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Flames need to inject aging roster with youth

Friday, 03.29.2013 / 10:30 AM / 2013 Trade Deadline

By Dave Lozo - NHL.com Staff Writer

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Flames need to inject aging roster with youth
The Calgary Flames have resisted an Edmonton-style rebuild, but with Jarome Iginla in Pittsburgh it could be time for GM Jay Feaster to make serious alterations to the franchise's talent pool.

The Jarome Iginla trade to the Pittsburgh Penguins signals the end of an era for the Calgary Flames.

So where do general manager Jay Feaster and the Flames go from here with the NHL Trade Deadline on April 3? What will the franchise look like when the puck drops on the 2013-14 season?

Calgary has resisted an Edmonton-style rebuild, but with Jarome Iginla now in Pittsburgh it may be time for GM Jay Feaster to make serious alterations to the franchise's talent pool. (Photo: Getty Images / Terence Leung - NHLI)

"I don't want to use the word 'rebuild,'" Feaster said after making the Iginla deal official. "We want to bring some more young players into this organization. There's a gap from the 18- and 19-year-olds to the 27-, 28-, 29-year-olds."

A thorough rebuild would greatly benefit the Flames, but it remains to be seen if a franchise that has been resistant to taking that path over the past few years will change its approach. It's also not as simple as trading high-priced veterans for picks in what is expected to be a talent-rich 2013 NHL Draft; the Flames have nine players with some form of a no-movement or no-trade clause in his contract.

The Flames haven't reached the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2009 and are one of the oldest teams in the League. They have some pieces in place for the immediate future and long term, but Feaster will have his work cut out for him if he wants to restore the Flames as the perennial playoff contenders they were from 2004-09.

THE SHORT TERM

Between now and Wednesday, it's possible Feaster will find new homes for defenseman Jay Bouwmeester and goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff. Each player has one more year left on his contract; Bouwmeester has a salary-cap hit of $6.68 million; Kiprusoff has a cap hit of $5.83 million.

Trading Bouwmeester makes the most sense, and he should fetch a solid return. Bouwmeester is 29 years old and logs 25:16 of ice time per game, 12th-most in the League. The trade market for defensemen is lean this year -- the Penguins served up a second-round pick in 2013 and conditional second-round pick in 2014 for Douglas Murray -- which makes Bouwmeester one of the more attractive options for a contender in need of blue-line help.

Kiprusoff could be a trickier situation. According to reports, the 36-year-old told the Flames he will not report to a new team if traded because of family concerns. Mike Keenan, the coach of the Flames when Kiprusoff signed his six-year contract in 2008, said it was the goaltender's intention to retire after this season and return to Finland. Neither the Flames nor Kiprusoff have acknowledged these reports.

But if Feaster can work through the issues, Kiprusoff would be a hot commodity. His numbers this season are well below his standard -- he has a 6-8-2 record, 3.35 goals-against average and .879 save percentage -- but last season was one of his best and he missed time earlier this season with a sprained knee.

The Flames have five players heading for unrestricted free agency after the season: forwards Roman Cervenka, Blake Comeau, Brian McGrattan and Steve Begin and defenseman Anton Babchuk.

Cervenka signed a one-year deal after scoring 30 goals in both the Czech league and Kontinental Hockey League. He has five goals and 11 points in 25 games in his first NHL season, but the Flames may want to see what he can do with a full training camp and season under coach Bob Hartley in 2013-14 before cutting bait.

Comeau, Begin and McGrattan could be desirable for teams looking to add depth to their forward groups. Babchuk has played in two games this season because of a shoulder injury and has a no-trade clause.

But it's not just UFAs who are candidates to be unloaded. Defenseman Cory Sarich, 34, could be an inexpensive addition to the bottom pairing of an interested team. He will make $2 million next season and was part of the Tampa Bay Lightning's run to the Stanley Cup in 2004.

If the Flames are truly turning the page, there shouldn't be anyone who isn't available to be traded if the price is right.

THE LONG TERM

On the current roster, there are a few young players who figure to get a chance to become fixtures in Calgary for the next few years.

Center Mikael Backlund lost 14 games to a knee injury this season, but he has four goals and nine points in 17 games. A first-round pick in 2007, the 24-year-old hits restricted free agency after this season.

Diminutive Paul Byron is 23 years old and was acquired along with defenseman Chris Butler in a deal that sent Ales Kotalik and Robyn Regehr to the Buffalo Sabres in June 2011. The 5-foot-7, 155-pound forward has played in one game this season because of a fractured hand, but he has speed and versatility.

On defense, 22-year-old TJ Brodie emerged as one of the franchise's top blue-line prospects and has a goal and eight points in 31 games this season. He has played a little more than 18 minutes per game this season and would likely see more ice time if Bouwmeester is traded.

As Feaster said at his Iginla press conference, Backlund, Byron and Brodie are the only Flames on the current roster older than 19 and under the age of 26.

Mikael Backlund
Center - CGY
GOALS: 4 | ASST: 5 | PTS: 9
SOG: 34 | +/-: -1
The Flames' farm system isn't rich with top-end prospects, but there are a few players for which the team has high hopes.

Left wing Sven Baertschi is the team's top prospect. Selected with the 11th pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, the 20-year-old had 33 goals and 91 points in 47 games with the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League in 2011-12. He hasn't been able to stick long-term with the Flames, but he has eight goals and 22 points in 28 games with the Abbotsford Heat this season, his first in the American Hockey League.

John Gaudreau, a left wing at Boston College, is among the 10 finalists for this year's Hobey Baker Memorial Award. After posting 21 goals and 44 points in 44 games as a freshman, he jumped to 20 goals and 50 points in 34 games this season. Size could be an issue for Gaudreau, who is 5-foot-6 and 141 pounds, but he had seven goals in seven games for the United States at the 2013 World Junior Championship, where he won gold and was named to the tournament's all-star team.

Markus Granlund, the younger brother of Minnesota Wild rookie and 2009 first-round pick Mikael, could be an NHL player in the future. Granlund was a second-round pick in 2011. In 50 games with HIFK Helsinki in the Finnish league this season, Granlund has 10 goals and 30 points.

As it stands now, the Flames have two picks in the first round. It's likely the pick acquired from the Penguins will be near the end, but the Flames have a legitimate shot at the top pick if they falter over the rest of the season. It's possible Feaster can land another first-round pick for either Bouwmeester or Kiprusoff.

The Flames don't want to use the term "rebuild," but with the assets in place now, it may take a little time before Calgary becomes a contender for the postseason again.

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