It has been a long time since there has been this much excitement in Calgary over the Flames.
That’s saying something in a city that just came off its first springtime Battle of Alberta in 31 years.
The rollercoaster off-season that saw Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk and Sean Monahan replaced by Jonathan Huberdeau, Nazem Kadri and MacKenzie Weegar leaves the Flames with a more experienced and more accomplished group that has very few holes or question marks surrounding it.
We start learning more about how the lads will mesh on Thursday when the Flames open camp.
The team’s goaltending and defence are considered amongst the league’s elite, which means the spotlight will stay focused on the lads in charge of filling the net.
Whether the team is better than last year won’t be determined until next spring, but people on both sides of the debate will start to get clues relatively soon.
Current salary cap space: $2.136 million
General manager: Brad Treliving
Head coach: Darryl Sutter
Assistant coaches: Kirk Muller, Ryan Huska, Cail MacLean.
Unsigned players: Adam Ruzicka
ONE IMPORTANT QUESTION: Who plays where?
The Flames have plenty of the ingredients necessary to be legitimate contenders this season, but how they’ll all mix together will be the subject of daily water cooler discussions in Calgary.
Line combinations will be tweeted out during every skate, as Darryl Sutter spends camp trying to figure out who fits best with whom?
Sutter wondered aloud last week whether Huberdeau would be a better winger alongside Elias Lindholm or Nazem Kadri, which is the first piece of the puzzle to be determined.
Assuming Lindholm remains the top pivot, will it be Tyler Toffoli or Andrew Mangiapane who play on their right side?
Will Blake Colemen get a top line audition, or is he better suited alongside Kadri, or on the third line with Mikael Backlund, with whom he has built tremendous chemistry?
Is newbie Kevin Rooney good enough to stave off a camp challenge from PTO invite Cody Eakin, or might Eakin be a serviceable addition on the wing?
At the back end, everyone wants to know whether MacKenzie Weegar best fits alongside Chris Tanev, or elsewhere.
Let the line shuffling begin.
A TRAINING CAMP BATTLE TO WATCH: Can the kid make it?
On a veteran-laden team where 95 percent of the roster appears set, many are curious whether Jakob Pelletier can stand out enough to warrant an opening-day spot.
The odds are certainly against it, which is the way Darryl Sutter figures it should be with unproven youngsters.
Pelletier is a feisty, undersized left-winger whose competitiveness and skill set made him one of the most prolific rookies in the AHL last season, when he scored 27 goals and had 62 points in 66 games.
The 21-year-old winger could certainly benefit from another heavy workload in the minors and Sutter has a long history of preferring veterans he can trust.
That said, the door is open for a third line spot if the former first-rounder can force the issue with a great camp.
Treliving was open last week about his desire to add some more depth on the wing, which he addressed Monday by signing Sonny Milano to a PTO.
There is still the possibility another winger could be added on a tryout basis, as the team has looked at several possibilities.
Pelletier would have to outplay the eight-year veteran, as well as a raft of others in the mix, including versatile Cody Eakin who is also in camp on a PTO.
PROJECTED LINEUP OUT OF CAMP
Huberdeau – Lindholm - Toffoli
Coleman - Kadri - Mangiapane
Milano – Backlund – Dube
Lucic - Rooney - Lewis
Hanifin - Andersson
Weegar – Tanev
Zadorov - Kylington