CALGARY — The absence of Matthew Tkachuk and the presence of former Edmonton Oilers is creating buzz at Calgary Flames training camp.
Tkachuk is among a number of restricted free agents yet to sign with their respective NHL teams.
A 30-goal, 70-point producer at just 21 years of age, Tkachuk is a key cog in the fortunes of the Flames, who finished atop the Western Conference last season with 50 wins.
“He’s a unique player, he’s a real good player,” general manager Brad Treliving said Thursday when Flames underwent physical testing.
“We love the player and the kid. He’ll be here when it gets done and hopefully it’s done soon.
“Once camp starts, you hate missing days. It’s days you don’t get back in terms of the preparation. All we worry about is getting a deal done.”
Calgary opens the regular season Oct. 3 against the Colorado Avalanche, who upset the Flames in five games in the first round of the playoffs.
Any exchange of personnel involving the NHL’s Battle of Alberta is intriguing to hockey fans in the province.
Cam Talbot and Mike Smith signing with Calgary and Edmonton respectively on the first day of unrestricted free agency July 1 was essentially a goalie swap between the rival cities.
Talbot had a brief stop in Philadelphia as a rental player to conclude last season, but the 32-year-old from Caledonia, Ont., spent the majority of the last four years with Calgary’s northern neighbour.
Talbot is expected to push David Rittich for starts in the Flames’ net.
Burly forward Milan Lucic is now a Flame after a July deal that sent James Neal to the Oilers.
Both are contract-heavy forwards trying to recover their peak form following disappointing campaigns.
A Stanley Cup winner with the Boston Bruins in 2011, Lucic mustered six goals and 14 assists and was minus-9 in 79 games last season.
“Even if I had a good year last year, you always have something to prove and want to get better,” said the 31-year-old from Vancouver.
“After having a subpar last year and a half, ever since I would say Christmas of 2017, I’ve been in a slump that I haven’t been able to get out of.
“I think I’ve got a lot to prove and sometimes a fresh start is what gets guys going again.”
Calgary’s top line of Johnny Gaudreau (99 points), Sean Monahan (82) and Elias Lindholm (78), as well as captain and Norris Trophy winner Mark Giordano (78) are capable of making the Flames one of the highest-scoring teams in the league again.
“It’s not an easy thing to finish first in the conference,” Giordano said. “We’ve got to take the positives out of last year too and not just the way it ended, the negative.”
Finnish defenceman Juuso Valimaki underwent surgery on a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee Aug. 28.
The 20-year-old said he suffered the injury earlier that month while training, but did not provide any details.
Calgary’s first-round draft pick in 2017 was expected to be a regular in the lineup this season. His absence, which will be weeks in duration, created an unusual scenario.
The Flames had bought out the final year of Michael Stone’s contract — a cap hit of US$3.5 million — when the defenceman cleared waivers in August.
Stone was limited to 14 games last season because of a blood clot in his arm.
The 29-year-old from Winnipeg and the Flames agreed to a one-year contract worth the league-minimum $700,000 on the eve of medicals.
“The first conversation was a little unique. ‘Hi Mike, remember me?”’ Treliving said.
“Even at the time we bought out Mike we knew we needed some more depth on the blue-line, NHL depth, real players.
“Two or three weeks later, Juuso blows out his knee and we explored the opportunity of bringing Mike back.”
Stone was as surprised as anyone that he was a Flame again.
“I didn’t see it playing out like this. I didn’t even know this was possible,” he said.
“It was a long month. Not knowing where you’re going to have to drag your family to if you have to go somewhere else. With a young family, it was easy to come back.
“I wasn’t really a part of it last season because of the injury and whatnot. It’s a chance to start fresh, but start fresh with some familiarity.”