Preface: Well there's only one team left in the Northwest, and only one spot left for them to be.
To recap, the Vancouver Canucks will be bringing up the rear, while the Avs (barring any dynamo additions up front) will be eyeing fourth. The Wild will tumble a bit from last year to third, while the Oilers will take a surprising second.
Let's keep in mind though, that even with this team coming in first, the Northwest is a division that could really be won and lost by anyone—kind of like last year's Southeast Division, which we'll get to next week.
Anyways, let's get down to business:
The Calgary Flames have had a lot of memorable players in their day—Joe Nieuwendyk, Gary Roberts, Lanny McDonald, Al MacInnis, Theoren Fleury, and Mike Vernon, just to name a few.
Ironically enough, all six of those—including another fan favorite, Doug Gilmour—were members of the 1989 Stanley Cup championship Flames team.
With their near-win in 2004—about two inches on another Martin Gelinas series-clinching goal away from victory—the Flames seemed to be turning a corner.
Four years later, though, there stands to be just as much optimism for the Flames today as in the future.
Roster Additions: Todd Bertuzzi-F (F.A.), Michael Cammalleri-F (Trade), Rene Bourque-F (Trade/Sign)
Roster Subtractions: Alex Tanguay-F (Trade), Curtis Joseph-G (F.A.), David Hale-D (F.A.), Owen Nolan-F (F.A.), Stephane Yelle-F (F.A.), Kristian Huselius-F (F.A.)
How did 2007-08 go? 42-30-10, 94 points, Seventh in conference, third in Northwest, lost in first round of 2008 playoffs (Western Conference).
2008-09 Goal: First in division, Conference Finals.
Let's break'er down!
Some people think that the Calgary Flames are overrated, while some think that the Calgary Flames are underrated—so it’s really a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t scenario.
The only question I have is how are there still people out there that don’t appreciate Jarome Iginla?
To get a little, you have to give a little
The Calgary Flames' big responsibility this offseason was to re-sign some of their key players, and they did that with contracts to David Langkow and Craig Conroy—their top playmaking centre coming off back-to-back 30 goal seasons, and one of their best two-way players.
In doing that however, the Flames failed to retain Kristian Huselius—a player who developed some serious chemistry over the course of last season with Jarome Iginla—and they also dealt Alex Tanguay to the Montreal Canadiens, a deal which has been expected for the past two seasons.
But everything happens for a reason, and because of those two departures, the Flames were able to open up a spot (and some cap space) for Mike Cammalleri—formerly of Los Angeles Kings' “fame.”
In Cammalleri, the Flames were able to acquire a versatile forward who will most likely see time on the top line with Langkow and Iginla. Chemistry already exists between those two—Langkow’s passing ability and Iginla’s grit, leadership, and scoring tendencies. Adding Cammalleri—who scored 80 points just two years ago with the Kings—gives the Flames a top three that will be difficult for any defense to deal with.
With Owen Nolan departed for division-rival Minnesota, Todd Bertuzzi steps in as the Flames' annual veteran ‘fix-me’ acquisition. The tumultuous seasons following the Steve Moore incident have certainly taken a toll on Bertuzzi’s game—frankly he’s still lucky he’s allowed to play—while injuries limited him to 40 points in 62 games last season.
But if Bertuzzi can provide anything close to what Nolan did last season—16 goals and 16 assists—then Mike Keenan could look like a genius once again.
But even after getting past the first line, and overlooking Owen Nolan, the Flames have depth like you wouldn’t believe. Matthew Lombardi has turned into a quality two-way centre with the likelihood of netting anywhere from 40-55 points, while Brandon Prust and Jamie Lundmark offer great depth down the middle.
The wings also feature an assortment of talent and grit, with the likes of Andre Roy, Kyle Greentree, Marcus Nilson, Dustin Boyd, Eric Nystrom, and the newly-acquired Rene Bourque.
The prospects of the top line alone are scary, but imagine if some of those names put up some serious points. That offense would be hard to stop.
I only like Pierre McGuire during ‘Double-Dions’…
The great thing about the Flames is that they’ve got one All-Star at every position—Jarome Iginla up front, Miika Kiprusoff in net, and Dion Phaneuf on the blue line.
Not only is Phaneuf the EA Sports cover athlete for NHL 09, but he’s turned himself into a heavy-hitting, hard-shooting, no-bones-about-it, perennial All-Star and Norris Trophy candidate.
If I were to peg Dion for anything less than an All-Star berth, a Norris Trophy nomination, and 50 to 60 points, I’d be off my rocker—but as some do far too often, we’re forgetting the “supporting cast” Dion has around him.
Since Phaneuf’s arrival, people have shifted their focus away from Robyn Regehr, despite the fact the 28-year-old has been a solid leader, and a great shut-down defenseman in his eight seasons with the Flames. Granted, he doesn’t put up the points like Dion—but Robyn more than makes up for it with his physicality, and the imposing attitude he brings to the Calgary Flames defense.
Add to that the occasional offensive flair and grind-it-out style from Jim Vandermeer, while Rhett Warrener controls the defensive flow and Adrian Aucoin unleashes bullets from the point, and the Calgary Flames have a dangerous defense that can step up in almost any facet of the game.
And that’s not even accounting for the tough-as-nails Cory Sarich, who brings much needed Stanley Cup experience to this squad, or the depth provided by Mark Giordano, Adam Pardy, and Anders Eriksson.
A ton of Flash and he always ‘Finish’es…
Should we really even bother with Curtis McElhinney? I mean, yes, he’s from London, Ontario, so I should probably give him some love—but given Miika Kiprusoff’s 76 games played last season, he doesn’t really need a backup goaltender.
That is, unless he gets blown out in the first period of a playoff game against the San Jose Sharks—but that hardly ever happens, right?
Maybe we should ask Curtis Joseph.
To give credit where credit is due, McElhinney is the best kind of backup goalie to give a coach like Mike Keenan. He’s a kid who’s got his head screwed on straight, with a hard-working nature and a thirst to improve and seek out his own opportunities, instead of waiting for things to get handed to him—although, with Keenan, sometimes waiting is the best option for a goalie).
He just plays behind the wrong guy—Miika Kiprusoff.
Kiprusoff finished last year with 39 wins—one away from his third-straight 40-win season—a .906 save percentage, and a 2.69 goals against average. The scary thing? That’s a bad year for this guy. Thanks, San Jose.
The only problem with Kipper is that he hasn’t been able to win in the playoffs since the Stanley Cup run of 2004, posting a 7-12 record in the playoffs the past three years.
But how about we let the Flames focus on the season before we get to ahead of ourselves, all right?
So what does this all mean?
The Flames seem to have it all in place. They have a tough defense with some puck-moving ability, they have gritty, in-your-face forwards who can score, and they have a Vezina-caliber goalie in between the pipes.
Throughout the regular season, I can’t see any team within the division giving the Flames a lot of trouble, especially seeing as they were only four points away from winning the division title from the Wild last season.
The Red Mile will be rockin’ this year.
Prediction: First in Northwest
So there you have it, the Northwest division. Hopefully, whether you agreed or disagreed, you enjoyed it, and the added input from the available Community Leaders.
As we said, next week is the Southeast division, so if you're a fan of the Panthers, Lightning, Hurricanes, Capitals, or Thrashers—keep your heads up!
Bryan Thiel is a Senior Writer and NHL Community Leader for Bleacher Report. If you want to get in contact with Bryan, you can do so through his Profile, while if you'd like to read any and all of his previous work, it can be found in his archives.
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