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Pre-season Primer, Part 1: That hole in the top six ain't gonna fix itself, sunshine.

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With training camp in the offing, it seems as good a time as any to have a look at some of the potential story lines for the Flames during the pre-season. First up, a look at some scenarios for filling the hole in the top six left by Mike Cammalleri.

Replacing 39 goals is no easy task for any team, and when a cap-challenged team chooses to use most of its free space on Jay Bouwmeester, the options are circumscribed further. If I had to guess at the Flames' first six forwards, there are five players that seem most likely to be part of the first two lines and they fall into two categories:

 

Jarome Iginla, Daymond Langkow and Olli Jokinen are locks barring a major trade. Which one of the Flames' first two centers plays with Iginla is a post for another time, but those three guys will almost certainly end up as the team's top three forwards in terms of TOI and points.

 

The other two gentlemen that showed enough last year to likely rate top-six ice time were Rene Bourque and David Moss. I'd be seriously surprised if the two of them weren't part of the first two lines. Rene Bourque might have had the gods on his side last year in terms of percentages, but he's shown enough other things, both in Calgary and during his injury-riddled tenure in Chicago, that suggest he can be a useful player in a second line role. David Moss didn't ride the percentages at all last year(7.2 EV SH%) and still ended up with 20 goals. They will be hard to dislodge from the top groupings if healthy.

 

A careful reader might have deduced by this time that I think the Flames are one guy short for the top six ;-) That would be a fair summation, but given the players available, let's look at some of the options for Brent Sutter.

 

1) Boyd or Dawes?

 

My two fellow Winnipeggers have been presented an opportunity that has been rare for young Flame forwards since the lockout. Darryl Sutter has brought in help from outside the organization to bolster the scoring lines, whether from the scrap heap (Huselius), free agency (Amonte, Nolan, Bertuzzi) or via a major deal (Tanguay, Cammalleri). This season, Darryl Sutter seems to be willing to let the current members of the organization have a go at winning a job along side his elite players. Of all the potential aspirants, Nigel Dawes and Dustin Boyd, in my opinion, have an edge over the others. Both have proven themselves at the AHL level as PPG-ish scorers, which is likely the line in the sand if you hope to be a top-sixer of any note in the NHL. They've also managed double figure seasons in goals in less than favourable circumstances, and without a lot of help in terms of linemates.

Dawes' 07/08 with the Rangers is of particular interest to me.

 

GP   TOI                QC    QT      Cor.   P/60  GF  GA      +/-

 

61   11.32            0.01 -0.05    11.1   2.17   33  20      13


He ended the season with 14 goals (11 EV) while playing with less than stellar teamates. His Corsi (4th best amongst regulars) and +/-  (team best) were also very good, although he was likely sheltered to a degree in terms of Offensive/Defensive faceoffs. His 08/09 numbers weren't as good, and his finish with Phoenix was poor, but let's face it, if he'd been great, he wouldn't have been a waiver wire pickup. He does have some potential as a project. Like many players before him, his small stature always seems like a strike against him, fair or not.

 

Boyd doesn't have anything like that sort of NHL season on the resume, but he's a year and a half younger and did score 11 goals last year while playing with the Nystroms and Roys of the world. If he'd been better in terms of EV +/-, I might consider him even with Dawes, but the Flames are almost certainly going to be a team that emphasizes defence first, and that  -11 EV he finished with is a poor number irrespective of teammates. Dustin Boyd is a skilled guy, but he's got a ways to go in his own end. Given the experience factor, and the fact that the management has talked him up this summer, I wouldn't be shocked if Nigel Dawes gets a serious look at a scoring role on this team.

 

2) Why not Glencross?

 

Not a bad question at all. If a team is going to put its top six forwards on its top two lines, Curtis Glencross should be one of those guys for Calgary. Along with David Moss and Craig Conroy, he was a part of an excellent third line last season, and his addition, along with Bourque, gave the Flames some decent depth until the injury bug overwhelmed the team in March and April. If anyone wants to make the case that Glencross should be in the top group based on merit, it's a valid argument. I just have a suspicion that the Flames don't want a team that resembles its 07/08 edition, i.e. 2 lines and bugger-all else. Glencross, Conroy and one of the Stroms have a chance to be a solid two-way line that can get some traction versus other bottom-sixers. Put Dawes or Boyd in that spot, or both Stroms with Conroy, and things begin to look a bit thin on the last two lines. Curtis Glencross is a very important member of the Calgary Flames, no matter what line he's on. The team just seems more balanced to me if he and Conroy are two-thirds of a good third line, but differing opinions are certainly welcome on this point.

 

3) Backlund, perhaps?

 

I'll deal with my expectations for the Flames' most skilled prospect in much more detail later this week, but here's the short form: unless he absolutely, positively kills it in camp, he needs a year in Abbotsford. The AHL is no pushover league. Smoke the grown-ups down there, and then maybe we'll talk about Mikael Backlund as a full time NHLer.

 

4) Is there a dark horse?

 

Players like Kyle Greentree, Jason Jaffray, Kris Chucko or Jamie Lundmark could fall under this category. Greentree had 39 goals last season on an offensively challenged QC squad, but he'll be 26 this year and his skating has always been the question mark about him. I also look with a bit of caution at older guys that run up big totals in the AHL, and I'm not alone. Alexandre Giroux scored 60 goals for Hershey last year, had a terrific AHL playoff run culminating in a Calder Cup, and got a 500,000 two way deal from the Caps for all that. Why? 28 years old, is why. He's found his level, and it isn't quite the NHL. That's no sin, but unless any of these gents have another level that they haven't shown yet, they're much more likely to be top-six in Abbotsford than to make the Flames in any role of any sort. I don't see any of the other roster playes on one-way deals being anything but bottom-sixers.

 

There may be other options that reveal themselves over the course of the next month, or maybe a trade of a defenceman for a forward that shakes things up. Absent that, these appear to be the options at hand, and I'll confess that they don't fill me with a lot of confidence. The best hope is for Dawes or Boyd to break out, because it allows the team to leave Glencross with Conroy, giving the team some stability on the bottom end. 

 

In the next installment, I'll have a look at some of the options for 7th defenceman.