Yes. Very simple, as it has been for the last seven years. Not complicated at all.

Positional Analysis

Charlton: Left Wing
Charlton: Right Wing
Charlton: Center

Last year in this space, we noted many of Calgary's vaunted young defenders were near or passing through that magical 25 year-old area, where experience typically catches up to ability and the result is a capable NHL quality player.

Yet the struggles continued, the most damning accusation being the Flames weren't a tough team in front of their own net where Roman Turek, large as he might be, still had to stretch mightily to see through a maze of legs, arms, body mass or just plain guess.

Calgary also received little in the way of offensive help from its defence corps; the loss of Derek Morris never made up as the year progressed.

That is the dilemma - a defence corps that seems to hold ample water on paper but has no clear leader and has yet to live up to its apparent promise.

And so it comes down to potential, realized or unrealized, that may well determine Calgary's fate once again.

The principle five defenders in Calgary figure to be Toni Lydman, Rhett Warrener, Jordan Leopold, Denis Gauthier and Robyn Regehr with a gaggle of Andrew Ference, Jesse Wallin, Steve Montador and Mike Commodore, in that order, filling in the blanks.

Petr Buzek, a former NHL All-Star and still young at 26, has played only one fairly full NHL season and apparently remains on concussion-watch. Buzek appears to be so low on Sutter's list of favourites that it may be impossible to find him, the proverbial Invisible Man.

It figures the Flames will trade or lose in the waiver draft one or two of the bottom rung chaps before the season gets underway.

While it would be fair to say that all have to step up their game for a franchise that has finished in the bottom third of the league defensively on a fairly routine basis these last seven years, Lydman will be one guy in particular who will have to generate the offensive numbers his ample ice time demands. Lydman has above average skills to get the job done but in the end, six goals and only 26 points is far less than the Flames needed and ranked him a lowly 56th among NHL defencemen.

Lydman obviously enjoyed the favour of Sutter as his ice time typically reached into the 28 minute area on most nights but the coach was also not shy about pointedly stating Lydman could have done much more offensively on an night in, night out basis.

With a new contract that allows for a fairly modest stipend this year then large increases the following two years, it figures this is Lydman's do or die year in a Calgary uniform.

Youngster Jordan Leopold will be counted on to supplement Lydman's efforts in the offensive zone. There was no single Flame who made more significant strides from start to finish in his game last year than Leopold, going from a soft, fairly clueless one dimensional product in October to one of Calgary's better positional defencemen by the end of the campaign. Leopold is yet another in a long line of USA college defenceman with little interest in the physical side of the game but appears ready to at least step in front of people and angle them out of the way. The Flames will go along with his deficiencies if Leopold begins to realize the brilliant offensive promise this team so desperately needs.

Dangling in and out of the scene will be Andrew Ference, slight but solidly built and a potentially great supplement to the efforts of Lydman and Leopold on the offensive side of the puck.

Rhett Warrener, Robyn Regehr and Denis Gauthier figure to provide much of the muscle from the back line.

Regehr in particular bounced back from a spectacularly disastrous 2001-2002 season to become a feared and respected defensive defenceman in the NHL. Only 23 but entering his fifth season, Regehr had a goal-less season last year but still has the Flames talking about him as though more of an offensive game is yet to come.

Warrener and Gauthier are the old men now, both 27 and in their ninth and sixth seasons respectively. Perhaps local fans are expecting too much from Warrener who has four seasons where he's scored zero times, including last year when he was an 18-minute a game defenceman on one of the worst teams in the league. He's a punishing presence in front of his own net, something this team desperately needs, but is essentially a complementary player to guys like Lydman or Leopold five on five. Gauthier still provides the occasional crowd-pleasing whopper of a hit but has tempered his style for more consistency in his positioning. Gauthier also chips in the occasional goal and assist but is probably the fifth or sixth man on the totem pole, an indication the upper reaches are getting better rather than any slight on Gauthier.

Jesse Wallin figures to be what Ference is to Lydman and Gauthier, the physical guy stepping up to supplement Regehr, Gauthier and Warrener if called upon.

Commodore, Montador and, if capable of playing, Buzek, are probably the bubble players in this scenario, the guys who may or may not survive camp. Montador has the advantage of being cheap and full of spunk (often suicidal) while Commodore has the advantage of being large, something Sutter clearly favours.

The biggest surprise of training camp would be if 2003 number one draft pick Dion Phaneuf were to make the opening day roster. Most likely he's heading back to Red Deer for further development. Roman Rozakov will be in camp and is another possibility but realistically, the 1999 draft pick is far down the depth chart.


  1. Toni Lydman
  2. Jordan Leopold
  3. Robyn Regehr
  4. Rhett Warrener
  5. Denis Gauthier
  6. Andrew Ference
  7. Steve Montador
  8. Mike Commodore
  9. Dion Phaneuf
  10. Roman Rozakov
  11. Tim Ramholt

GRADE C - Defence is obviously about more than just defencemen but this is a group, as a whole, that needs to step up and take its place or continue to be judged for P-O-T-E-N-T-I-A-L rather than deeds. We're at the skeptical "show me" stage.

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