The Salt Lake Golden Eagles, leading two games to one in their Turner Cup semifinal series with Milwaukee that resumes play Wednesday night in the Bradley Center, will probably look pretty much the same next season.
Calgary Flames' President and General Manager Cliff Fletcher predicts that the Flames will renew their working agreement with the Eagles, that about 90 percent of the players now with the club will be invited back and that probably only about three new players will be needed for the parent team next season.That means that a lot of the current Eagles, many of whom already have an IHL championship ring from last season while they work on this title series, may have to bide their time in Salt Lake again instead of making the big-league jump, but it also means most have job security with one of the best NHL organizations. And it means Salt Lake fans will have both quality and continuity of players - something that was missing from Eagle teams of the mid-1980s.
"We would like to have the great majority of players back," said Fletcher, who attended the weekend Eagle playoff games in both Salt Lake and Milwaukee, along with Al MacNeil, his assistant general manager. Flames' chief scout Jerry Blair also watched Saturday's game in Milwaukee.
"We feel conservatively there are six or eight players in this group that are going to play in the NHL at some stage of their career," says Fletcher.
This Eagle team is thought by many, including majority owner Art Teece, to be the most talented hockey club ever to wear Salt Lake uniforms, is probably the most talented affiliate the Flames have ever fielded, too, said Fletcher. "If you evaluate it from an NHL prospect standpoint, it's be far the best."
He said comparisons with teams of 10 years ago is difficult, but, "It's as good if not better" than any Flame farm team.
"It has by far the most major-league prospects," Fletcher says. "Normally three or four is a number you'd be happy with on the parent team, but we feel we have double that."
There may not be a place for them on the Flames' roster right away though. Lanny McDonald is the only anticipated Flame retiree, and probably only one or two more spots are likely to open up.
Still, the Flames try to keep farmhands happy calling them for occasional look-see visits. "I'd like to do that a little more," says Fletcher, noting that it makes the player feel good and gives others incentive.
The Flames' working agreement with Salt Lake is up at the end of this season, but Fletcher says he expects to start discussions about renewing the pact with Teece and co-owner Dick Hagman in four to six weeks. "We're not looking at anything other than coming back," Fletcher said, adding he'd told Teece and Hagman that in February.
The Flames are taking particular note of this semifinal series because of its importance to the NHL clubs. The Flames felt fortunate to win their first-round Stanley Cup series against Vancouver, which is Milwaukee's parent team, and this is kind of a mini-version of that matchup.
"Because of how competitive our series was with the Canucks, we want to have a close eye on the two clubs and watch the matchups at the IHL level because that's where both have future players coming from," Fletcher says. "The clubs are fairly even."
A good sign for Eagle players: "I think a lot of the players on our club have impressed quite a bit," Fletcher says.
He looks at both team's No. 1 goalies, Salt Lake's Steve Guenette and Milwaukee's Troy Gamble, as probable future NHLers. Guenette, who came to the Eagles in a trade with Pittsburgh, is called "a major acquisition" by Fletcher, who says he wanted to sign him when he was still a free agent and has liked him for some time.
"Our No. 2 goaler (Rick Wamsley) in Calgary is a veteran in his 30s, and if Guenette's patient, he'll get his chance to play for us in the NHL. I believe Steve is definitely an NHL goaltender," says Fletcher, who has the same opinion of Gamble.
Fletcher adds that the Flames would like to keep Eagle captain Rich Chernomaz around for some time. Chernomaz, 25, is a sixth-year pro who's in the last season of his contract.