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Higgins hopes experience can help net contract

Chris Higgins is out prove he's a good fit for the Flames

by Aaron Vickers @AAVickers / CalgaryFlames.com

CALGARY, AB -- It's unfamiliar territory for Chris Higgins.

Sure, he's at a National Hockey League training camp for the 14th time in his career.

But breaking in with the Calgary Flames this fall is the first time the Smithtown, NY native is working without a net.

Higgins, an unrestricted free agent, is camping without a contract.

"It is different, but I've never approached a camp as if I'm expecting to make the team," said Higgins. "If you don't play well they'll get rid of you. You've seen that 'x' number of times. It happens. If you don't play well they're going to get rid of you.

"It's the same case for me right now."

 

The veteran of 711 career NHL games might know that more than ever.

In the least productive stretch of his career last season, Higgins was placed on waivers by the Vancouver Canucks in January and went unclaimed before being ushered to Utica of the American Hockey League.

He did return to Vancouver for the team's final eight games but had the last season of his four-year contract bought out in June.

Fast-forward to September and he's back in camp like he's done 13 years prior, on a professional try-out.

"It's fun to be around something different," Higgins said. "I've spent six seasons around Vancouver. Sometimes you need some new stimulus. I'm getting a bunch of that here."

Not everything is new to the 33-year-old, though.

He's seeing some familiar faces around Scotiabank Saddledome.

His potential new head coach -- Glen Gulutzan -- is his former assistant coach in Vancouver. His potential new assistant coach -- Paul Jerrard -- was his former assistant coach in Utica.

A foot in the door and an ear to bend, it seems.

"We've had Chris for three years in Vancouver and I know the guys in Calgary liked him as well," Gulutzan said. "It's a good veteran guy to bring to camp, to surround with some of our young guys. He's a good person. 
He came in in great shape. The conversations were just that…that there's an opportunity here and we have some needs and we think he can fill one of them."

Higgins has every reason to believe that.

"I have confidence in myself," he said. "I have a good relationship with Glen.

"I don't think he would lie to me.

"I've talked to him a number of times over the summer. I've always had a good relationship with him. I think some of the things I do well are some of the things they didn't do well here last year. I think it could be a really good fit."

But ...

"There's no guarantees," started assistant general manager Craig Conroy, Higgins' teammate during the invitee's 12-game stay with the Flames in 2009-10.

"It's always nice when you know the coach. He had the coach last year. Coming in here there's that comfort level. He knows what [Gulutzan] wants. He knows what he has to do.

"He's got a lot to offer. He's going to show he's an NHL player, and he wants a spot here, too.

"The PTO guys are going to be battling. There's a couple spots. Whether it's the 12th forward, 13th forward, whatever it is, they feel there's some opportunity. And with injuries…you never know what's going to happen. You want to show that you're here to get a contract if you're a PTO guy."

Higgins, a PTO guy, understands his situation.

He also understands how he can fit.

Calgary finished an NHL-worst on the penalty kill at 75.5 percent in 2015-16.

Higgins, he feels, can help with that.

"It's something I think I do really well," Higgins said. "They were 30th in the league. You're just not going to win with a penalty kill like that. You can teach guys to do things, but some guys are just better at it than other guys. It's kind of an instinctual things."

Calgary had one of the younger rosters last year, too, in the bottom-third of the NHL in average age.

Higgins, he feels, can lend a hand there, too.

"With their lineup, some of the Flames best players are young players and they're very young players," Higgins said. "They're super skilled. It's an exciting team to be around and to be skating with.

"But I look back when I was younger and I learned so many lessons from older guys when I thought I had it all figured out. I'm sure some guys here probably think they've got it all figured out. It'll slap them in the face sooner or later."

The Flames suspect Higgins can help. He wouldn't be in camp otherwise.

He has to prove, though, he can help enough to net a new deal.

No nerves, though.

"Probably for my parents," Higgins said. "Not for me.

"I'm not the one making the decision.

"I have to make them think long and hard about signing me to a contract."

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