The Calgary Flames have answered a few questions in regards to which of their second-ranked prospect group will be getting a good shot to make the team with the release of their expansion draft protected list on Tuesday. However they may have raised more questions at the same time.
As little as five days ago the general assumption was that the Flames would protect two goaltenders, Fred Brathwaite and Jean-Sebastien Giguere. The surprise trade of Giguere to Anaheim was the first in new GM Craig Button’s administration and has many people scratching their heads. Very few people are outraged at the move but it has left many wondering what the team is up to. Giguere, ranked Calgary’s top prospect for much of the last two years, has neither been a disappointment nor good enough to change the “goalie of the future” designation to the “goalie of the present”. Despite that, the situation seemed perfect this year, Freddie was the number one and Giguere would be the season-long understudy. Button said that he made the trade because he did not want to lose a good fourth defenseman and eighth forward.
For the forwards that makes sense. With the first six practically a given (V.Bure, Iginla, Stillman, Weimer, Shantz & Savard) the seventh, eighth and ninth forwards are the capable and effective Bill Lindsay, the popular and hard-working Clarke Wilm and the tantalizing Andrei Nazarov who works so well on a line with Savard and Iginla. But with regard to the defense it makes a little less sense. Many will be happy to see that Tommy Abelin will be back, he was one of the Flames’ best defensemen last year until his season-ending injury, but were the Flames really in danger of losing a 35 year-old defensemen with a $1 million dollar contract who is likely to be returning to Sweden after this season. The Flames also protected Wade Belak, the Flames’ seventh defenseman and tough guy last season, who is still more a prospect than a regular. A big, strong, rough-and-tumble defensive defenseman, the jury is still out on whether Belak will ever be a fourth defenseman but it is almost certain he will not be for the Flames next season. Derek Morris, Phil Housley, Denis Gauthier, Robyn Regehr and Tommy Abelin are already ahead of him on the depth chart. Toni Lydman, the Finnish defenseman who almost made the team last year, is expected to get his chance this year and you would think that the Flames will be interested in keeping at least one of Bobby Dollas, Brad Werenka and Darryl Shannon. All are unprotected and Shannon and Werenka are unrestricted free agents. The team may even keep two of the three. Some would argue that Darren Scouville is a better prospect than Belak and Chris St Croix and Dmitri Kokorev are as well in the long-term. Throw in Steve Smith, whose expected retirement is still not official, and you could argue that Belak is the Flames’ tenth or eleventh defenseman next year. This is of course a worse case scenario from Belak’s point of view and unfair to a man who has shown gradual but definite improvement over his pro career and whose size and willingness to mix it up are things difficult to teach and not something the Flames have in great abundance. But with Abelin unlikely to be picked and Belak’s NHL future far from certain it does raise the question, has Button traded a top goaltending prospect essentially to keep say, Clarke Wilm?
And then there is the most obvious question. Who will be the Flames backup goalie next year? Do the Flames have a plan to move up and get Rick DiPietro at the draft or take twelfth-ranked Calgary Hitman Brent Krahn with their ninth pick? Are either of these two anywhere near ready to be a NHL backup? Is Tyrone Garner on the fast-track suddenly? Who is Sean Matile? Will Andrei Trefilov or even Grant Fuhr be back again? Fuhr is under contract for next season. Or do they plan to trade for/sign a goalie from another team before training camp? It looks possible that Mike Vernon will be available. The return of the team’s all-time wins leader may be good for the ticket drive as there are still fans in Calgary that would pay money for the second chance to boo Vernon out of town. It really is a wide open question, one with out a clear answer and one that very few people could have anticipated a week ago.
The final question provoked by the protected list and one that can be interpreted as most relevant for the forward prospects is the exposure of Sergei Krivokrasov and Martin St Louis. St Louis is not a big surprise. Many would love to see the hard-working speedster succeed it is not clear if his AHL scoring talents will ever translate to big league scoring. Krivokrasov is more of a surprise as he is young, does not have a huge contract, scored 25 goals the season before last and played well in the 11 games he suited up for the Flames after the trade deadline. There are suggestions that the Flames will make deals with Columbus and Minnesota to keep Krivokrasov but maybe he is not as much a part of the team’s future as you might think. It may be because he is enigmatic and inconsistent. It may be because of chemistry. The Hockey News draft preview from his draft year focuses on his enigmatic behavior and notes an unconfirmed rumour that he and the Central Red Army’s other young star could not get along. The other young star was Valeri Bure. But this is just speculation and the latter qualifies as wild speculation. Perhaps more probable is that the Flames are making room for their three top forward prospects, all of whom can be called offensive players rather than two-way or checkers, at least at this stage of their careers. Namely Daniel Tkaczuk, Rico Fata and Oleg Saprykin. Lindsay, Wilm and Nazarov need to be retained for their ability to play checking and banging roles. Losing one of them, keeping St Louis and Krivokrasov and adding Tkaczuk, Fata and/or Saprykin creates an imbalance of roles among Calgary forwards. Too many offensive players. Therefore I think it looks very probable that Toni Lydman, Daniel Tkaczuk, Rico Fata and Oleg Saprykin have roster spots to lose in training camp.
With the long-anticipated arrival of some prospects, an unclear situation in net behind Fred Brathwaite, a financial crisis and team-saving ticket drive, a new General Manager and soon a new coach there is a lot going on in the Flames camp these days and Flames fans are looking for the answers to many questions about the team these days.