Flames Season Primer
It’s hard to believe that in just over 24 hours the Flames will open their season versus the San Jose Sharks with all the up’s and down’s in the past four months but I cannot express how happy I am that hockey is finally back.
After the last lockout, hockey was a new and improved game. While this lockout will not bring the same type of results on the ice, it still brings a new beginning to the game of hockey and to all thirty teams.
For the Flames, that has to be the message around the rink and in the dressing room after yet another disappointing season where the Flames missed the playoffs for the third consecutive season.
The off-season brought changes, which weren’t as major as some thought they would be, but General Manager Jay Feaster was finally able to put his stamp on the team. Feaster got started right away by replacing Brent Sutter with Bob Hartley behind the bench. Feaster and Hartley have a long history together, dating all the way back to 1997 when they two teamed up and won a Calder Cup with the Hershey Bears. Hartley hasn’t coached in the NHL since 2007 but is a proven winner and will look to guide the Flames back in the winning direction.
Feaster then shifted his focus to the players as he stressed that the Flames needed more skill. Feaster addressed the issue by adding Dennis Wideman to quarterback the power play and Jiri Hudler to strengthen the Flames top six. Feaster also brought Roman Cervenka over from the KHL, who the Flames hope will help with their depth down the middle. Mixed opinions followed the signings but all three should add some scoring punch to the Flames roster this season.
Other than goaltending, where Miikka Kiprusoff could play all 48 games this season, the Flames need improvements at every position if they want to end their playoff drought and give the fans what they deserve, a winning hockey team.
INJURED: CERVENKA (Blood clot- Out indefinitely)
BEREAVMENT LIST: HUDLER
For the most part the Flames have a very similar group of forwards as last season, which saw them rank 24th in the league in scoring, averaging 2.43 goals per game, a number that must improve. Possibly a more notable addition than Hudler and Cervenka is young Sven Baertschi, who dazzled in his short emergency five-game call-up with the Flames last season scoring three goals. There is mountains of pressure on Baertschi to continue where he finished last season, as many are hoping he can contend for the rookie of the year in this shorten season. Another young player who will have pressure to perform this season is Mikael Backlund. Backlund missed the start of the last season with a broken thumb and and was never able to get back on track when he returned. There have been aspirations that Backlund would be that top six centre the Flames have been looking for, since he was drafted and at twenty-three years of age, this shortened season could be one of Backlund’s last chances to prove that he can fill that role. That brings ups the Flames biggest weakness up front, down the middle. Alex Tanguay will start the season as the Flames number one centre between Jarome Iginla and Curtis Glencross but has not played centre since his days in major junior. Whether it is Tanguay in the middle or someone else, the Flames top line has to be their top line from game one to game forty-eight. Iginla, typically a slow starter, only skated the last couple of days at camp due to a groin injury and cannot afford that slow start in this his possible last season in a Flames uniform. The bottom six is the exact same as Flames fans saw the last time the Flames skated on Saddledome ice. Steve Begin made the team out of training camp and will be looked upon to add some grit and energy, as the Flames once again dipped into the past, hoping to find success. The Flames have better depth up front with the additions of Hudler, Cervenka and a full season of Baertschi which should improve their goals per game. Hudler probably will not be in the line-up Sunday as he went back to the Czech Republic for his father’s funeral but should not miss any more time than that.
INJURED: BABCHUK (Out indefinitely)
Like the forward corps, this is a group that did not change much over the off-season other than the notable signing of Wideman. Looking at the projected pairings, I question why Hartley does not have Mark Giordano paired with Wideman. Wideman’s play in his own end is his weakness and I feel having Giordano beside him could give that insurance and ability to take chances offensively. Jay Bouwmeester and Chris Butler created some good chemistry with each other and were a solid three-four pairing for the Flames last season. Nonetheless with the help of Kiprusoff the Flames averaged 2.65 goals against last season, good enough for 14th in the league, which is a good number that could always be improved on. Cory Sarich returns as the veteran of the group, while it looks like T-J Brodie and Derek Smith will battle for time as the sixth defensemen.
Same old, same old between the pipes for the Flames as the biggest question is how many games will Kiprusoff play or have to play. Kiprusoff will once again have to the Flames MVP for the Flames to have any chance at the playoffs. Leland Irving won the back-up job over Henrik Karlsson but probably will not be much more than a bench warmer. Look for Kiprusoff to play at least 45 games unless the Flames are able to find some back-up help.
Overall the Flames roster is very similar to the team that missed the playoffs for the third consecutive season last year. The biggest concern once again will be goal scoring for the Flames as Hudler and Baertschi will have to come through up front, while Wideman has to come in and help the power play that ranked 13th in the league last season. I have high hopes for Baertschi, like most people, as I really do feel he is the real deal and will not disappoint. I am happy Irving won the back-up job over Karlsson and I hope he gets a chance to play. The question with that is if the Flames will be able to afford to let Irving play.
The top line has to be the Flames best line from the very first game. Iginla is entering his final season of his contract, which is the first time he has started a season without a contract for the next one. Iginla has stressed winning is his top priority and nothing would be sweeter than seeing him raise the Stanley Cup wearing a Flames uniform.
Overall, I do not feel the additions of Hudler, Wideman and Cervenka will be enough to push the Flames into a playoff spot. I worry about Kiprusoff’s workload and I worry about the team getting off to a slow start.
Will the Flames trade Iginla at the deadline to a contending team? That will be up to Jarome but I hope that he can take the Ray Bourque approach and win a Cup as he owes nothing more to the fans of the Calgary Flames.
Hopefully I am wrong.
Thank god hockey is back and Go Flames Go!
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