Flames pre-season leaves plenty of questions to be answered

After a wild offseason where the Calgary Flames saw their top stars leave town, Brad Treliving was able to recoup major assets via free agency and trade, but the question remains, do the new look Flames have enough depth to make a Stanley Cup run?

CALGARY – After a summer of napkin-scribbling, the Calgary Flames’ pre-season goal was to sort out line combinations and build chemistry.

Let’s just say both are still considered work in progress.

With the pre-season answering very few of the coaches’ most pertinent questions, the challenge now is to see how quickly the lads can find regular linemates who can help the club take advantage of its nine home games in the opening 10 outings.

Outside of Michael Stone and Dan Vladar, there were no standout performances in camp, prompting lines that look a lot like most inside and outside the organization predicted during the summer.

“I think in the dressing room we have a pretty good handle on (the lines),” said Sutter, whose club wrapped up a 4-4 pre-season Friday with a 5-3 loss to Winnipeg that demonstrated how far away from Sutter-style hockey they still are.

“The way you get that (chemistry) is on the ice and the only way to do that is to play.

“The key is there’s a lot more than just what’s on the ice. There’s the locker room and relationships that are just as important.

“There’s a lot of changes at the top of our team in terms of personality and types of players.”

Sure are, as more than one third of the current lineup wasn’t with the organization one year earlier.

“I think on defence there are two major changes, Erik (Gudbranson) and Shilly (Kylington) not being here,” said the coach.

“It’s a big adjustment. It takes time and you just want it to be consistent.”

The defending Stanley Cup champions from Colorado come calling for Thursday’s season opener, which adds plenty of urgency to the situation.

“It’s a work in progress for everybody,” said Toffoli.

“We’re all trying to figure out where we’re all at as a team and time’s running out and the season is starting here in four or five days.”

Here is a closer look at where everyone sits, as well as a few tough decisions on which depth players they’ll have to risk losing on waivers before Tuesday’s roster declaration.


Jonathan Huberdeau – Elias Lindholm – Tyler Toffoli
Dillon Dube – Nazem Kadri – Andrew Mangiapane
Radim Zohorna – Mikael Backlund – Blake Coleman
Milan Lucic – Adam Ruzicka – Trevor Lewis

Extras on Friday: Brett Ritchie, Kevin Rooney

The top line has struggled to find any semblance of chemistry early on, although Huberdeau’s “Huberama” spin move while exiting the zone Friday to start a brilliant goal rush finished by Toffoli was a sight to see.

“We’ve got to be better, being a top line,” said Huberdeau, the club’s $84-million man.

“It’s not about points right now, it’s scoring chances. I think we’ve just got to get closer and support each other a bit more.

“It’s tough in practice to get that chemistry.

“It’s more about the feel. Personally, I’m not playing well. I’ve got to be faster.

“We know what we can do, and we will.”

A lot certainly rides on it.

PTO hopeful Sonny Milano couldn’t fill the top-six opening the team had advertised, prompting the club to promote Dillon Dube to the second line with Andrew Mangiapane and Nazem Kadri.

That line has the potential to bring tremendous energy, tenacity and its fair share of offence.

However, with Friday’s game out of reach, Sutter swapped Mangiapane for Toffoli, who set up Kadri for a nice finish.

Sutter said the only combination in stone right now is Coleman and Backlund on the third unit, leaving a rotating cast to fight for the spot on their wing and the fourth line.

Assuming the Flames don’t want to keep more than one extra forward when rosters are declared Tuesday, it’s almost certain Zohorna will be the one exposed on waivers for the purposes of sending him down, as he’s done little to impress in his two outings here.

Asked about him Friday, Sutter was curt: “I think he really struggled.”

They’d love more of a look at him, but he has the lowest risk of being claimed if waived.


Noah Hanifin – Rasmus Andersson
MacKenzie Weegar - Chris Tanev
Nikita Zadorov – Connor Mackey

Extras: Jusso Valimaki, Nicolas Meloche, Michael Stone (unsigned on PTO), Oliver Kylington (absent due to personal reasons), Dennis Gilbert (injured)

No NHL team is deeper at the back end than these Flames, making for some tough decisions moving forward.

While the coach wasn’t thrilled with several outings from his pairs, he’s defaulted to keeping Andersson and Hanifin together, while pairing Tanev with Weegar, who is happy to play on his off side.

Tough to go wrong with either combination.

It was looking like Sutter’s pre-season favourite, Zadorov, might just open the year with the club’s top AHL defenceman, Mackey.

“It’s clear cut, when healthy, who our five defencemen are,” said Sutter when asked about his rationale to give the left-handed Mackey the final spin Friday while playing on his off side where he’s played plenty in college and the minors.

“But who the next two or three are has been a challenge, so it’s always better to have guys that can play both sides. That’s of value to the player and the team.

“He’s working on his consistency and game maturity.

“I want to give him every opportunity to show that.”

Stone has had a great pre-season as a PTO hopeful, who will undoubtedly be signed in some fashion, whether that’s immediately or down the road.

Meloche will almost certainly be sent down, as opposed to Valimaki, who is a first rounder the club has invested too much into to risk losing on waivers for nothing.


The last thing anyone would be worried about in Calgary is the goaltending.

The team that surrendered the third-fewest goals last season should challenge for the Jennings Trophy with an even deeper blue line ahead of them.

Only question here is whether Markstrom is summoned to play fewer than the 63 games he played in last year.

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