Each year everyone hopes that their team will make a deep playoff run.
The management and ownership love the extra cash, the players look to the prestige of hoisting Lord Stanley's cup, and the fans love watching their team win an exhilerating game seven and calling in sick to work the next day with Strep Throat.
In actuality, they're horse from yelling and still a little hungover.
I, on the other hand, look forward to another deep Calgary Flames playoff run for a different reason: Flamesgirls.com.
During that magical 2004 Cup run, it was chock full of pictures of passionate fans who had just a little too much to drink and were overrun with joy over every Flames win. It was like Girls Gone Wild Calgary.
Besides, I was 16. Don't judge me. You'd think it was awesome too. Even more awesome: I found out about it thanks to SportsCenter.
2008/09 Record: 46-30-6, 98 points, 5th in West, Lost in six games in the first round to Chicago
Additions: Nigel Dawes—F (2 years/FA), Brian McGratton—F (1 year/FA), Jay Bouwmeester—D (Trade w/Florida, later signed), Fredrik Sjostrom—F (2 years/FA), Anton Stralman—D (Trade w/Toronto), Brandon Prust—F (Trade w/Phoenix), Staffan Kronwall—D (1 year/FA), Garth Murray—F (1 year/FA), Colin Stuart—F (Trade w/Toronto), Jason Jaffray—F (FA)
Subtractions: Jordan Leopold—D (Trade w/Florida), Adrian Aucoin—D (FA), Mike Cammalleri—F (FA), Wayne Primeau—F (Trade w/Toronto), Jim Vandermeer—D (Trade w/Phoenix), Todd Bertuzzi—F (FA), Andre Roy—F (FA), Rhett Warrener—D (FA), Anders Ericsson—D (FA)
Since their 2004 Stanley Cup run, the Calgary Flames have entered each and every season with the expectation of competing, and competing at a high level.
With the inclusion of All-Star Roberto Luongo in the division along with a handful of bitter rivalries, there doesn’t seem to be an easy game for the Flames in the Northwest, let alone in the conference.
None of that changes in 2009.
Kippered into Competition...
Over the past few seasons, I’ve probably been one of the biggest detractors to Miikka Kiprusoff.
Despite being a very good goalie, it seems like his coming out party in 2004 firmly entrenched a lot of people on his bandwagon.
There is no doubt that he wins games—that’s a fact. Over the past four seasons he’s won 166 games for the Calgary Flames and led them to a division title the year after the lockout (2005/06).
Over the past few years though, Kiprusoff’s numbers have started to diminish: The goals-against average has gone up (from 2.07 to 2.84) and the save percentage has gone down (.923 to .903) in that four year span, and only one goalie (Jose Theodore) had at least 30 wins last year and sported a higher goals-against (2.87).
One of the biggest contributors to that trend, was Calgary's inability to find, or trust, a backup goaltender.
For the second-straight season, Curtis McElhinney was underused behind Kiprusoff, and the rust may have shown in his lack-luster numbers—especially in the win column (1).
There are a select number of goaltenders who can play 70+ games year in, year out, and Kiprusoff doesn't seem to be able to do that to the level Flames fans want.
Coming off back-to-back 76 game seasons, new Head Coach Brent Sutter would do well to get a more sincere rotation going between Kipper and McElhinney, because Kipper simply can’t be playing that often if the Flames are to overcome four-straight first round exits.
J-Bo, D.P. and R-Squared…
While many think that Jay Bouwmeester is a tad overrated, there’s no doubt that Calgary’s back end is its strongest point heading into this season.
With the acquisition of the Florida Panthers’ best player over the past few seasons, the Flames now have a defenseman who can move the puck effectively and put up 15 goal/40 point seasons with regularity, which will definitely help out that 21st-ranked (17%) power play.
While some figure that J-Bo isn’t physical enough for his 6’4 frame, Calgary has two other physical top-line defenders, one of whom (Dion Phaneuf) can easily put up 45+ points per year (Especially seeing as a “down year” consisted of 47 points).
The trick for Dion will be bouncing back from a rough season defensively.
Robyn Regehr continues to be that outstanding physical presence on the back end, and after those three the rest of the rotation isn’t too shabby.
Two former Toronto Maple Leafs are featured in Staffan Kronwall and Anton Stralman, and both have their upsides. Stralman has the potential to be a great puck-moving defenseman, although he may have trouble realizing his potential so low on the depth chart and lacking the quality forwards to move it to (if he’s matched with Calgary’s third and fourth lines).
Staffan meanwhile will be a good, big-bodied defenseman to have as a lowering pairing guy, while he too offers some offensive potential. Just don't go expecting to get a late-blooming Niklas Kronwall out of this.
Cory Sarich is on his way back to the Flames for this year as well and offers a tough, hard-working presence to the back end. Although Sarich will get overshadowed by his more-offensive brethren, he’s still bringing his tough demeanor to the rink and hoping that the Flames tighten up defensively this year.
If Adam Pardy and Mark Giordano can fit in with that mindset and give the Flames a strong, consistent third-pairing, then you can expect great things from the Flames back end this season, while in the future you'll see names like Keith Aullie, Keith Seabrook, and Matt Pelech protecting the Flames' goal.
Kill the power…
Something that got lost in the offensive attack of last year’s Flames, was how good their penalty kill was. Ranking fourth in the league, the Flames killed at an 84% success rate, and they added to that over the offseason.
Although they lost short-handed general Wayne Primeau in a trade with Toronto, as well as Adrian Aucoin (who logged the second most shorthanded minutes per game amongst defensemen), Craig Conroy is returning to the team and the Flames went out and stole half of the New York Rangers’ top P/K tandem in Fredrik Sjostrom.
The reacquisition of Brandon Prust means that the Flames got back some of the grit they lost when originally acquiring Olli Jokinen, and Prust’s hard-working and hard-nosed nature makes him an ideal candidate to earn some time developing into a solid penalty killer.
Getting to the goal scorers of the offense, the loss of Mike Cammalleri is going to hurt. While Jarome Iginla continues to be one of the best leaders in the game today (and always a threat to score 40 in a season), the offense goes back to a few years ago when it lived and died with Iggy.
If Olli Jokinen can stay sharp for the year and get used to playing with linemates of Iginla’s caliber (and it shouldn’t take much after a career spent in Florida and Phoenix), then the Flames should be deadly on the top line with Daymond Langkow sliding in as a solid secondary scoring option.
Rene Bourque, to me, is a curious player. In his fourth season last year, Bourque shattered his previous career highs for goals/assists/points in fewer games than he ever played in a season cut short by an ankle injury. If Bourque can prove that last year was no fluke, then the Flames have a great threat on the wing that can burn you with speed every time. Right now though, I’m not so sure that 20-goal season gets replicated.
David Moss’ numbers took a big jump last year (From 11 points to 39 points) and Jamie Lundmark was a few games short of producing the best season of his NHL career, so the Flames are going to have to rely heavily on those two, as well as the contributions of Curtis Glencross and Nigel Dawes to get the offense started in the lower portion of the forward ranks.
After that it was really just offsetting the grit as the outgoing Andre Roy's role is now taken up by another former-Coyote Brian McGratton.
Also, don’t forget about Mikael Backlund, as the Swedish youngster may be in for a big rookie season. If he can acclimatize himself to the game at the highest level (and if his lone game last year is any indication he has the natural ability to do so) he may immediately become one of the Flames’ go-to guys.
So what does it all mean...
The Flames definitely have the defense to compete, but they’re one or two top-six forwards away from really scaring the rest of the West. They’ll be a tough-as-nails team to play against though, and if a few guys can step up and have Rene Bourque-esque seasons, they’ll be fine.
If not, the Flames will be a more middle-of-the-road team with a great defense and a good goaltender, ready to surprise come playoff time.
The key to them surprising however, will be ensuring that Miikka Kiprusoff doesn't get overworked during the regular season.
2nd in Northwest
Bryan Thiel is a Senior Writer and an NHL Community Leader for Bleacher Report. If you want to get in contact with Bryan, you can do so through his profile, or you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, be sure to check out all of his previous work in his archives.