The Calgary Flames completed one full week of the on-ice portion of their 2022 training camp, and things are clear as mud.
The Flames, who captured the Pacific Division by way of a 50-21-11 record for 111 points before bowing out to the Edmonton Oilers in the Western Conference Second Round, entered camp with a few intriguing camp battles and a few interesting questions to be answered.
Much of that remains to be solved despite the fact that Calgary has had a week of skates and have played four of eight preseason spins.
Here are five things we’ve learned, or haven’t, through the first week of camp:
1. Three lines seem pretty set
Through much of the first week, coach Darryl Sutter has deployed two lines almost exclusively, with newcomer Jonathan Huberdeau playing the left side of Calgary’s new top line with Elias Lindholm in the middle and Tyler Toffoli on the right.
Calgary’s bottom trio of Milan Lucic and Kevin Rooney alongside a combination of Brett Ritchie, who is day-to-day with a lower-body injury, and Trevor Lewis.
A third line of Mikael Backlund between Dillon Dube and Blake Coleman also seems like an eventuality, though we’ve seen Backlund temporarily skate on the left side with Nazem Kadri, and Coleman on the right. That’s not necessarily going to be the case on opening day, with Andrew Mangiapane set to debut in game action.
2. That second line right wing spot is still up for grabs
So, about that second line…
Kadri, unsurprisingly, will quarterback the trio. Mangiapane will flank the left. But there’s a pretty big hole that hasn’t necessarily been filled just yet, and it’s the most coveted roster spot, at least among forwards, still up for grabs.
Sonny Milano, in camp on a free-agent try-out, seems like the obvious candidate to seize the role. He, however, hasn’t. Milano, who has skated with fellow free agent invitee Cody Eakin, hasn’t exactly carpe diemed the opportunity presented, though in fairness he’s actually yet to debut in a game scenario with Mangiapane, who hasn’t played because of a slight strain sustained in summer skates, and Kadri.
Other potential longshot candidates — like Eakin, Matthew Phillips, and even a brief two-period wing audition for Adam Ruzicka — haven’t yielded significant results.
It might force that third line of Dube, Backlund, and Coleman into a brief breakup, elevating one of the two wingers in the short-term while the solution sorts itself out.
3. Flames have two spots on D to fill
Calgary also finds itself with two spots on defence to sort out, one temporary and the other permanent. The Flames are without breakout blueliner Oliver Kylington for the foreseeable future with the rearguard dealing with a personal issue.
It means the No. 6 and No. 7 spots on the blue line are up for grabs, with four frontrunners — Michael Stone, Connor Mackey, Juuso Valimaki, and Nicolas Meloche — seemingly battling for the pair of positions.
Stone, the loveable depth piece in camp on a free-agent tryout fighting for his NHL future, has two goals through two preseason games while showing the same steady presence he displayed in spot duty in the playoffs last spring. Mackey, who seemed to jump up the depth chart late last season, has also showed well.
The pair, at least through one week, appear as though they could be the frontrunners.
4. Waivers might be an issue
The volume of players to hit waivers just before the start of the regular season is sure to hit triple digits, and the Flames will have no shortage of skaters exposed to the 31 other teams.
Valimaki, for example, is no longer waiver eligible, and should he not grab a spot on the blue line the first round pick (No. 16) in the 2017 NHL Draft would need to pass through in order to be assigned to the Calgary Wranglers — the Flames’ new American Hockey League affiliate. The same is true for that of Mackey, Meloche, and a few other blueliners.
Phillips, who is a longshot to nab that right wing position on the second line, also requires waivers, as does Ruzicka, a 23-year-old 6’4″, 220 pound centre who has middle-six upside down the middle.
The Flames aren’t necessarily unique in this, but there are some intriguing young depth pieces that could be chanced on the waiver wire.
5. Flames cuts are coming
Calgary has 57 players remaining in camp, but not for long.
The Flames have a scheduled day off Saturday which will likely feature the dispatching of at least a dozen skaters down to the minors. There are a handful of players on AHL-only contracts that aren’t expected to compete for a role on the big club, so there’s a cutdown option. Others on two-way deals that are, at this stage, better suited for conditioning with the Wranglers will be optioned across town, too.
With just under two weeks to go before opening night against the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday, October 13, the expectation is the Flames will shave down to a more manageable number of just north of 30 to let veterans get more reps, and let bubble players battle it out in tighter competition.