Hockey

Flames' Keenan coy on line combinations

Calgary head coach Mike Keenan remained mum on line combinations for Thursday's opener at Vancouver (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 10:30 p.m. ET).

Calgary Flames coach Mike Keenan has taken pleasure through the years in keeping local media and fans guessing regarding possible line combinations.

Indeed, Keenan was in mid-season form when asked about it before the Flames open their NHL season by visiting the Vancouver Canucks Thursday night (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 10:30 p.m. ET).

"I would just say 'fasten your seatbelts,'" he joked to reporters. "I haven't got any idea at this point. Make it up."

Most of the attention seems to be on what Keenan will do with the new additions of power forward Todd Bertuzzi and centre Mike Cammalleri.

Bertuzzi was signed to a $1.95-million US free-agent deal in the summer after the Anaheim Ducks bought out the final year of his deal. Bertuzzi has struggled with back and concussion problems during two frustrating seasons while playing for Florida, Detroit and Anaheim.

He only managed 14 goals and 40 assists in 68 games for the Ducks last season.

Cammalleri was acquired from the Los Angeles Kings for a first-round pick in the hope of adding another playmaking centre to go with Daymond Langkow. The Flames are counting on Cammalleri regaining his scoring touch of two seasons ago, when he posted 34 goals and 80 points.

An obvious move for Keenan would be to put Bertuzzi on a line with Langkow and Calgary's best player, captain Jarome Iginla.

Another possibility, as Wednesday's practice revealed, could have Cammalleri centring Bertuzzi and Iginla.

Regardless of which lines Keenan rolls out, Calgary's bench boss is pleased with the team's depth of forwards.

"I think that's always a good thing," he said. "It's going to help us with injuries and matching [lines]. It's very seldom where you have three people start the season and end up playing together the whole season that way."

Bertuzzi returns to the city that witnessed his greatest production as a pro, but also his biggest shame. In eight seasons with the Canucks, Bertuzzi scored 25 or more goals four times, and was a mainstay on the top line.

However, all that changed in 2004 when the NHL suspended him for 17 months for his career-ending hit on Steve Moore, a former Colorado Avalanche forward. Moore has since filed a lawsuit against Bertuzzi in an Ontario court. Bertuzzi was shipped to Florida two years later.

The Flames (42-30-10 last season) are also looking for goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff to bounce back from an off year. Despite his 39-26 record and 2.69 goals-against average, Kiprusoff was pulled twice during Calgary's seven-game loss to the San Jose Sharks in the opening round of the playoffs last season.

Vancouver (39-33-10), meanwhile, will once again rely on goaltender Roberto Luongo. The Quebec native won 35 games for the third straight season, but the Canucks failed to make the playoffs for the second time in three years.

Most of the problem can be attributed to the team's inability to find support up front for Luongo, who was named captain last month.

The Canucks' scoring depth was further hit in the off-season after losing captain Markus Naslund and centre Brendan Morrison to free agency.

Vancouver countered by signing Pavol Demitra to a two-year, $8-million US contract.

Demitra had his streak of nine straight seasons of at least 20 or more goals snapped last year while playing for the defensive-minded Minnesota Wild.

"I can offensively do much more than what I did in Minnesota," said Demitra, who was limited to 15 goals last year.

The Canucks were able to win their first four contests against the Flames last season and finished with a 5-3-0 mark for the series.

With files from the Associated Press