It’s been a long time since there was this much excitement in Calgary about the flames.
That’s saying something in a city that has just finished Alberta’s first spring battle in 31 years.
The off-season roller coaster in which Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk and Sean Monahan were replaced by Jonathan Huberdeau, Nazem Kadri and MacKenzie Weegar leaves the Flames with a more experienced and more experienced group with few holes or question marks around it.
We begin to learn more about how the boys will gather on Thursday when the Flames open camp.
The team’s goalkeeping and defense is considered one of the league’s elite, meaning the spotlight remains on the guys 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 get clues relatively quickly.
Current salary ceiling room: $2,136 million
General manager: Brad Treliving
Head Coach: Darryl Sutter
Assistant coaches: Kirk Muller, Ryan Huska, Cail MacLean.
Unsigned players: Adam Ruzicka
AN IMPORTANT QUESTION: Who plays where?
The Flames have enough ingredients to be legit contenders this season, but how they will all blend in will be the subject of daily discussions about water coolers in Calgary.
Line combinations are tweeted during each skate, as Darryl Sutter spends camp trying to figure out who’s best for who?
Sutter wondered aloud last week whether Huberdeau would be a better winger alongside Elias Lindholm or Nazem Kadri, which is the first puzzle piece to be determined.
Assuming Lindholm remains the main pivot, will it be Tyler Toffoli or Andrew Mangiapane playing to their right?
Will Blake Colemen get a top audition, or will he fit in better alongside Kadri, or on the third line with Mikael Backlund, with whom he’s built tremendous chemistry?
Is newbie Kevin Rooney good enough to avert a camp challenge from PTO inviting Cody Eakin, or could Eakin be a useful addition on the wing?
At the back, everyone wants to know if MacKenzie Weegar fits best next to Chris Tanev, or somewhere else.
Let the line scrolling begin.
A TRAINING CAMP BATTLE TO WATCH: Can the kid make it?
At a veteran-laden team where 95 percent of the roster appears to be occupied, many are wondering if Jakob Pelletier can stand out enough to warrant a spot on opening day.
The odds are definitely against it, and that’s the way Darryl Sutter thinks it should be with unproven youngsters.
Pelletier is a feisty, undersized left winger whose competitiveness and skills 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 a new heavy workload with the minors and Sutter has a long history of favoring veterans he can trust.
That said, the door is open to third in line if the former first-rounder can force the issue with a great camp.
Treliving was open last week about his desire to add a little more depth to the wing, which he addressed on Monday by signing Sonny Milano for a PTO.
There is still the possibility that another winger could be added on a tryout basis as the team has looked at several possibilities.
Pelletier should beat the eight-year veteran as well as a slew of others in the mix, including the versatile Cody Eakin who is also in camp on a PTO.
PROJECTED SETUP FROM THE CAMP
Huberdeau – Lindholm – Toffoli
Coleman – Kadri – Mangiapane
Milan – Backlund – Dube
Lucic – Rooney – Lewis
Hanifin – Andersson
Weegar – Tanev
Zadorov – Kylington