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There is a cure for summer time blues
Flames coverage is back!

D'Arcy McGrath
August 2nd, 2005

There just isn't a better way to put a smile back on the face of rabid hockey fans than to go from a painful lockout to buy outs, a draft and a free agent season in a new order that has every team in the mix for the first time in 15 years.

However, you just can't do much about the timing.

Yours truly was essentially incommunicado for the past two weeks, frolicking with my young children in BC's picturesque lakes and not trolling hockey boards and writing articles on all things Flames with a new season just beyond our grasp.

It figueres, 12 full months with nothing to write about and plenty of time to not do it followed by a relaunch right smack dab in the middle of cottage season.

So with that we catch up on all things Calgary in the past two weeks.

The Draft

Hard not to be disappointed with a 26th overall pick given the Flames advantaged lotto ball position heading into the hockey lottery, but doesn't it almost seem right given the Flames rise out of the ashes in the 2004 playoffs?

Perhaps the team can expect to draft in the 20's for the next few seasons, something I don't think most Flames fans would mind given the success level needed to end up at the back end.

Had the draft gone ahead as it would have been slated given the 2004 standings the Flames would have picked 19th and had a chance at a player like Kenndal McArdle, but only time will tell if that would have been a better pick than Matt Pelech.

One surprise of the day was Darryl Sutter's sacrifice of two third round picks to move up and take Michael Ryder's little brother Daniel, 74th overall last Saturday. In his somewhat limited history as the Flames' general manager, Sutter has always been more of a quantity collector than a quantity shedder when it comes to draft picks making the move to get a specific player later in the draft somewhat interesting.

Also interesting is the selection of the general manager's son, Brett 179th overall in the sixth round. Always a straight shooter, you just can't doubt Sutter on his word that they took Brett where he should have gone and no sooner, quelling some concerns about nepotism. However, the handling of the Kootenay Ice product when it comes to contract time had better be careful or he'll open himself up to some criticism the way Al Coates did when he signed brother Brian's son Shaun when Sutter senior was then coaching the Flames.

Flames Free Agents

No real surprises when it comes to roster moves for the Flames to date this summer.

It didn't take a rocket scientist to land on the conclusion that the ever-popular Mike Commodore was likely to be in tough to make the squad given the teams' depth and the addition of Dion Phaneuf.

Cutting loose Ville Nieminen is hard for Calgary fans that just loved the enigmatic quote machine in the playoffs, but with 200 free agents to be had clearly Sutter will have some options to upgrade a player or two on the bottom half of his roster.

One minor surprise is the positive press and overtures made to Martin Gelinas given how the 2003 training camp unfolded for those that can remember that far back. At that point there was talk (read threat) of putting Gelinas on waivers to avoid his big ticket, a quote that had many wondering if his days in Calgary were numbered regardless of the waiver wire that fall. I suppose three series winning goals (cough … should be four) can do a lot to mend fences as it appears the speedy veteran is still in the Flames plans – though likely at a much reduced price tag.

There was talk that Sutter would take a pass on qualifying veteran heart and soul blueliner Rhett Warrener with an understanding that he'd then try to work something out long term. In the end Warrener did get retained, but I doubt that changes the long time look. Sutter may be trying to shift the blueline under Robyn Regehr in payroll as the young blueliner moves from young player to veteran and a key building block for the team. As it stands, both Warrener and Toni Lydman make more money than the Saskatchewan product leading to some speculation as to Lydman's future in Calgary. With Lydman on the last year of a deal and knowing he'd like to remain in Calgary one would suggest the possibility of a renegotiation to a longer term, smaller ticket deal. However that's impossible given the laws laid down for the new CBA as teams are being prevented from finding loopholes to get under the cap.

The Plan

You just have to like the Flame's situation heading into the free agent season in August.

Not only are we seeing the city listed on many a high impact UFA's rumoured or preferred list, but the team also seems to be in good shape given what they already have in their own stable.

Many writers have opined (or directly copied from one another) this new suggestion that the best way to build a team under 39 million is to sign a solid goaltender, two minute gobbling veteran defencemen and four upper crust forwards to roughly 20 million bucks and then fit the other 16 guys in for roughly a million each on average.

The Flames are pretty much set on that front assuming they sign their own restricted free agents.

Miikka Kiprusoff is certainly a good place to start in goal, giving the Flames a fairly young impact goaltender with a Stanley Cup run on his resume.

Not hard to find the two minute hogs on the blueline either with Robyn Regehr and Jordan Leopold used to almost half a game of ice time apiece, plus Rhett Warrener and Toni Lydman that also play in the low 20's each night. In the wings is a rookie in Dion Phaneuf that will likely be up in the 20's himself by the end of the season. The Flames group may lack the experience level of say an Adam Foote, but the baptism under fire through the playoffs of 2004 should have this group ready to take that next step.

Up front things are a little sketchier with only Iginla as a clear-cut top end forward, though a second healthy tier of Daymond Langkow and Steve Reinprecht has the club at roughly three of the required four forwards needed for “the plan”.

I wouldn't be surprised to see Sutter add one more scoring forward to the mix, though I would guess this player would be somewhat off the popular list and more of a moderate signing that for whatever reason could use a change of scenery.

Past that the Flames are blessed with a great depth of hard working forwards that could really make the difference on a night in night out basis in a new NHL where the playing field is much more level and hard work the key factor in separating wins from losses.

So there you have it … all cut up and back in Calgary in time to watch the rest of the summer team building unfold player by player through a hot August.

And with a tan to boot!



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