It may be that none of last season's Turner Cup-champion Salt Lake Golden Eagles will make the Calgary Flames' team to start the season, says Flames' Assistant to the President Al Coates. Eagle Coach Paul Baxter says probably one player, at the most, could make the big-league roster.
That, of course, is good news for Eagle fans, who should get to see the exciting likes of Theoren Fleury, Peter Lappin, Rich Chernomaz, Randy Bucyk, Ken Sabourin, Rick Hayward and Jim Johannson again, but it is bad news for players who hoped to move up.Not to worry for them, says Coates. The knowledge that there is a wealth of talent - championship-experienced talent, at that - in Salt Lake City may give the Flames the latitude to make trades of current Calgary players that would make room for Salt Lake's youngsters on the big-club roster during the season.
"I'm not sure anyone will make it initially," said Coates from Calgary, where the Eagles enter their final week of camp with the big club.
The teams will be split Tuesday, following exhibition games with the Team Canada, and those designated as Eagles will begin heading south by Wednesday. Their first scheduled local practice is Oct. 1 at Bountiful. The Eagles open their season Oct. 11 in Milwaukee.
The Flames will retain about six players who will probably be Eagles through next weekend's exhibition games in Sacramento, Los Angeles and Calgary, and then the final cuts will be made. "That's when the cuts get a whole lot tougher," Coates said.
Among the former Eagles who could stay with the Flames through next weekend are Lappin, Johannson, Fleury, Sabourin, Chernomaz, Bucyk, Hayward and Dave Reierson. Michael Dark, obtained in a trade with St. Louis a few weeks ago, is also practicing with the Flames but will probably be assigned to the Eagles, Coates said.
"Two or three guys have made such an impression, it may allow us to make a move (trade) here," Coates said, mentioning Fleury, Johannson and Chernomaz. He added that Hayward and Sabourin have played well through camp.
Coates takes note of several rookies slated for the Eagles, too, including goaltender Wayne Cowley and defensemen Kevin Grant and Rick Lessard.
Lessard, he said, made dramatic improvement in his game since training camp a year ago after being told by the Flames what he needed to work on. "We're looking at him as a Kevan Guy type, steady and more aggressive. He shows a lot of promise." Guy was known as one of the top defensemen in the IHL last season. He was traded to Vancouver at the end of the season.
"He has been among the top five of all defensemen in the Flames' camp," says Baxter of Lessard, who captained the junior Ottawa 67s last season. He was supposed to have joined the Eagles during the playoffs last season, but his junior team went to the finals of their playoffs, and he was never available.
"He's improved an unbelievable amount from last year," adds assistant Eagle Coach Bob Francis about Lessard. Francis said, too, that defenseman Steve Smith has impressed him as a good fill-in for offensive-style blueliner Jim Leavins, who left the organization to play in Europe.
"This was the most competitive camp I've ever seen," says Francis "It's incredible they have so much skill in the Calgary organization."
Francis predicts that the 1988-89 Eagle club - in its 20th anniversary season - will be improved over the Turner Cup champs. "I honestly think we've got a better team. Up front, we should be a powerhouse," Francis says.
One of those powerhouse players will be rookie Mark Holmes, the second black to ever play for the Eagles. "Holmes has had an exceptional camp," says Baxter, who for the moment envisions Holmes and his speed centering a checking line with Martin Simard and Stu Grimson.
And Cowley seems to be a real find at goaltender, says Coates. He was picked up as a free agent out of Colgate University, and Edmonton and Hartford were interested in obtaining him. Since No. 1 goalie Mike Vernon was injured in training camp, Coates said the Flames will keep three goalies with the big club until just before the season starts. The other Eagle goalie could be Doug Dadswell, who spent last season with Calgary, or Rick Wamsley, picked up in a late-season trade from St. Louis.
The players now practicing as Eagles will spend the next few days working on skating and conditioning before moving to Salt Lake.
Seven trims were made Friday, including former Eagle Brent Sapergia. No further cuts from the Salt Lake roster will be made, said Coates. That would mean that these former Eagle players - in addition to those mentioned previously - should be back in Salt Lake: Chris Biotti, Darwin McCutcheon, Rick Barkovich, Bob Bodak, Marc Bureau and Jeff Wenaas.