Calgary Flames Season Preview: Running on Empty

There are a lot of unanswered questions about the Calgary Flames entering this season. Instead of focusing on trying to rebuild through youthful players that can score goals and bring butts in seats, they are still trying to spin the wheel of their star players from their 2004 Stanley Cup Final run. Just how much longer can Jarome Iginla and Mikka Kiprusoff have in the tank before they become fed up with the losing and want to finish their careers elsewhere?

The organization has spent the last several off seasons by trying to add a mid-level piece but time and time again it hasn’t worked. Last season they did reach the 90-point plateau but they were the first team out of the playoffs, this goes to show you the stranglehold the Vancouver Canucks had on the division as they won the President’s Trophy and every other team in the division missed the playoffs. And quite honestly they are perhaps the worse team on paper when compared to division mates Minnesota (added Parise and Suter), Edmonton, and Colorado (both have young players with upside).

While GM Jay Feaster has made a lot of turnover with the roster, it hasn’t been enough. Their off season additions were Roman Cervenka, Jiri Hudler, and Dennis Wideman. Cervenka is coming from the KHL and it could take him a while to get adjusted to the smaller North American rinks and the different pace of the NHL game. Hudler is unpredictable as he tends to disappear from the score sheet for large stretches of games during his time in Detroit and Wideman is more of an offensive defenseman who could be a liability when left to defend without help.

Up front, Alex Tanguay will remain with Iginla and Mike Cammalleri on the first line. They can’t expect Iginla to score 50+ goals, so the  load of the scoring will have to come from Tanguay or Cammalleri. Cammalleri will have spent an entire season with the team, so he could provide a stronger punch than when he first arrived last season. One player that could be exciting to watch is 19-year-old Sven Baertschi on the second line. He’s expected to play an entire season in Calgary and he made quite a splash last season when he scored three goals in fiver games. He’ll flank the left side on a line with Cervenka and Hudler. If this line fails to produce, it will be another disappointing year for the team.

Feaster and new bench boss Bob Hartley want more offense from his defense. While this will be more entertaining to watch, it could leave a big hole when it comes to being physical and blocking shots. Mark Giordano was their leading scorer among blueliners with nine last season. If Hartley’s style catches on, look for him and Dennis Wideman to each score 12-15 goals. Jay Bouwmeester should thrive in his role on the penalty kill, a role that tends to go unnoticed but appreciated.

Along with Iginla, Kiprusoff is a player in which we don’t know exactly how much is left in his tank. He’s played a lot of hockey in recent years including last year when he appeared in 70 games and led the league in minutes played among goalies. He’s played 70+ regular season games for seven straight seasons. Look for that streak to end this season, not only because of the lockout but also because he’s played fewer games each season since his career high of 76 in 2007-08 and 2008-09. Behind him is 28-year-old Henrik Karlsson and 24-year-old Leland Irving. Irving is at the stage in his short career where this season is his season to make an impact before the 26th overall pick in 2006 could be labeled a draft bust.

Overall, the Flames are further away from contending for a championship then they are closer. They have spent the last three seasons  in the area where no team wants to be: not good enough to make the playoffs but not bad enough to earn a high draft pick. For Feaster to land the top draft picks like rival Edmonton, they should find a way to make trades or get the ball to bounce their way in the lottery. Would he dare trade Iginla at the deadline if they are out of the playoff picture? Look for them to fight off a last place finish with Colorado this season and maybe they could get things going the right way in the future. They have several prospects who will wear the flaming C, but they are at least 1-2 years away from doing so.

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