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Roster Set for Camp
August 9, 2001
With the signing of Rob Niedermayer and Dean McAmmond this week, the Calgary Flames roster appears to be in place for the start of camp on September 11th.
Unlike last season the Flames won't have the unnecessary distraction of key players holding out looming over camp in a season where the Flames can ill afford to come out of the blocks slowly.
The team as it stands will likely be the squad that opens against the Oilers on October 3rd.
What you see on paper is likely what you'll see on the ice when the Flames commence the 2001-02 training camp in Banff, Alberta.
Though National Hockey League general managers have been known to posture somewhat, standing pat appears to be the current thought of Calgary's GM, Craig Button.
"We don't anticipate anything in particular", remarked Button to a question from the gallery of the assembled media at the Saddledome on Wednesday.
"We will have all our players signed and ready to go this year, and we have competition built in for jobs in all areas".
"Were looking forward to the season. We're excited at the changes we've made".
Calgarypuck.com takes a look at other issues surrounding the team with five weeks to go before the new season kicks off.
The Flames GM has been busy this summer adding numerous new faces, and subtracting numerous others in reshaping a team that will try to halt a five year hiatus from the playoffs.
Gone are the enigmatic Val Bure, fan favourite Fred Brathwaite, and tough as nails Jason Wiemer.
New faces include goaltender Roman Turek, crease clearing defenceman Bob Boughner, as well as forwards Rob Niedermayer and Dean McAmmond.
But what will this team look like on the ice?
"We've acquired players with individual character, we feel we have a real balance in terms of age and maturity now. Last year we were lacking in the 26 to 32 age group, and all the new guys fit into this group."
The additions of players like Niedermayer, McAmmond, Boughner, and Craig Conroy, from last year's trade deadline, will do plenty for team cohesion and on ice accountability, leaving the big question the matter of who will score the goals.
The moves of the past six months have effectively subtracted the team's 2nd and 4th highest goal scorers in Bure and Cory Stillman, leaving a void that needs to be filled for the team to be successful.
It appears the Flames will be entering the season with only three top six forwards - Jarome Iginla, Marc Savard and Rob Niedermayer - in their lineup, placing some pressure on the supporting cast to pick up the slack.
"Players like Oleg Saprykin, Jeff Cowan, Ron Petrovicky, Chris Clark and Jukka Hentunen will be given the opportunity to fill the void in goal scoring" said Button.
"These players with the exception of Saprykin, are moving into their mid-twenties and can be looked upon to contribute more".
"We haven't lost Jarome Iginla or Marc Savard, they will still be producing for us".
One of the fall-out issues from a failed season in 2001 was the fact that many of the player's conditioning was less than acceptable to compete in the NHL.
For a team with a limited budget to compete in a two to three tiered NHL, thrifty teams need to hold their own in the areas that don't come attached to a price tag.
It's one thing to have less expensive players in a team's lineup, but quite another to have less expensive and less conditioned athletes. Work ethic and physical conditioning are two of the few areas that the Flames can harness to help bridge the gap against their opponents.
"Rich Hesketh set up a program at the end of the season, entailing strong standards for conditioning", remarked Button.
"He's been in contact with the players every 21 days all summer, and has paid visits to players to ensure the players come to camp ready".
"We feel an improvement in this area will show benefits on the ice".
Greg Gilbert added that the process wasn't one that can be remedied over night.
"The key is to see progress", said Gilbert, "guys faded at the end of last year, and that makes the difference in close games".
"Without being in great shape you lose those close games".
"If everyone comes to camp showing an improvement, we will work with them from the point to further that improvement".
No Goalie Controversy
The Flames likely caught many off guard in dealing the popular Fred Brathwaite for Roman Turek and his 2.8 million dollar price tag.
Brathwaite was the city's most popular player, and Turek has only one year left on a contract that will see him become an unrestricted free agent.
"It's always hard to move a player like Fred Brathwaite. He's an exceptional player off the ice and in the community, the type of guy you want in your organization", suggested Button.
"But tough decisions have to be made, and we feel this was a move that will help our hockey club".
In Roman Turek the team has inherited a number one goaltender with an excellent statistical track record over the past three seasons. However, he also comes with the baggage of a blown playoff series.
"People have a tendency to focus on a player's last performance, looking past the overall performance", said Button.
"Roman will provide this team with consistent goaltending, which will give the other players confidence that they won't always have to play from behind".
"We don't need a goaltender to steal games, because that suggests that other parts of your game have fallen down. You just want to avoid your goaltender losing you games".
There still exists, of course, the matter of Roman Turek's contract heading into the 2001-02 season.
The time for Button to strike for a contract extension is now given the fact that Turek is new to the team and coming off a tough playoff conclusion. The last thing this team needs is to finally find the right goaltender, but have him so hot that he holds out for free agency at the end of the season.
When asked about negotiations with Turek and his representatives, Button indicated the process is under way.
"Roman and his wife just had a baby on August 1st, they had plenty of personal issues to tend to in the Czech Republic", said Button.
"We've had preliminary talks on contract, we've expressed our intentions to Roman. He is on the final year of his contract, and we will work on changing that".
The duo of Turek and Mike Vernon is the most experienced tandem the Flames have had since Mike Vernon and Rick Wamsley tended the cage for the Flames cup team in 1989.
The division of labour should fall heavily towards Roman Turek, but counting out the future hall of fame backup goaltender could be a mistake.
"Mike is 38 years old, we didn't feel we could put him in a tough situation", said Button.
"If Vernon pushes, that's a great problem to have".
The Boogie Man
As the dust settles on a new roster, the core of the team's young defence has remained unchanged.
Though many a team called out the names Derek Morris, Denis Gauthier, Toni Lydman and Robyn Regehr in negotiations with Button over the summer, Button resisted in order to keep his young core together.
Button feels the addition of Bob Boughner will help all four take that next step.
"With inexperience and enthusiasm, there is bound to be mistakes", said Button.
"Bob Boughner will help this team two ways. First he's a very strong player in his own end. He's able to help on the penalty kill and play against the opposition's heavier players", suggested Button.
"But he also knows how to play. His action, words and guidance will help all four of our young defencemen, not just the physical players like Regehr and Gauthier, but also Derek Morris and Toni Lydman".
Ready to Roll
The team that takes the ice this fall is guaranteed to be very different than the team that limped into the sunset last April.
The increased experience, size and speed will likely alter the team's game style, and ensure a higher level of consistency.
That isn't to suggest there are no longer holes to be filled, however.
The Flames still lack scoring up front, as well as any hint of intimidation or toughness in the forward ranks. Bob Boughner will be a menace in his own zone, but you can't have him in the box for large stretches of time.
For the time being however, this appears to be the team that fans will see. It appears Button is counting on the changes he's made and players already in the fold to pull up the slack for players that have departed.
Time will tell.