Flames' focus on character and fit to build roster is evident

Ryan Leslie joined Sportsnet Central to discuss whether or not the Calgary Flames will trade Johnny Gaudreau, what the acquisition of Jacob Markstrom means for David Rittich, and more.

Joakim Nordstrom might not be a familiar name to most Flames fans, but to a good chunk of the current roster, he’s known as a friend.

Estimating he knows roughly half the players on the team he signed a one-year deal with on Monday to kill penalties and patrol the fourth line, Nordstrom is quick to point out there’s one in particular he may be a little bit too familiar with.

“Elias Lindholm is an absolute sandbagger,” deadpanned the 28-year-old winger who golfs regularly with the Flames star in their native Sweden.

“I don’t think he’s adjusted his handicap in four years. He usually beats me, he’s a good golfer. So, the friendship fees are high enough – he can’t charge me anymore.”

Becoming the sixth Swede on the Flames roster, it should come as no surprise Nordstrom works out regularly with Oliver Kylington and is so tight with Lindholm that the two went on a golf trip a few years back to Portugal with another new Flame, Jacob Markstrom.

The trio has also travelled to see Champions League games in Spain and went on fishing expeditions, like the one this summer that still has them talking about the whopper they giddily posted online.

“It’s kind of funny how things work out,” chuckled Nordstrom, who hoisted a Stanley Cup with Chicago and won 2012 world-junior gold in the Saddledome, of all places.

“Being really good friends with Elias, I’ve talked to him on a daily basis and I keep track of the Flames and I was aware there were multiple connections there. I also know Noah Hanifin and Derek Ryan from playing in Carolina. When I had a chance to sign (with the Flames) I asked (Lindholm) a little bit about the organization, the team and the city. He always talks about how much he likes it there, but he wasn’t too pushy. It’s just a good fit.”

As minor a signing as Nordstrom is, it’s symbolic of what the Calgary Flames have focused heavily on ever since they jettisoned James Neal: acquiring character pieces that fit into the fabric of a tight core.

The Neal trade itself demonstrated exactly that, as Milan Lucic replaced the disgruntled winger with leadership and grit the team was short on.

Although general manager Brad Treliving grabbed a considerable amount of attention for seizing the opportunity to snag the most attractive free-agent goaltender available earlier this month, the Flames have seen very little change to their roster.

In fact, the open debate in Calgary revolves around whether the GM has done enough to improve the team’s fortunes.

Chris Tanev was signed to fill the fleet-footed boots of T.J. Brodie with a more defensive-minded skillset, putting the onus on significant internal growth throughout the lineup to fuel the club in what will likely be an all-Canadian division whenever the season starts.

The rest of the moves are all about filling tiny holes in the team’s depth, including forward Dominik Simon, who was signed on Thursday.

But even those additions must come with the makeup, personality and psyche that fits into a room in which there is a belief something special is being built.

“You need the player first, but, yes, we think character is important to have,” said Treliving.

“We have a really strong room. Having a room full of character people who are willing to do what you have to do is important. Joakim is another example of that. He does things that take courage. You want to have character people because when things are going the wrong way they’ll dig in and do the things that are necessary.”

Extensive conversations with people who played with Nordstrom in Boston, Carolina and Chicago convinced Treliving the shot-blocking workhorse was the type of person and player that would complement a group that will have its top three lines from the playoff intact next season.

"He's not a sexy signing, but he does a lot of the grunt work that's important," said Treliving, who will pay Nordstrom $700,000.

"He's a penalty killer and a strong, physical guy who is an unbelievable teammate who plays an important role at important times. Guys who played with him rave about him."

Similar research was obviously done on Tanev and Markstrom, who were universally applauded as respected and appreciated teammates in Vancouver who are seen as good fits in Calgary.

One of the hallmarks of this Flames bunch is how close the lads are, prompting several of them to go out of their way to discuss how much closer they became in the bubble and how much they hoped to get another shot together next season.

Disrupting that group, no matter how many are clamouring for a significant change or two, doesn't appear to be in the cards.

It took time for skeptics to see the true merits of a Lucic deal that was made largely because of the intangibles the hulking winger brought.

And while every team in the league certainly looks for character and fit with every acquisition, the Flames’ focus on it is evident.

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