CALGARY, AB -- At the beginning of the Calgary Flames training camp, no one could quite decipher exactly what the team was.
The hodge-podge cast of characters made it tough to decide on exactly what type of team would come out of Calgary. A crop of players looking for bounce-back years? A group of aging veterans, too old to accomplish anything? A legitimate force within the conference thanks to the likes of the blossoming Rene Bourque, Mark Giordano and Curtis Glencross?
Captain Jarome Iginla ended up unknowingly summarizing the entire season on a bright September day with one sentence.
"I think we'll be a real nice surprise this year."
While 'nice' is a verb that doesn't exactly fit with portions of the Flames season, surprise certainly meshes with the team's entire campaign. The dramatic highs and lows of the Flames season could not have been predicted by anyone.
The Flames preseason led many to believe the team would kick off the regular season with authority. They were 7-0-0 and players searching to regain their form from prior years seemed to flourishing. Ales Kotalik was regaining his scoring touch. Matt Stajan looked more confident than he ever had in a Flames jersey. Olli Jokinen was fitting in comfortably.
Unfortunately, their mastery of the preseason was costly. Kotalik and Stajan suffered injuries, crippling the Flames up front. In relief, they signed Brendan Morrison to a one-year deal, a seemingly minor move that would later become known as one of the best acquisitions the team has made in years.
Despite the injuries plaguing the club before the regular season had even yet to begin, the Flames went into the campaign hungry and ready to establish themselves.
Then the season-opener happened.
Playing in Edmonton against a crew of excited youngsters, the more experienced Flames seemed to flatline before the puck even hit the ice. They dropped the tilt in a 4-0 decision, leaving the province's capital with their tails between their legs.
Their home opener showed more promise. Welcoming the Los Angeles Kings into the Scotiabank Saddledome, the team looked more far comfortable with their game than they had in Edmonton. They won 3-1 with Glencross scoring their first tally of the year. Optimism once again picked up but wouldn't last long.
The months of October and November were incredibly trying. The team couldn't seem to find any sort of consistency and their on Nov. 25, they were 8-11-2. At the time, defenceman Cory Sarich couldn't find a way to explain the record, just shaking his head and saying it was "unacceptable."
The ultimate low came on Dec. 1. The Vancouver Canucks ran roughshod over the Flames, defeating them by a score of 7-2. Their performance was so tepid head coach Brent Sutter deployed five defenceman on a power play late in the game, claiming his forwards didn't appear to want to be out there. The loss left them tied with Oilers for dead last in the conference.
The losses continued to pile up until Dec. 23 when the visiting Flames were able to pull out a come-from-behind victory in Dallas. The win lit a spark and from that point on, the Flames were nearly unstoppable for the next couple of months.
They compiled a 22-6-6 record after that fateful win over the Stars, rapidly climbing the Western Conference standings and putting themselves back into contention for a playoff spot.
"It was like we were one team early in the year," Jokinen said. "And then, we became a new one. We were playing to our potential."
Their red-hot play continued into March but the injury bug hit them once again and at the worst possible moment. Early in the month, Morrison injured his knee in Chicago and would be forced to sit for the rest of the season.
12 days later, David Moss, who was turning a lot of heads with his play as a pivot on the top line in Morrison's absence, hit a rut in practice and suffered a high ankle sprain. He would also be sidelined for the remainder of the year.
The war of attrition became too much and the Flames didn't have enough left in the tank to find a way to make their way back into the postseason picture after a series of costly losses mid-month pushed them back to 10th place.
"Yeah, it's disappointing to know we won't be playing next week," Sarich stated. "But we've got to be proud of we've done since December. We were in the basement and well below .500 at one point. To be able to turn it around so dramatically is something we can look back on and be proud of."
Iginla also expressed the discontent felt by his club for not being able to squeak into the playoffs but conceded the locker room felt like a completely different place than it did at the end of last season.
"The last three months, last three and a half months, the last 50 games, I think our record is somewhere close to the top five teams in the League. As tough as this is, there's more optimism then there was at the end of last year."