Mere minutes after his club wrapped up the preseason, Calgary Flames coach Darryl Sutter wasted no time getting into regular-season mode.
That is to say, he started sniping at the media.
“I want to make this really clear,” said the Jolly Rancher when asked a softball question about the roster decisions that lie ahead.
“I’ve heard it all, from July on, about, ‘there’s no spots’ or all this thing about how, ‘other people picked the team.’ Really clearly, there are still about 30 guys here, and while they might not be on the opening night roster or the 23-man roster, everybody here is going to play with the Flames. Anybody who thinks that there’s only 12 forwards or only six defencemen or there’s only one goalie, quite honestly they’re full of s—.”
He continued, much to the amusement of the handful of scribes in attendance on Friday.
“That’s just an opinion and not a fact. It’s not even thought out very well when you say that. There are still 15, 16 forwards, nine defencemen and three goalies. For us to be a playoff team there’s not enough of a gap between those guys … we’ll need ’em all. That’s for sure.”
So, Darryl, will you consider keeping eight defencemen to start the year?
“I really don’t know until we get through some of these injuries — we’re still a week away (from next Saturday’s season opener.)”
Brad Richardson left the game after the first period, begging a question about his status.
“I was informed the other night Johnny Gaudreau was hurt, so that wasn’t true either,” said Sutter, on a roll.
“Maybe Brad was sick tonight.”
Sutter has always felt sick about the notion of anyone else having a published opinion on his team.
So, let’s examine what the moves ahead might look like.
In terms of camp battles, it’s clear Dan Vladar acquitted himself well enough to secure his status as Jacob Markstrom’s backup.
The coach said as much.
Connor Mackey doesn’t require waivers to be sent down, so he will be, as will Johannes Kinnvall once he’s healthy.
That leaves eight defencemen, which is how the Flames may open the season.
Oliver Kylington has almost certainly played his way onto the team, joining Chris Tanev, Rasmus Andersson, Noah Hanifin, Nikita Zadorov and Erik Gudbranson.
The team wouldn’t dare expose Juuso Valimaki on waivers for the purposes of a demotion, leaving his partner, the ever-steady Michael Stone, as the most likely one to be sent down, if anyone.
GM Brad Treliving likes saving every cap dollar he can, so keeping eight defenders on the roster for an extended length of time is likely not his intention.
Up front, the opening night absence of Tyler Pitlick (lower-body injury) and Blake Coleman (suspension) opens the door for Brett Ritchie and camp revelations Glenn Gawdin and Walker Duehr to stick around for at least the first game.
Sutter is right, in that players like Justin Kirkland, Mackey, Stone and goalie Adam Werner will undoubtedly see time with the team this season.
With a condensed schedule in COVID times, you can bet on it.
A player starting the season in Calgary or Stockton isn’t necessarily representative of where they stand on the organization’s depth charts.
We get it.
But, boy, was it interesting to see how riled up the process got Sutter Friday, after a 3-1 win nonetheless.
ANDERSSON ON POINT
All eyes are on Andersson this season to see if he can successfully run the power play from the blue line.
The 24-year-old Swede started last season as the lone defenceman on the first power play unit but eventually gave way to Mark Giordano after Sutter arrived.
In Friday’s win over Winnipeg, Andersson had three assists, including helpers on both power-play goals. He also rang a shot off the post and led all Flames in power-play time.
Fully engaged and extremely effective, he was the game’s obvious first star.
MONAHAN STEPS UP
Limited in pre-season play out of an abundance of caution following hip surgery last spring, Sean Monahan was front and centre Friday as the Flames’ top-line centre.
It’s a gig he held for years, until Elias Lindholm was anointed the club’s top middleman last season.
With top-liners Matthew Tkachuk and Blake Coleman out of the lineup Friday, Lindholm shifted to Monahan’s wing, opposite Gaudreau for a reunion of sorts.
Monahan tapped in a nifty pass from Lindholm with the man advantage, putting on display the type of goal the veteran has made a living scoring — from the front of the net.
Monahan said he’s felt good throughout summer rehab and is thrilled to be healthy enough to have a chance at returning to the perennial 25-30-goal mark he’s become accustomed to.
Proving he’s rounding back into form, Monahan spent some time killing penalties Friday -– something he rarely did until Sutter arrived.
Sutter gave the team’s first public reaction to Coleman’s two-game boarding suspension, which kept the free agent signing out of Friday’s final exhibition game, and will cost him a spot in the season opener.
“I’m glad it’s not the regular season because he’d miss two games,” said Sutter.
“I’m not in agreement or disagreement, because that doesn’t matter. Blake just wasn’t quite game sharp. Normally that’s just a seal play. If the player that he made contact with (Winnipeg’s Jansen Harkins on Wednesday) would have been on his feet. there would have been nothing. Blake is like a second off on his game.
“That’s the way I look at it. It wasn’t intentional, it wasn’t accidental. It was timing.”