Two seasons ago, when Keenan was in his second and final year as head coach, I had a strong gut feeling the Flames were going all the way.
Iginla was just coming off another 50-goal season, Phaneuf received a nod for the Norris, and the team had given San Jose a real run for their money in a seven-game, first round series.
Going into the fall of '08, I was somehow convinced that Todd Bertuzzi, a signing I loved, would be a beast for us—the gorilla with velvet hands. He was a perfect fit for Keenan after he'd run Tanguay out of town. And Cammalleri was a steal.
The team looked strong, felt strong, and the city supported them with an air of October optimism after another first-round failure where we were once again 'oh so close.'
What followed was an absolute disaster by season's end.
The Flames saw their 13-point lead over rival Vancouver fizzle into an uncanny loss of the Northwest Division.
The power play went something like 0-for-46 during that span and they were forced to dress an incomplete lineup on multiple nights due to cap complications and a myriad of injuries.
The worst of which saw Reghr miss the playoffs against the burgeoning Blackhawks.
The Flames fell apart in that series. Poor Iginla looked like a fool, picking fights with anyone and everyone.
He was trying anything to spark his floundering team that was exposed as too old, too slow, and just not good enough to win the West anymore. My gut prediction had been dead wrong.
Going into this off season, the Flames, and their fans, are doing some serious soul-searching. Can this group, with its aging core, somehow turn things around in the fall and become what Darryl Sutter keeps calling an "elite team?"
The Flames recently missed the playoffs for the first time in six seasons. That's not even good. In a league where 53.3 percent of teams makes the playoffs, it's not even average.
Coming out of the Olympics in eighth, watching the Wings surge from ninth to fifth, losing the last four games of the season when it mattered the most is actually bad.
And now the team lumbers towards October with essentially the same losing group.
With Higgins in Florida, Kotalik being run out of town, and Jokinen back on a puzzling two-year deal with a no-trade clause, it's as if that transaction never happened, except we're now bereft of one of my favourites, Brandon Prust, who re-signed in Manhattan.
So what do Flames fans have to look forward to this fall? At a glance, Calgary has become a wasteland for underachievers.
Why has Bouwmeester, after two consecutive 15 goal campaigns in Florida, offered up a measly three goals for us?
I love Reghr, but I hardly notice him anymore. What happened to Diamond Daymond Langkow? Fourteen goals from your second-line center is less than ideal. And I'm not in the mood to discuss Jokinen.
Winning teams these days are built on youth, depth, and overachievers, of which the Flames last season had one—Mark Giordano, playing like a man who has emerged. For that, we thank him.
And Kiprusoff had a remarkable rebound year. Everyone else can hit the showers, or the links as it were, earlier than ever desired.
In a thin free agent market, after a draft that saw Sutter with no first or second round picks, with a farm that has some good prospects, but nothing amazing, October of 2010 will bring a wait-and-see audience.
It's hard to explain how a team like Vancouver, who was reviled by their own fan base two years ago for a painful lack of firepower, could roll out guns ablaze last year.
Their only acquisition was Samuelsson, whose 30 goal campaign, (buoyed by Henrik's hands) was accompanied by Burrows with 35, Kesler and Raymond with 25, and each Sedin potting 29.
They finished second only to Washington and ahead of Chicago in lamp lighting. Henrik Sedin went from perennial point-a-game player to Hart and Art Ross trophy winner.
Why? Same coach, same core, and a quarter of the year he was without brother Daniel.
It seems that's the best the Flames can hope for going forward with the same coach, same core, same management is something will gel, click, bubble, or that "chemistry" will appear.
Lackluster players will regain their form, a couple of call-ups will play over their heads, and somehow Brent Sutter will decipher deaf ears. Sounds to me like catching lightning in a bottle, and that's a bummer.
I have a bad feeling about this coming season. I see a downward slide and a blow up in 10 months. Let's hope my gut is once again proven dead wrong.
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