The 2008/09 season marked a slight shift in the construction of the Flames' roster. Wherein seasons past the core group had been complemented primarily by other veteran players, last year the kids were given the keys to the car, and they responded magnificently.
For the Flames, the burden of expectation is placed almost squarely on the shoulders of the established veterans, players like Jarome Iginla
, Robyn Regehr, Miikka Kiprusoff
, and Dion Phaneuf all carry the loads of leadership and responsibility for the team. Opposing game plans are constructed with the Flames stars' in mind, but last season these game plans did not account for the play of a handful of the younger, lesser-known Flames, who surprised a lot of people with their contributions.
While this is not exactly a changing off the guard, the Flames found success last season meshing a bit of the future with the present. The young players adopted the professionalism and work ethic of the veterans, and the results speak for themselves, as many of them had the best seasons of their careers. With that in mind, here in no particular order, are the Calgary Flames 2008/09 breakout performers:Mike Cammalleri
(GP:81 G:39 A:43 P:82 -2)
Acquired from the Los Angeles Kings in the previous offseason, Cammalleri was brought in to provide, along with Iginla, a potent one-two offensive combination. Any expectations that were in place upon his arrival were more than exceeeded as he led the team in goals, and was second in points; it was his best season as a pro. His patented shot from one-knee was deadly, and Cammalleri consistently scored at key times for the team, including 19 goals on the power play, and six game-winners. One of the leaders on the fore-check, he was a lethal threat in the offensive zone whether he was on a line with Iginla, or anyone else. As an unrestricted free agent, last season may be Cammalleri's only one in Calgary. While we hope to see him return for another go, if his was only a brief stay, he will be remembered fondly for the flashes of brilliance he displayed.David Moss
(GP:81 G:20 A:19 P:39 -5)
Moss is not a player who subscribes to the adage that the preseason doesn't matter. After leading the team in goals with four and tying for the lead in points with seven, Moss' first full season in the big league was a resounding success. Unafraid to mix it up around the net, Moss' presence there, even in limited minutes, was a welcome addition to the Flames attack as he was one of six to score 20 or more goals. The improvement in all facets of the game that Moss displayed as the season progressed did not go unnoticed either, as he was rewarded with a three-year contract before the playoffs began. Don't be surprised to see him here in the same spot next year as a breakout performer who takes yet another step forward.Rene Bourque
(GP:58 G:21 A:19 P:40 +18)
Bourque appears to be another Alberta-born player who enjoys the clean air, big sky, and high-quality red-meat available in Calgary. Something about playing close to home obviously appeals to the Lac La Biche native, who was acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks in the previous offseason. Seemingly from the day he arrived in town, Bourque raised his level of play to levels unseen in Chicago. He was an imposing physical presence who had a knack for scoring important goals. Unfortunately Bourque's season was derailed by a high-ankle sprain that sunk him for the last quarter of the season, but when he did play his emergence gave the Flames a level of depth almost unmatched in the league, and it is no coincidence that his injury coincided with the team's overall slip in play. Bourque will be back next season, and the sky is the limit for a player who seems to be a natural-born Flame.Curtis Glencross
(GP:74 G:13 A:27 P:40 +14)
Glencross, signed as a free agent after playing in Edmonton to finish out the 2007-08 season, played so well that it must make our hated rivals to the north wish they had kept the hard-working Glecnross. A fantastic two-way player, Glencross' grit and strong skating allowed him to fit seamlessly on any of the four lines, and he enjoyed a tremendous first full season as a pro. The Flames have him under their control for a while, and it will be exciting to see how much better he can be, how much better he can make the Flames, and how infuriated he that will make the Oilers by extension.
(GP:60 G:1 A:9 P:10 +3)
The Flames defensive corps is feared throughout the league, it's a deep group that is difficult to crack. Adam Pardy made a solid leap from Quad City to the show, providing steady minutes on the blueline. Injuries took their toll on the Flames top defensemen over the course of the season, and at a number of often crucial times young defensemen were called into key positions. While lesser teams may have completely collapsed, the Flames were able to weather the storm due, to a large extent, to the play of Pardy, who proved he can more than hold his own in the defensive end. More experience next season can only make him stronger and make the Flames defence that much more formidable.
Honourable mention goes to Eric Nystrom, who followed another strong season with an inspired performance in the playoffs, Jamie Lundmark, who earned a permanent spot in the line-up after being called up from the farm in December, James Vandermeer, whose solid season was partially-derailed by a leg injury, as well as the series of call-ups who came in when the defence was decimated during the final games of the season and performed admirably.
Of course these breakout seasons mean that these players will no longer be able to enjoy flying under the radar, they will be subject to increased focus, and unforeseen slumps that are, well, unforeseen. But the players all have the benefit of playing meaningful hockey for a team that does not require them to take primary roles, in a city that supports them passionately.
The elevated level of play by these up and coming Flames made the team deep and dangerous last season, and can only bode well for the team going into next season, where they boast the skill, size, speed, and toughness up and down the line-up that will keep opposing coaches up late tweaking their game plans. The young players' accelerated development accentuates the core group, and it will be intriguing to see where they go from here.