CALGARY, AB -- Calgary Flames coach Bob Hartley dubbed it a luxury.
With seven healthy defencemen, Hartley has consistently rotated the trio in and out of the lineup early this season in an effort to keep fresh legs on the blueline over the course of an exhausting schedule.
That means the likes of Brodie, Butler and Smith can expect to slide in and out of the lineup on a semi-regular basis.
“It’s going to be a long season and number one, we want to keep everyone to be competitive and at the same time we don’t want anyone to be sitting out for too long,” Hartley said. “It’s just basically rotation.”
All three have already had time in the press box this season.
“It’s not a fun situation to go to a player and tell them I’m going to do a rotation and players don’t really care about rotation,” Hartley said. “They want to be in the lineup but they’re reacting very professionally and I appreciate it and I explained to them we’re doing this for the benefit of the team.”
It’s a concept that Smith understands.
“It’s obviously going to help the team in the long run,” the 28-year-old said. “Teams need healthy competition and we’ve got healthy guys right now that can all play and all step in and when they play – not just getting ice time but contributing and making a difference in the game.”
There are two sides to the rotational coin, according to Brodie.
On the one hand, none of the three want to be removed from the line-up. On the flipside, a return is never far away, he described.
“It’s tough obviously wondering if you’re going to be playing next game but at the same time if you’re sitting out then you know you’re going to have a chance to get back into the lineup and it’s just a matter of time,” he said.
Last year, the Flames lost 141 man-games due to injury on defence. Brodie and Smith had their seasons end prematurely due to injury – both victims of upper-body ailments.
The importance of a fresh, healthy blueline is a concept Brodie knows all to well.
“It’s definitely good,” Brodie said. “I’ve been injured before and not played for a while. It’s tough to come back from that. It’s definitely a positive thing for the back end.”
Staying fresh and keeping sharp is a challenge all three are tasked with. Practice, said Butler, becomes that much more important
“We’ve really stressed that this year that with the small schedule that we have and not a ton of practice days that we have to treat practice days like mini-games,” Butler said. “A lot of the drills we do are game situations, game intensities. I think that’s a great thing.”
The game-type intensity in practice is a conscious effort from the Flames.
“We treat it like a game,” said Smith, who had 11 points in 47 games last season. “You’ve got to prepare. You’ve got to be out there and giving your best because that’s when you get better. That’s what our job is, to get better every day so when the games come, we’re ready.”
Which makes Hartley’s job of deciding who’s in and who’s out that much harder.
“It’s tough because in coaching when you’re dealing with a lazy guy or guy who’s not in shape, you get him in the office and you say ‘you didn’t do your work, you don’t deserve a break’,” he said. “Those guys, you see them work every day. They’re on the job.”
Which gives Hartley great confidence and comfort with whomever is patrolling his blueline.
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