As part of a continuing series, writer Benjamin Benya will be previewing all 30 NHL teams over the next two weeks in preparation for the 2010-2011 regular season.
We head to Canada this time to look at the Calgary Flames.
Key additions: LW Alex Tanguay, C Olli Jokinen, LW Raitis Ivanans, RW Tim Jackman
Key subtractions: LW Nigel Dawes, LW Eric Nystrom, LW Christopher Higgins, RW Jamal Mayers
When talking about a window of opportunity, the Calgary Flames have watched it close gradually year after year. Following a surprise run to the Stanley Cup finals in 2003-04, the Flames built up, transferred, and built up again in an effort to be contenders for the long haul.
Last season when the Flames derailed amid a cap squeeze and questionable moves, missing the playoffs was simply icing on the cake. GM Darryl Sutter would have to go back to the drawing board to rectify the situation, but the solutions he provided were far from what the fans hoped.
Sutter brought back stragglers Alex Tanguay and Olli Jokinen at reduced pay, consuming what little cap the Flames had. Neither was altogether memorable in their stints in Calgary and, while the Flames toiled with such players, they missed out on extending contracts for guys like Michael Cammalleri.
The leader of the pack, Jarome Iginla, returns this season with the same optimism that has kept him in a Calgary uniform forever. He’s scored 30 or more goals for the past nine seasons and, despite a dip in stats last year, he’s the heart and soul of the team.
Finding a center to play well with the star winger, however, has always been difficult.
Matt Stajan will likely have a full year to do just that, having only a brief period last year following a trade with Toronto. Stajan has gotten progressively better year by year but still isn’t the prolific scorer he should be. That said, Stajan isn’t facing too much competition for the job, with the aforementioned Jokinen and oft-injured forward Daymond Langkow as the only other viable options for the top line. Even Craig Conroy could get a look if Calgary is desperate.
On the wing, Sutter has built some solid depth behind Iginla. Tanguay was solid in his games with the Flames years and other solid contributors like Niklas Hagman and Rene Bourque should keep the scoring coming. Even Curtis Glencross and David Moss should get into the action.
Calgary has scoring threats all over the ice and could produce major league numbers night to night, making one wonder if the offense is not, indeed, the problem.
The landscape of Calgary’s defense changed dramatically when the Flames signed Jay Bouwmeester to a long-term deal, thus finagling the top spot from the since-traded Dion Phaneuf. As Bouwmeester continues to eat up huge ice time with solid two-way play, other defenders aren’t getting any younger.
Cory Sarich, 32, and Robyn Regehr, 30, are starting to show more signs of fatigue. The Flames have a multitude of defensemen who could prove to fill the void left from Phaneuf, but Calgary is still searching.
The most obvious choice, 26-year old Ian White, has plenty going for him. White split the season between Calgary and Toronto, where he scored more efficiently than he ever had before. With at least 100 more games of NHL experience than most defenders his age, White could prove to be the diamond in the rough from the Phaneuf mega deal.
Last season was a rough one for fantasy and real owners for including Miikka Kiprusoff in their stable. In his latest campaign, Kiprusoff became an unpredictable and chaotic force, scorching opponents for 40 saves one night while giving up five goals on 16 shots the next. His overall numbers didn’t suffer, but Kiprusoff did win 10 fewer games—a glaring factor in Calgary’s near-miss of the postseason.
Since Kiprusoff’s first full season, he has never won fewer than 39 games and never lost more than 26. Last year he did both, but it may be a false alarm. Kiprusoff is still a rock who can play 70-plus games a season.
Since Mikael Backlund is no longer considered a rookie, we’ll take a look at goalie Leland Irving as a possible emerging rookie.
Irving might have the unenviable task of trying to dethrone Kiprusoff but if the Kipper falters, he’s more than willing to step up. A 2006 first-round draft pick and one of the best goalies in Western Hockey League history, Irving has been getting his licks regularly in the AHL in preparation for a move up.
The Flames are by no means a bad team. They have their fair share of worries coming into the year but are still a solid overall franchise. That said, the window of opportunity is smallest not for Jarome Iginla, but for Darryl Sutter, whose days as general manager are numbered if the team fails again.
Predicted finish: Second in the Northwest, Ninth in the Western Conference.