Flames: 10 Things You Need To Know
By Scott Burnside
If we assume the Canucks are going to sleepwalk to another Northwest Division title, then the rest of the weakest division in the league is another matter altogether. It is entirely possible all four teams will be in the hunt for what would likely be the last two playoff spots in the West.
Given the Flames' strong play down the stretch last season after GM Darryl Sutter stepped away from the job, the team believes it is poised to make the jump back to the postseason. Still, the Flames cannot afford a desultory start, something that happened last season and ended with Calgary missing the big dance.
"I'm not concerned about the mindset," GM Jay Feaster told ESPN.com. "The guys realize that it's absolutely critical to get off to a good start."
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Atlantic: NJD | NYI | NYR | PHI | PIT
NE: BOS | BUF | MTL | OTT | TOR
SE: CAR | FLA | TMB | WAS | WPG
Central: CHI | CMB | DET | NSH | STL
NW: CGY | COL | EDM | MIN | VAN
Pacific: ANA | DAL | LAK | PHX | SAN
1. Playoffs or bust
According to Feaster, there is no excuse for what has happened to this team in recent years. After advancing to the Cup finals in 2004 against Feaster's Tampa Bay Lightning (the Bolts won in a compelling seven-game set), the Flames were ousted in the first round four straight season before missing the playoffs altogether in 2010 and 2011. There are reasons for this plunge, but Feaster isn't interested in history.
"Anything less than being in the playoffs to me is a total failure and will be totally unacceptable here," Feaster said.
2. Wiggle room or wholesale changes?
Feaster did not make major offseason additions to the roster, but he did manage to give himself some cap room by moving Robyn Regehr. He moved more salary by dealing the rehabilitating Daymond Langkow to Phoenix for Lee Stempniak, who brings the potential for 25-30 goals at a smaller price tag and younger age. So the Flames look to have about $3.6 million in cap space.
How or when Feaster might use that cap space will be dictated by how the season moves along, but it's comforting to have. But if the Flames get off to another poor start, Feaster will have to look at further deconstruction, which means taking a hard look at moving captain Jarome Iginla and goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff, both of whom control their destinies with no-trade/no-movement clauses.
3. The captain
If the Flames struggle, there will be continued discussion about whether the classy captain's run in Calgary will come to an end after playing his entire career there since breaking into the league in 1996. Iginla's 39 post-All Star points were tied for third in the NHL and his production was a major factor in the team's renewed playoff hopes last season.
He is the team's undisputed leader, one of the nice guys in the game and a credit to his profession. That said, at some point, the time may come when Feaster will have to decide if Iginla's worth more to the franchise somewhere else. Feaster has steadfastly insisted he has no intention of trying to move Iginla; he famously resisted the temptation to move Tampa Bay captain Vincent Lecavalier back in the day and was rewarded with a championship.
But if this team cannot move forward, Iginla represents the kind of aging asset (he is 34, but incredibly durable) that Cup-hopeful teams will be willing to pay a premium to acquire at the trade deadline. Just saying.
4. The middle
You can't really have a discussion about the Flames and Iginla without asking the perpetual question: What if he had a center to play with?
That was partly why the Flames went after Brad Richards in the offseason. Now, the Flames are hoping that question will be answered by a kid, Mikael Backlund, who has less than 100 NHL games under his belt but who will nonetheless enter this season as the team's No. 1 center.
Backlund, who had 10 goals in 73 games last season, played some with Iginla and is expected to work on that chemistry along with winger Alex Tanguay from day one. Feaster was pleased with Backlund's work on the top line and how he followed it up with a strong World Championship.
If that experiment works, Olli Jokinen will center the second line and allow the David Moss experiment (Moss moves from wing to center) to have time to work out. There is also Matt Stajan, who received a big deal from Sutter but has been a major flop. Brendan Morrison took less money to return to Calgary, but is coming off his second knee surgery in three years. If lots of things turn the Flames' way, then that once-gaping hole down the middle may not be so gaping after all.
5. The goaltender
Not so long ago, you'd instantly put Kiprusoff among a handful of goaltenders around whom you'd build your NHL franchise. There was a Vezina Trophy, a first All-Star team nod. But you'd be hard-pressed to find many who would include Kiprusoff in their top five right now.
If Kiprusoff can find his groove again and enjoy perhaps a lighter workload with the signing of Henrik Karlsson, the Flames should be a playoff team. If not, Kiprusoff may become trade bait, either at the 2012 trade deadline or when his no-movement clause evaporates over the summer. He has three more years on his current deal at a $5.833 million cap hit
6. The kid
Speaking of Karlsson, Feaster said one of his key offseason moves was to lock up Karlsson for the next two seasons (at a bargain price of $862,500 annually) to help ensure Kiprusoff gets rest. Karlsson has been impressive in his short stints with the Flames; he allowed only eight goals in his last four decisions and finished with an .908 save percentage in 17 appearances.
7. Mr. Morrison
We highlight Morrison because he represents the kind of player any team covets. Although he has suffered injuries and disappointments the past few years (he's bounced from Vancouver to Anaheim to Dallas to Washington and finally to Calgary), he enjoyed his time with the Flames so much that he agreed to take less money on a one-year deal to return in the hope of helping them reach the playoffs. He had nine goals and 34 points in 66 games before a knee injury ended his season.
8. The youngsters
Feaster said he's excited by the prospect of a couple of kids from the 2008 draft: right winger Greg Nemisz, who was recently sent back to Abbotsford of the AHL, and Lance Bouma, a center who was still in camp at the time of this writing. Paul Byron, 22, who came over in the Regehr deal with Buffalo, is also "knocking on the door," Feaster said. Perhaps the most interesting piece of the Regehr deal is 24-year-old defenseman Chris Butler, who the Flames are projecting will evolve into a top-four blueliner in time.
9. The blue line
Last season, Calgary ranked 19th in goals allowed per game and tied for 20th on the penalty kill. One player the Flames are looking to along the blue line to help fill the void created by Regehr's departure is Anton Babchuk. At 6-foot-5 with a booming shot, he has never really found his groove in the NHL after being taken by Chicago with the 21st pick overall in the 2002 draft. He had eight goals last season for the Flames. Feaster said he is expecting the defensive corps to be more active and more mobile.
Jay Bouwmeester, the once-upon-a-time franchise defenseman of the Florida Panthers, is quiet. He's quiet off the ice, especially when it comes to dealing with the media. He's quietly become the NHL's reigning iron man, having played in 506 straight games. Sadly for the Flames, he has also been quiet when it comes to putting up points and playing in the playoffs, which he has never managed to do in his career.
That said, Feaster believes the forwards need to do a better job of recognizing when Bouwmeester and the rest of the defensive corps are going to activate and jump into the play. Feaster said he's spoken to new assistant coach Craig Hartsburg about putting Bouwmeester "in situations where we get more out of him offensively."
Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
Experience: Entering fifth NHL season
Stanley Cup titles: 0
• There may have been some mild surprise when Jay Feaster took over as GM and didn't make a coaching move, especially given that Brent Sutter is deposed GM Darryl Sutter's brother. But that was the problem for the Flames -- Sutter the coach didn't seem to be in sync with Sutter the GM.
When Feaster took over, he essentially told Brent, "I manage, you coach." The team responded to Sutter's free reign and played much better.
The attitude change in the locker room was significant, Feaster said. Still, Sutter is the coach from the previous regime, and you can bet that if the Flames get off to a rocky start, the leash is going to be short. -- Scott Burnside
Best bet: Jarome Iginla
With Alex Tanguay back in the fold, Iggy returned to the strong numbers we expect from him every season. Unfortunately, the Flames' depth beyond Iginla is sinking a little more each season, but whether that lack of quality depth will begin to affect the top-line players is no sure thing. As it stands, when Iginla is on the ice, the Flames are a good team. That should be good enough to keep his fantasy numbers up. -- Sean Allen
Risky pick: Miikka Kiprusoff
Aside from a resurgent 2009-10, the 34-year-old netminder's ratio stats have been trending in the wrong direction since his phenomenal campaign in 2005-06. Therefore, Kipper is a great fantasy option to target for the wins, but be sure to complement him with another starter who can counteract those poor ratios. -- Tim Kavanagh
Sleeper pick: Mikael Backlund
Backlund started playing as the Flames' top-line center toward the end of last season and was beginning to adjust to the role. If he can remain the team's top pivot, it will be a breakout season playing between Iginla and Tanguay. He only had 25 points last season, but Backlund has high-end fantasy upside. This season alone could see him jump beyond 50 points. -- Sean Allen
Who's On The Move
The offseason signings/acquisitions and departures for the Flames:
• May 16: Re-signed LW Curtis Glencross.
• May 16: Named Jay Feaster general manager.
• June 1: Acquired LW Roman Horak, pair of 2011 second-round picks from Rangers for D Tim Erixon and 2011 fifth-round pick.
• June 6: Named Craig Hartsburg associate coach.
• June 9: Re-signed D Brett Carson.
• June 20: Re-signed G Henrik Karlsson.
• June 25: Acquired D Chris Butler and C Paul Byron from Buffalo for D Robyn Regehr, RW Ales Kotalik and 2012 second-round pick.
• June 25: Re-signed LW Alex Tanguay.
• July 4: Signed RW Guillaume Desbiens.
• July 4: Re-signed D Anton Babchuk.
• July 14: Acquired RW Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond from New Jersey for 2010 fifth-round pick.
• July 14: Re-signed D Brendan Mikkelson.
• July 15: Re-signed C Brendan Morrison.
• Aug. 13: Signed D Scott Hannan.
• Aug. 29: Acquired RW Lee Stempniak from Phoenix for C Daymond Langkow.
• D Robyn Regehr (traded to Buffalo)
• RW Ales Kotalik (traded to Buffalo)
• D Adam Pardy (unrestricted free agent, signed by Dallas)
• C Craig Conroy (retired)
• LW Fredrik Modin (retired)
• C Daymond Langkow (traded to Phoenix)
• D Steve Staios (unrestricted free agent, signed with Islanders)