The Flames have missed the Stanley Cup playoffs in back-to-back seasons and GM Jay Feaster has vowed to return to the playoffs this season. Given that the top five goal scorers last season were over the age of 30 and goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff will turn 35 this season, Feaster has to win now or usher in a new crop of young talent to rebuild around.
Calgary’s roster has talent. Forwards Curtis Glencross and Rene Bourque both set career-highs in goals last season with 24 and 27 respectively. Even Colorado Avalanche castaway Alex Tanguay enjoyed a career resurrection playing alongside captain Jarome Iginla tallying 69 points in 79 games. Iginla, after only scoring two goals in his first fifteen games, was still third in the NHL in scoring at the end of the year with 43 and had a spectacular season captaining the Flames in all three zones.
Unfortunately for Calgary, forward Olli Jokinen had a disappointing campaign last season in which he returned to the team that dealt him only a few months previously to the New York Rangers. Perhaps it was the lack of trade rumors involving his name that took the wind out of the Fin’s sails (the 32-year-old was traded the previous two seasons), but the 54-point pace was what led the Flames to trade the forward to New York the season before last. With no significant changes on the Flames roster going into next season, expect much of the same from Jokinen.
Joining Jokinen on the “disappointing” list is top defenseman Jay Bouwmeester. The six-foot-four workhorse defenseman has the highest amount of regular season games played among active players without ever making the playoffs. Hopefully for Calgary, that streak ends after this season for the $6.6 million defender. He has the talent to anchor the blueline and will be asked to this year following the departure of Robyn Regehr to Buffalo.
Calgary does have some players to look out for this season. Kiprusoff should be in the top-tier of goaltenders again this season after another solid season last year with 37 wins and 6 shutouts. Due to the trading of Regehr, Calgary was able to sign promising defenseman Anton Babchuk to a two-year extension. The six-foot-five defenseman was one of the few bright spots on the Flames blueline tallying 35 points (13 on the power play) and a positive 14 plus/minus rating. Babchuk’s size and shot should more than live up to his new two-year, $5 million contract.
The question surrounding the Flames this season will be their mostly unchanged, veteran roster has what it takes to make a playoff push this year. If not, look for Calgary to be very active at the trade deadline to create some cap space and get younger as it recently did by acquiring forward Lee Stempniak and $2.5 million in subsequent cap space from Phoenix for aging veteran Daymond Langkow and his $4.5 million cap hit. Can the Flames catch fire this year? If not, the province of Alberta may be in for another cold, uneventful winter with both of its teams struggling.