The Calgary Flames haven't made the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2009, and they dropped all the way to No. 13 in the Western Conference standings last season, 13 points shy of a spot in the postseason.
They're also making a commitment to youth. Gone is longtime captain Jarome Iginla. Goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff is unlikely to return, leaning toward retirement. Those are the stars of the run to Game 7 of the 2004 Final.
Calgary is loading up on youth, with three first-round selections in the 2013 NHL Draft leading the charge.
Here are six questions facing the Flames this season:
1. Can anyone replace Jarome Iginla? -- Young talent is fine, but someone has to show the kids how things are done in the NHL.
For as long as most Flames fans can remember, that person was Iginla, who became the face of the franchise during his 16 seasons in Calgary and served as captain from 2003-04 until he was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins in March. But Iginla was more than a leader in the dressing room. He had 11 straight 30-goal seasons before 2012-13; among players on the current roster, only Mike Cammalleri has reached the 30-goal mark in his career. Iginla's departure figures to leave a sizeable hole on and off the ice.
2. Who's the No. 1 goaltender? -- Miikka Kiprusoff could have followed Iginla to a Cup contender in the spring but opted to stay with the Flames. However, the winningest goaltender in franchise history said in June he wasn't coming back, giving general manager Jay Feaster the task of finding a replacement. Longtime NHL backup Joey MacDonald played well enough in 2012-13 to earn a one-year contract, but the Flames laid out a reported $5.8 million to bring in Karri Ramo on a two-year contract. Ramo returns to the NHL after four superb seasons in Russia and figures to get first shot at the job.
3. Is Sven Baertschi ready for the NHL -- Taken No. 13 in the 2011 NHL Draft, Baertschi teased the Flames and their fans during a five-game call-up in 2011-12, scoring three times. He teased again by scoring three times and finishing with 10 points in 20 games in 2012-13, his first full professional season. With Iginla gone, the Flames need Baertschi to show the kind of offensive flair that made him a first-round choice.
4. Will top 2013 pick Sean Monahan make the team? -- The Flames wasted little time getting Monahan's name on a contract, signing him three weeks after making him the sixth player taken in the 2013 NHL Draft. He's listed at 6-foot-2 and 187 pounds but figures to be bigger and stronger by opening night. With a shortage of impact players in the middle, Monahan figures to get a chance to play in the NHL as an 18-year-old, likely as a first- or second-line center.
5. Can the defense stop anyone? -- No one on the Flames' blue line is going to be mistaken for Bobby Orr.
Dennis Wideman finished with 22 points in 48 games, and no other returning defenseman had more than 15. But even more troubling was the fact the Flames allowed 3.27 goals per game, the most in the Western Conference. They were No. 29 in goals for/against while playing 5-on-5; Calgary allowed almost three goals for every two it scored at full strength.
6. What will Scotiabank Saddledome look like? -- Floods in late June inundated the longtime home of the Flames. The waters came up several rows into the seating area, wiped out the entire event level, including the locker rooms and the ice plant, and destroyed a lot of the nerve center of the building. Flames CEO Ken King said in late July that reconstruction is going well and he expects the building to be ready to go in early September, in time for the Flames to play their preseason games as scheduled. But the amount of damage was substantial, and there's no guarantee all the repair work will be done in time.
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