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In the NHL, September means whatever you want it to mean

Isn't the preseason fun? A team can go winless the way the Atlanta Thrashers did in five games or the Minnesota Wild did in six and it can be dismissed as just the exhibition season - meaningless in the grand scheme of things.

A team goes 7-0, the way the Calgary Flames did, and suddenly it matters a lot - because, hey, you want to establish winning habits, especially if you're a team with lots to prove, and Calgary fits that category perfectly. The perception was that the Flames were a good team that underachieved last season. This year, with virtually an identical line-up, no one expects much from them, which suits Jarome Iginla just fine. He said that to me the last time we talked, and I've seen it reported multiple times elsewhere as well; they'd just as soon let other teams face the weight of high expectations - and yes, by that he means you, you Vancouver Canucks, darling of the critics, the sexy 'darkhorse' choice for the Stanley Cup.

But that's September in the NHL - it can mean whatever you want it to mean. All Calgary needs to do is stumble in their opener against Edmonton Thursday for all those happy training-camp thoughts will vaporize. When the puck drops for real, what matters most is that you're healthy, fit and in sync - and that's what makes the Flames such an intriguing team in the early going, this bizarre run of injuries to their centre-ice corps that has left them so thin down the middle that they signed Canucks' castoff Brendan Morrison to a one-year, $750,000 contract Monday.

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Morrison could play as high as No. 2 on the depth chart behind Olli Jokinen, depending upon how they deploy Mikael Backlund, who had just a so-so camp, despite the opening created by injuries to fellow centres Matt Stajan, David Moss and Daymond Langkow. Things got so bad that Stefan Meyer, signed as a depth forward for Abbotsford, was threatening to crack the Flames' opening-night roster, as was ageless Craig Conroy. Calgary, a team that looked as if it needed to dump players because of the salary cap, paradoxically now needed to add a warm body because of its injury issues, which also include Ales Kotalik, out indefinitely with a knee problem.

So it will be a hurry-up integration process for Morrison, introduced into Calgary's perfect, if patchwork line-up, for the opening test against the Oilers. In his prime, Morrison centered the Canucks' top line between Todd Bertuzzi and Markus Naslund. Weird and quirkily serendipitous that first Bertuzzi and now Morrison switch sides in such a heated rivalry. Next thing you know, Edmonton will be trading players to Calgary - or did that already happen last year with Steve Staois. Rivalries - and good solid mad-ons between organizations - just aren't what they used to be.

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About the Author

Eric was the winner of the Hockey Hall Of Fame's Elmer Ferguson award for "distinguished contributions to hockey writing" in 2001. A graduate of the University of Western Ontario's grad school of journalism, he began covering hockey in 1978 and after spending 20 years covering the NHL and the Calgary Flames, joined The Globe in 2000. More

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