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Flames look to build off '10-11 strong second half

Tuesday, 09.20.2011 / 3:00 AM / NHL.com's 30 in 15

By Tal Pinchevsky - NHL.com Staff Writer

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Flames look to build off '10-11 strong second half
The Flames didn't make the playoffs, but they had a strong finish to get close. The hope is that great finish carries over to a strong start in 2011-12.
For the Calgary Flames, the 2010-11 season was a tale of two teams. By the end of November, their 10-12-2 record was inciting calls for a roster shakeup and speculation that franchise cornerstone Jarome Iginla might be traded. But things turned around drastically when Jay Feaster took over as general manager.

PROJECTED LINEUP

Forwards
A. TANGUAY B. MORRISON J. IGINLA
R. BOURQUE O. JOKINEN L. STEMPNIAK
C. GLENCROSS M. BACKLUND D. MOSS
N. HAGMAN M. STAJAN T. JACKMAN
T. KOSTOPOULOS
DEFENSE
J. BOUWMEESTER C. SARICH
M. GIORDANO A. BABCHUK
C. BUTLER B. MIKKELSON
B. CARSON
GOALIES
M. KIPRUSOFF
H. KARLSSON
ones to watch
D T.J. BRODIE
F GREG NEMISZ
When Darryl Sutter stepped down as the team's GM on Dec. 28, the Flames were 14th in the Western Conference with a 16-18-3 record. But from Jan. 11 to the end of the season, the team went 23-9-7, a wonderful run, but one that wasn't enough to get them into the postseason. After finishing just three points out of the eighth playoff spot, the team comes into the 2010-11 season looking to avoid the sluggish start that hurt it last season.

"We really want to build off the second half we had," forward Brendan Morrison told NHL.com. "We gained a lot of momentum in the second half and had a good push but came up short. It was a real positive to finish that way. Now the challenge is to start the season the way we finished (last season)."

Their opening-day roster likely will be nearly identical to the one that finished last season, which means the Flames again will be a veteran-laden squad. Last season's second-oldest team with an average age of 29.35, the Flames' top three scorers were at least 30, and of the 19 players who had at least 10 points, only one was younger than 27. So the Flames will remain dependent on their veterans, but might look to one or two prospects to make their imprint on the team.

If the Flames can get a modest infusion of youth and overcome some wild inconsistencies -- last season's power play was ranked second at home but 29th overall on the road -- it could get them back in the playoffs for the first time since 2009.



SUMMER MOVES

IN: Chris Butler, D (trade, Sabres); Paul Byron, C (trade, Sabres); Guillaume Desbiens, RW (free agent, Canucks); Scott Hannan, D (free agent, Capitals); Roman Horak, LW (trade, Rangers); Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, RW (trade, Devils); Lee Stempniak, RW (trade, Coyotes)

OUT: Tim Erixon, D (trade, Rangers); Ales Kotalik, RW (trade, Sabres); Daymond Langkow, C (trade, Coyotes); Freddy Modin, LW (retired); Adam Pardy, D, (free agent, Stars); Robyn Regeher, D (trade, Sabres); Steve Staios, D (free agent)
The Flames made very few offseason changes to their forwards. Only four teams in the Western Conference scored more goals last season than Calgary, so rather than try to add new pieces to their attack, the Flames were content to re-sign two of their own veterans in Morrison and Alex Tanguay, whose 69 points in 2010-11 were his most since the 2006-07 season.

Already one of the oldest forward units in the League, the group actually got older last season with the November acquisition of 32-year-old forward Tom Kostopoulos from Carolina. This summer, Calgary acquired 28-year-old Lee Stempniak from Phoenix in exchange for Daymond Langkow, a move that only the Flames would consider an injection of youth. In addition to the team's top three scorers last season being north of 30, Rene Bourque, who was fourth, will celebrate his 30th birthday Dec. 10.

"The guys have been around for long periods of time," said Morrison. "They're not caught off guard by what happens game to game. Guys will have an even keel as the year goes by."

While they should remain potent, the aging Flames offense will be looking to young Mikael Backlund to contribute. The 24th pick of the 2007 Entry Draft, the Swedish center had 25 points in 73 games last season while refining a strong two-way game. The Flames are hoping for a little more this season. 



While the Flames' forwards won't look terribly different from last season's high-scoring group, Calgary's defense saw some changes. After coming to Calgary in the Kostopoulos trade that sent Ian White to Carolina, Anton Babchuk re-signed for two more years. The team also signed Scott Hannan in free agency, looking to toughen up a defense that ranked 19th in goals-against per game last season.

After Mark Giordano and Jay Bouwmeester established themselves as a top pairing last season, the team's biggest change on the back end this summer was the trade of veteran Robyn Regehr to Buffalo. A mainstay for 11 seasons, he ranks second in franchise history with 826 games played. Last season he led the team with 180 hits and was third in average ice time per game blocked shots. The Flames will look to replace that stout defensive presence with 24-year-old Chris Butler, whom they received in exchange for Regehr. While he occasionally had trouble cracking Buffalo's regular-season rotation, Butler assumed a larger role in the playoffs, where he played at least 26 minutes in four of Buffalo's first five games in their first-round playoff series loss to Philadelphia.



Miikka Kiprusoff turns 35 in October, but there is every indication he will continue to be a workhorse in Calgary's crease. He started 71 games last season, the sixth straight season he's hit that mark. The 1,935 shots Kiprusoff faced last season were also seventh-most in the League, but his six shutouts were the most he's had in a season since 2006-07.

Opening night could potentially be memorable for Kiprusoff, who with one more win will pass Mike Vernon for the most in Flames history. With 45 more games, he'll also become Calgary's all-time leader in that category.

Henrik Karlsson is expected to return as Kiprusoff's backup, although prospect Leland Irving will compete for that role. But it should be more of the same in Calgary's crease.

Quote of the Day

My focus is always just to play as well as I can and do my job, no matter where the faceoff is.

— New York Rangers forward Carl Hagelin on using his speed to his advantage
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