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Captaincy, Gaudreau’s contract status the plot lines of Calgary Flames training camp

Captaincy, Gaudreau’s contract status the plot lines of Calgary Flames training camp

CALGARY — Replacing the leadership and minutes of departed captain Mark Giordano is a burning issue at Calgary Flames training camp.

After eight years wearing the ‘C ’ and leading the team in ice time, the 37-year-old Giordano was plucked by the Seattle Kraken in the summer’s expansion draft.

A Norris Trophy winner in 2019, the defenceman’s departure leaves a void to be filled.

The Flames aren’t rushing to slap the ‘C’ on another player to start training camp.

“I haven’t even really given it much thought,” Flames head coach Darryl Sutter said Thursday at the Saddledome. “I think what’s more important is the group itself, the leadership group.

“I’ve been on championship teams that changed captains and it was never about the ‘C’. It was about the leadership group. That’s an earned position. It’s not a given position.”

Calgary’s turnover in captains is historically glacial. Jarome Iginla’s 16 years combined with Giordano’s eight covered almost a quarter-century.

Assistant captains Mikael Backlund, Sean Monahan and Matthew Tkachuk are candidates.

“It obviously would be an honour, but at the same time, we’ve got a lot of guys in that room who could fill that void, whether it gets filled or not,” Monahan said.

“Big shoes to fill obviously with Gio wearing that letter for a long time and Iggy before that. It’s the first time in my career where there wasn’t a captain.”

Tkachuk, 23, has one year remaining on his contract before restricted free agency. Monahan, 26, and Backlund, 32, have two and three years left on their respective contracts.

Calgary is at home to the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday in the first of eight pre-season games.

The Flames open the regular season Oct. 16 on the road in Edmonton followed by their Oct. 18 home-opener versus the Anaheim Ducks.

A coaching change midway through a pandemic-shortened season didn’t ignite the Flames in 2020-21. Calgary (26-27-3) finished fifth in the North Division and four points out of a playoff berth.

Calgary was 11-11-2 when Darryl Sutter replaced Geoff Ward in March and went 15-16-1 the rest of the way.

Sutter, who also coached the Flames from 2002 to 2006, and served as the team’s general manager from 2003 to 2010, said a full training camp with players can get them on the same page.

“The biggest thing for me coming in is communication you have with guys over the off-season knowing full well you’re going to have a normal camp,” said the 63-year-old from Viking, Alta.

With one year remaining on a contract that pays him an annual average of $6.8 million, there will be a lot of chatter around the contract status of top scorer Johnny Gaudreau.

The 28-year-old winger made it clear Thursday he didn’t want to talk contract with media. He’s pleased Monahan has recovered from off-season surgery on a hip that hampered his longtime centre most of last season.

“I could tell throughout the year he was playing through some pain there,” Gaudreau said. “It’s great to see him healthy and looking for a big year.”

Gaudreau hopes for a right-winger to stick with their line after a lot of experimentation.

“We had a crazy year last year with all the COVID and coaching change,” Gaudreau said. “I think me and Monny, we played with five or six different guys again.

“It would be nice to try to find a guy that can stick with us, and we can play a good month, two months with and create some chemistry. We find someone who can work with us, that’ll be really helpful.”

Andrew Mangiapane skated first-line reps with them Thursday. The 25-year-old from Bolton, Ont., led Canada to a gold medal at this year’s world championship in Latvia and was named tournament MVP.

“He’s got the confidence. He can carry pucks. He protects pucks. He plays well at both ends of the puck,” Monahan said. “He’s fun to play with and that’s something that could potentially be really good.”

Fresh off back-to-back Stanley Cup wins with the Tampa Bay Lightning, winger Blake Coleman signed a six-year, $29.4-million contract with the Flames. He skated on the right side of centre Elias Lindholm and Tkachuk on Thursday.

“To have a guy who’s won in the last recent year, knows what it takes, has played in those big games, scored big goals, played on a great team, knows how a great team should be, a perfect guy to add to our locker room I think right now,” Tkachuk said.

Newcomers Trevor Lewis won Stanley Cups with Sutter in Los Angeles in 2012 and 2014. Brad Richardson was also a member of the latter team. Sutter tested them on a line Thursday with Milan Lucic.

“Those guys have the connection with four Stanley Cups,” Sutter said. “This organization needs that.”

Veteran defencemen Nikita Zadarov, 26, and Erik Gudbranson, 29, were brought on board to address Giordano’s departure on the back end.

Noah Hanifin, who recovered from off-season shoulder surgery, and Rasmus Andersson are the likely top defensive duo.

Gudbranson opened camp paired with Juuso Valimaki, while Zadarov partnered with Chris Tanev.

Kirk Muller and Cail MacLean join Ryan Huska as Sutter’s assistant coaches this season. Martin Gelinas shifted into player development after nine years as an assistant coach.

All players in Calgary camp are fully vaccinated, but goaltender Tyler Parsons isn’t participating because he’s “unable to satisfy quarantine regulations in terms of travelling,” Flames general manager Brad Treliving said.

Parsons is expected to report to Calgary’s AHL affiliate in Stockton, Calif.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 23, 2021.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press