The Calgary Flames will open training camp with the usual gaping hole at centre, thanks to an injury that newly acquired Roman Cervenka suffered during the lockout, playing in the Czech Republic.
Cervenka, who replaced departed free agent Olli Jokinen on the roster, was diagnosed with a blood clot and won’t be ready to start the season, meaning converted winger Michael Cammalleri will likely be cast as the team’s top centre, playing between Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay. It will be a matter of new coach Bob Hartley putting all of his scoring eggs in one basket, a tactic he employed with good results in his Colorado Avalanche years with Peter Forsberg, Joe Sakic and Tanguay.
The Flames also figured to get some offensive help from Jiri Hudler, another free-agent acquisition, but there are questions about his availability too, after he suffered a facial laceration, playing in the Czech Republic.
Generally, the Flames’ world turns around two players – Iginla and goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff – both of whom are notoriously slow starters. In a shortened season, that needs to change. Calgary did boost its offence from defence by signing Dennis Wideman, a 46-point producer, away from the Washington Capitals in the offseason.
Along with Jay Bouwmeester and the underrated Mark Giordano, the Flames’ blue line corps will be as strong as it has been in some time. Rookie Sven Baertschi will get a chance to play regularly and third-year centre Mikael Backlund, whose career is off to a slow start, will get a chance to play some important minutes early.
Ultimately, they hope Hudler and Cervenka can produce scoring within the context of Hartley’s high-tempo approach, which will mark a tactical shift from former coach Brent Sutter’s defence-first philosophy.