Backside Built
D'Arcy McGrath
September 2nd, 2003

When one thinks of a defenceman generally goals against, shutting down the opposition, and holding the line for caught forwards are some of the elements that build the general description.

In today's NHL, that only tells half the story however.

Positional Analysis

McGrath: Left Wing
McGrath: Right Wing
McGrath: Center

A well built defence crew will have speed, size and finesse. A good mixture of players that can punish the opposition with a thunderous hit, and players that can punish the opposition with a great outlet pass or powering shot from the blueline.

A club's defence is the key to their penalty killing, powerplay, and transition game five on five. Without a solid set of defencemen, an NHL team is literally rudderless in today's game.

Which brings us to the Flames.

For the past several fruitless NHL campaigns the Calgary Flames have appeared - heavy accent on the word appeared - to have one of the best young defences in the National Hockey League. With names like Derek Morris, Toni Lydman, Robyn Regehr, and Denis Gauthier many suggested that the defence brigade would hold the ammunition to vault the club back into the playoffs.

It didn't happen.

This year the team has upgraded their defence again. On paper, with the departure of Bob Boughner, but addition of Rhett Warrener and some added depth, the team appears to have it's greatest strength in its blueline.

But screw paper, seriously.

It's time for this group to step up and make a difference. With Warrener, Robyn Regehr and Denis Gauthier the club has ample supply of angry, crease clearing defencemen to help ensure that Roman Turek can see each and every shot.

They also boast an intriguing set of puck rushing defenceman, a group that is low on proven statistics, but high on potential and possibility. Toni Lydman, Jordan Leopold and Andrew Ferrence should be able to add more as a group offensively than they managed last season. The 2002-03 Calgary defence managed only 19 goals and 80 assists in 494 total games played. That amounts to a paltry 0.03 goals per game, and only .200 points per game as a group.

The biggest change on the blueline from last season's training camp comes in the form of depth. When injuries do occur, and they always will, the Flames have a ready made stable that includes Mike Commodore, Steve Montador, and Jesse Wallin to pick up the pieces.

The Big Club

Robyn Regehr They say NHL clubs are built on one top forward, one top goaltender and one top defenceman. This summer general manager Darryl Sutter made it perfectly clear that Robyn Regehr would be that one top defenceman. The hulking 23 year old took some serious steps forwards last season suggesting the Kamloops product is ready to make his 5th NHL season is clear best, and evolve into that nasty stay at home defenceman that forwards hate to play against. Perhaps this fall Robyn should stay clear of any goal production predictions and let the chips fall where they may, as last year his ten goal prognosis resulted in a goose egg. Prediction 5 goals

Toni Lydman The slick skating Fin avoided salary arbitration and signed a three year deal in Calgary, suggesting he's in the plans of Sutter and his staff. Lydman has always teased with his offence, as he appears to have the talent to do so much more. In the end he'll likely be what he is - a decent two way guy that can log some serious minutes. Prediction 8 goals

Rhett Warrener Rhett Warrener will be looking to bounce back from a disapointing, injury plagued 2002-03 season while wearing a new set of silks, as the former Sabre lines up in Calgary this season. Warrener is a physical stay at home defenceman that should provide the club with more size, and hositily while making fewer mistakes than some of the club's other young rearguards. He's not as experienced as Bob Boughner, but he's bigger and comes at a better price. Prediction 2 goals

Jordan Leopold There are very few players in the Calgary lineup that has the ability to move his game up further than sophomore defenceman Jordan Leopold. If Leopold can turn 2003 late season confidence into a break through 2003-04 the Flames may find themselves in a playoff spot when April comes around. The former Golden Gopher is the club's most skilled blueliner, and a huge key to a needed resurgence from their powerplay. Will likely continue to be teamed with Regehr in the club's number one pairing. Prediction - 10 goals

Denis Gauthier - Denis Gauthier simply wants to finish what he started. As one of the longest serving Flames, no one player is more adament about staying in Calgary, and getting the Flames back to the playoffs, then the 26 year old Montreal native. The 6'2" rearguard will never dazzle with his offensive capabilities, but he's coming into his own as a defender and still throws highlight reel checks that drive opposing forwards into needless penalties. A good team player. Prediction - 2 goals

Andrew Ferrence - The Flames invested a third round pick in acquiring Andrew Ferrence from the listing Pittsburgh Penguin franchise. The puck rushing defenceman has something that no other Flame rearguard possesses - the ability to beat a player one on one to set up an odd man opportunity on the attack. Darryl Sutter and the coaching staff will be working hard to return Ferrence to the level he achieved in the 1998 playoffs with Pittsburgh when he notched 20 points in 16 post season games. Prediction - 5 goals

Jesse Wallin - Although Jesse Wallin won't find Nik Lidstrom, Chris Chelios and a daunting Stanley Cup deep defence core ahead of him on the Flames depth chart this fall, the former Red Wing will be in tough to make the grade in Calgary against nine other NHL level defenceman. Wallin plays the game simple and tough, and will battle Mike Commodore and Steve Montador for the final spot on the big league Flames. I give him the edge heading into camp. Prediction - 1 goal

Predicted Big Club Goal Output 33 goals

On the Farm

Defencemen get hurt, it's one of the only safe assumptions that one can make during a hockey season. This year the Flames seem to have a contingency plan or two in place to avoid dipping too deep into the barrel.

The two losers in the 7th spot sweepstakes (any two of Mike Commodore, Jesse Wallin, and Steve Montador) will provide excellent assurance should the team suffer a blow or two to their defence core - that is if said players manage to pass waivers and get to the American Hockey League.

Included in the depth chart are 2003 first and second round draftees Dion Phaneuf and Tim Ramholt. Neither player is expected to make the jump, but since they'll be at camp in just over a week, they have to be counted as in the mix.

Depth Chart

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

Organizational Ranking - B The clear strength of the Calgary Flames roster has to actually deliver this season by cutting down the goals against, providing better penalty killing, and being the key to a countering transitional offence. The mix appears right, so I give them a B.

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