There was a time not so long ago that the Calgary Flames were considered true Stanley Cup contenders. A Finals appearance in 2004 seemed like the start of a run that would keep the Flames at or near the top of the standings for years to come. They had one of the game's premier offensive forwards in Jarome Iginla, a tough, stalwart defenseman in Dion Phaneuf, and a game-changing goaltender in Mikka Kiprusoff.
Unfortunately, the Flames had a Sutter running the show, and a series of bad moves and questionable signings has left the team on the outside of the playoff picture for 2 years running. In a division without a strong team besides Vancouver, the Flames were unable to make up ground in a very competitive Western Conference, and the outlook for the team this year is mixed.
Will the Flames burn bright this season, or just flicker out once again? Follow the jump as we take a look at Calgary.
The Flames struggled early last season, compiling a .500 record in October before falling in the standings. In November and December, the Flames only won 11 games (compare that to the 11 games the Wings won in November alone), and that put them in a hole that they were not able to climb out of, despite a strong push at the end of the season. The late season surge has given fans some reason for optimism heading into the season, but another slow start could mean they once again miss the playoffs.
Pertinent Stats in 2010-11
Points: 94 (17th NHL, 10th West)
Goals For: 241 (8th NHL)
Goals Against: 237 (20th NHL)
Power Play: 19.5% (8th NHL)
Penalty Kill: 81.2% (21st NHL)
Offense: It's no secret that the Flames are led offensively by Jarome Iginla, and that will not change heading into 2011-12. The former Rocket Richard Trophy winner had a very slow start to the season last year, only scoring 2 goals in his first 15 games, a big reason why the Flames struggled out of the gate. However, he was scorching hot the rest of the year, finishing with 43 goals and leading the team in scoring. He played on a line with Alex Tanguay, who finished second on the team with an impressive 69 total points. It remains to be seen who their full-time center will be (a common theme in Flames' previews for the last few years, I imagine), but Iginla remains one of the best power forwards in the game today.
However, there is offensive talent behind Iginla, and it gives the Flames a reason for hope. Rene Bourque tied a career-high with 27 goals as he took a major step forward in his development. Curtis Glencross also established a new career best in goals when he scored 24. Glencross is a double-threat, with the ability to score on the power play and shorthanded. David Moss had 17 goals on the season despite missing 24 games due to injury, and a healthy season out of him could give the Flames multiple scoring lines. Should Olli Jokinen ever concentrate on the game and not on those flying waffles in the arena, he might be able to regain the scoring form that made him such a prized acquisition from Florida.
Overall, this is a deep team offensively, and they didn't lose any major contributors this off-season, so look for the Flames to score a lot of goals again this year.
Defense: Mike Peca's favourite defenseman of all time has had a rough start to his career in Calgary, but fans are still hopeful that Jay Bouwmeester will live up to the big contract they gave him when they acquired him from Florida. In 2 years with the Flames, JayBo has scored a grand total of 7 goals (or, 1 less than Mark Giordano and Anton Babchuk each had last season), and he has yet to prove that the promise he had in Florida was legitimate. It was thought that Bouwmeeseter's presence would allow the Flames to not feel the absence of Phaneuf, but that has not happened quite yet.
The defense on the Flames was ultimately their downfall, and the loss of Regehr will hurt them as he was a solid, stay-at-home defenseman who could play against the opposition's top players. Giordano had a strong season last year as he was used in more situations, while Babchuk is a good puck-mover with offensive upside. However, the Flames lack an anchor; the guy that can be used at any time of the game, either to protect a lead or score a goal, and unless someone steps up, that could be another issue this year.
Goaltending: Very few goalies in the NHL have played as much as Mikka Kiprusoff has in the last 10 years. Kipper has played in at least 71 games every year since the lockout, and last year his numbers were down across the board. However, his GAA and SV% were both pretty good behind a defense that had holes in it, and once again he will be counted on to be a workhorse. At 35, it remains to be seen how long he can keep up this pace, as age is going to start working against him at some point. It would seem that the Flames should be looking at finding a backup capable of playing 20-25 starts to give Kiprusoff some rest so he's not burned out for the playoffs.
Henrik Karlsson is the only other goalie listed on the Flames' roster, and in 17 games (11 starts) he put up very similar numbers to Kiprusoff, leading me to think that the issues on the defensive side are more systematic than goaltending.
Player to Watch: It's easy to say Iginla here, but he's a superstar. I'll be watching Bourque this year to see if he can progress even more and become a true offensive star in the league. He's had 2 straight seasons of 27 goals, and with the talent on the Flames it would appear that 30 should not be out of the question. He gets significant PP time and is a big body, so perhaps this is the year he moves into a new category of star.
Player With Something to Prove: This is a case of pick your former Panther: Bouwmeester or Jokinen. Neither player has come close to living up to the expectations the team had for them when acquired, and in Jokinen's case, this is his second go-around with the team. It was thought that Jokinen would finally be the center to click with Iginla and provide a potent one-two scoring punch, but after scoring 50 points in his first 75 games with the Flames, he was traded to the Rangers, only to be brought back last year. Bouwmeester has to show that he can be the leader of a defense corps that is young and without a true superstar, and in his third year with the team will have big expectations.
The Skinny: There's a lot of talk around the NHL that the Wings are an old team, but a quick look at the Flames' roster shows that this is not a young team. Their 2 best players (Iginla and Kiprusoff) are 34 and 35, respectively, and a number of key contributors, such as Bourque, Tanguay, Jokinen, Moss, Glencross and Niklas Hagman, are all 28 or older. This is a team built to win now, not in 3-4 years, so there will be a lot of pressure on them to get back to the playoffs and make some noise. With Kipper in net, the Flames are always going to be in games, and in a bad division they should be able to make up points playing against the Avalanche and Oilers 12 times a year. I think the Flames get back to the playoffs this year, but I don't see them faring very well against the Western Conference's elite teams.