The wait is over for the Calgary Flames.
Off the ice since April after a heartbreaking first-round loss to the San Jose Sharks, the Flames are back for the 2008-09 season, officially opening training camp on September 19 as the veterans reported for physicals at the Pengrowth Saddledome.
On ice sessions begin Saturday, Sept. 20, at the Pengrowth Saddledome and are open to the public.
There are plenty of new faces. Plenty of camp battles. Plenty of intrigue as the new season approaches.
The Flames began re-structuring the team early in the summer with the acquisition of forwards Rene Bourque from Chicago and Mike Cammalleri
from Los Angeles.
The moves continued with free agent signings of big Todd Bertuzzi, speedy Curtis Glencross
, enforcer Andre Roy and the re-signing of former Flames Mark Giordano
after the defenceman played for a year in Russia.
Other players, including Kyle Greentree and Jamie Lundmark, were also brought into the Flames fold.
The concept is to create a team with a strong combination of grit, speed and skill. The core group -- backboned by captain Jarome Iginla
-- remains but the parts around the core are obviously going to change.
Add to the mix players such as Brandon Prust and David Van Der Gulik who have been in the Flames system developing and this training camp shapes up as one of the more interesting camps in recent Flames history.
Below are some areas to keep an eye on during camp. FORWARDS
The big question heading into camp is who will play with Jarome Iginla
. Will it be Mike Cammalleri
, who can play centre and left wing, or Todd Bertuzzi, a left winger. Either could fit on the top line with Iginla and Daymond Langkow.
The second, third and fourth lines could all look very different this season as the newcomers mix with players that were here last year.Curtis Glencross
and/or Rene Bourque could surprise and draw into the Flames top six forwards. DEFENCE
The return of Mark Giordano
provides the Flames with more mobility off the back end. He is a decent skater, can fill in on the power play and can make a good first pass out of the Flames defensive zone.
While many have pushed Rhett Warrener out of the main Flames picture, don't count him out. He has plenty of heart and trained hard over the summer. GOALTENDING
No controversy here. Miikka Kiprusoff
remains the man in the middle of the pipes for the Flames, firmly entrenched as the No. 1. Curtis McIlhinney is slotted in for back-up duty this season. However, Matt Keetley and Leland Irving
are nipping at the heels of McIlhinney.UP AND COMERS
Energy plus is Brandon Prust. A gritty, hard-edged player he is healthy for this camp after undergoing groin surgery just prior to last season's camp. He has a real shot at making the team as a fourth-line grinder who will drop the gloves when required.
David Van Der Gulik is a player you don't hear a lot about but who has quietly crept up the depth chart of the Flames. The left winger had 42 points in 80 games with the Flames top affiliate, the Quad City Flames, last season. If he doesn't crack the line-up out of camp he could be one of the first call-ups if an injury bug hits the Flames.ROOKIE WATCH
Centre Mikael Backlund
, the Flames first round pick in 2007, is touted as the Flames top prospect in the forward ranks. He is skilled, he can skate and has a shot that travels lightning-fast. He is young and could return to his homeland in Sweden to play in the elite league there. However, if he shows well, he has a chance at sticking with the team. He had strong performances in the Flames prospect camp, which includeds scoring a goal in an exhibition game against Vancouver during a mini tournament for prospects from Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver.LOOKING TO EMERGE
Matthew Lombardi has the speed and hands to be a very effective player in the NHL and the Flames are looking to have him centre the Flames second line and take on more responsibility.David Moss
had an injury-plagued season last year but the forward could return to form and become a 10-15 goal-scorer this season.