There are few other teams in the NHL that can boast returning every member of its top three forward lines.
What’s more, the team’s 10th forward, Derek Ryan, is also back to centre the fourth line.
No, this hasn’t exactly been an off-season of change for the Calgary Flames. Whether that’s a good thing remains to be seen.
Snagging elite netminder Jacob Markstrom from free agency is likely to have a significant impact on the club moving forward, but the jury is out on how the slightly retooled blue line will fare with Chris Tanev replacing TJ Brodie.
With roughly $1 million left in cap space to help ink restricted free agent Oliver Kylington, GM Brad Treliving’s remaining addition or two will be much like the handful of transactions he has made over the last week: minor.
You can be sure he’ll extend PTO invites to two or three veterans just before camp, but it’s not too early to start slotting how the 21 lads already under contract will fit in:
In the mix for NHL time: RW Dominik Simon, C Glenn Gawdin, C Adam Ruzicka, RW Buddy Robinson, C Byron Froese, LW Zac Rinaldo, LW Jacob Pelletier, RW Matthew Phillips,
In the system: C Martin Pospisil, C Luke Philp, C Connor Zary, C Rory Kerins, C Ilya Nikolaev, C Josh Nodler, C Lucas Feuk, C Mitchell Mattson, LW Dmitri Zavgorodny, LW Demetrios Koumontzis, LW Emilio Pettersen, LW Filip Sveningsson, LW Justin Kirkland, RW, Eetu Tuulola, RW Ryan Francis
The top three lines Geoff Ward employed for the playoffs appear a likely way for the team to start training camp, with hopes a veteran like Josh Leivo or any number of youngsters could push for jobs or line promotions.
The hope is that where the Flames will be better, despite a similar set of forwards, is through the growth of young stars like Dube and Mangiapane, who finished off last season in impressive fashion. The hope is also that Sam Bennett’s latest playoff heroics will land him back in the middle of the third line, as opposed to the wing where his regular seasons have long seen him come up short of expectations offensively.
Newbies Nordstrom, Leivo and Dominik Simon will battle for fourth line duties alongside Zac Rinaldo, with hopes an impressive camp from Gawdin or Robinson might force management’s hand into giving them a look at NHL stints.
In the mix for NHL time: LD Kylington (unsigned RFA), LD Connor Mackey, LD Colton Poolman, LD Carl-Johan Lerby, RD Alex Petrovic, RD Alexander Yelesin.
In the system: LD Jeremie Poirier, LD Yan Kuznetsov, LD Ilya Solovyov, RD Johannes Kinnvall, RD Jake Boltmann
Chris Tanev’s $18-million signing made him the focal point of blue line change earlier this month, as he’ll patrol the right side on one of the top two pairings.
However, Treliving figures once the season starts the real story will be the youngsters.
“We brought in Tanev but the big change in our defence is the growth of Rasmus (Andersson, 24) and Juuso (Valimaki, 22),” he said, adding that Hanifin and Kylington are still 23.
In that vein, Valimaki has returned to action for the first time in over a year in spectacular fashion. Showing no ill effects of the knee surgery that cost him all of last season, the Flames prized first rounder from 2017 is leading his team and all defenders in the Finnish League with two goals and ten points in nine outings. Loaned to his hometown team, Ilves Tampere, he’s finally starting to get much-needed reps in game action.
“He’s putting up points and all that – which is great – but I’m not breaking down his shifts,” laughed Treliving.
“The main thing was him getting playing again. You’ve got to be put into game situations again. You’ve got more time and space over there. What he’s getting is live, game bullets and I think that’s critical, so when he comes back here and we get started up he’ll have a long training and recovery program under his belt.”
The left-handed shooting Valimaki is also getting time in Finland on the right side where the Flames could really use more depth.
The signing of Nesterov is an intriguing one as the former Tampa Bay Lightning defender has spent the last three years in the KHL where he was an all-star who not only led his team to the Gagarin Cup, but captained the national team and won Olympic gold with the Russians in Pyeongchang.
Although a left-handed shooter, he’s comfortable on the right side where he will likely start the season alongside Valimaki on the third pairing.
Jacob Markstrom ($6M)
David Rittich ($2.75M)
In the mix for NHL action: Louis Domingue, Artyom Zagidulin.
In the system: Dustin Wolf, Tyler Parsons, Daniil Chechelev
Markstrom’s six-year, $36-million contract makes him The Man in Calgary, with hopes he’ll provide the type of stability and dominance Miikka Kiprusoff embodied as a Flame.
One year away from unrestricted free agency, it’s a big year for Big Save Dave to prove he’s capable of regaining the all-star status he earned last season before going into his third-straight second-half slump.