CALGARY, AB -- The math doesn’t necessarily hold up.
The Calgary Flames have 12 forwards currently on one-way contracts, not including the entry-level deals of Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau. In all, 15 forwards currently under contract played at least 48 games in the National Hockey League. Three more, Micheal Ferland, Sam Bennett and Drew Shore, are all seeking full-time employment, too.
Those totals don’t include the likes of Emile Poirier, Kenny Agostino, Bill Arnold or Garnet Hathaway, prospects looking to make a statement with a strong camp.
Only a dozen will inhabit the Flames’ opening night roster, and 14 project to be on the roster come October 7th.
And coach Bob Hartley doesn’t mind one bit.
“It’s a good problem,” said the reigning Jack Adams Award winner. “Tough decisions are a good problem to have. Three years ago we saw some promising kids. Two years ago we saw some promising kids. Those kids have really turned into great players for us and acquisitions in the last three years, whether trades or free agent signings, they came as a group and this is a fun group to be around.”
The growth as a forward core hasn’t gone unnoticed.
Neither has the emerging battle for spots up front.
Matt Stajan, who has served parts of six seasons in Calgary, has seen the evolution first hand.
“We have a lot of depth,” said the veteran of 774 NHL games. “It’s a good problem to have. It pushes you. You push the guy beside you and he’s pushing you. It’s no secret that if everyone is healthy, there’s more players than there are jobs. Everybody is going to be working hard to make sure that they are playing their best from the very best.
“In the NHL you have to do that or you quickly fall behind or find yourself in a spot you don’t want to be in.”
Competition got the best of Brian McGrattan and Devin Setoguchi last season.
After losing their place in the lineup, both found themselves on waivers and eventually, in the American Hockey League with the Adirondack Flames.
Mason Raymond, periodically a healthy scratch under Hartley, understands both sides of the battle.
“A few years ago I was going into a camp on a PTO,” said Raymond, invited as an unrestricted free agent to attend camp with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2013 and recipient of a three-year contract with the Flames last offseason.
“At the end of the day, whether you have a contract or not, you’re going out there to earn a job. You need to put your service on the ice and play the best you can play. Do we have a lot of forwards? You bet. That makes for a competitive camp and that’s what pushes us as individuals and helps us as a team in general.
“A competitive camp, lots of guys fighting for jobs and it’s fun. We know what we expect out of ourselves and it’s a matter of going out and putting that on the ice.”
The numbers, it seems, will sort themselves out based on performances.
But with only Gaudreau, a Calder Trophy finalist, and Markus Granlund among the collective that can be assigned to the Stockton Heat of the AHL without being subject to waivers, the competition to stick around in Calgary becomes even greater.
“We have a lot of players that can play in different spots too, that are versatile and what have you,” added Raymond. “We’re here fighting for jobs whether we have contract or not. It’s the nature of the business and that’s part of going out and being a pro.”
Which pros remaining following training camp will continually be sorted out up to, and after, the start of the regular season.
Until then, only questions remain for Hartley.
“I’m sure you guys looked at our lineup. I’m sure everybody in Calgary, players included, look at our lineup,” he said. “We have how many forwards on NHL contracts? We have how many forwards that can play NHL hockey?”