The Big Four
There are nights when Dion Phaneuf brings such a dominating presence, it’s easy to forget that he’s still just 22 and entering his third NHL season. Phaneuf boasts a rare combination of puck skills, shooting ability and tenacious physical play that makes him a terror to play against when he’s on the very top of his game. Last season, he scored 17 goals, 50 points and posted a plus-10 defensive rating while dishing out 197 hits and blocking 80 shots.
The scariest part: The player has only just begun to tap into his potential and is still about three to five years away from the point most defensemen truly start to reach their primes. There’s still room for Phaneuf to continue improving in subtle ways. You can be sure Keenan will find ways to challenge him to elevate his game even higher. The real test of Keenan’s (or any coach’s) trust in a defenseman is the ice time the player receives. Rest assured, Phaneuf will log massive ice time this season.
Defensive defenseman Robyn Regehr should also get heavy duty action this season. A feared hitter in his own right, he is an excellent shutdown defenseman (as his team leading plus-27 rating attests). His absence during most of the Red Wings series was a blow to the Flames’ hopes of pulling off an upset.
As long as he’s healthy, veteran defensive blueliner Rhett Warrener (plus-six, 10 points, 67 penalty minutes in 62 games) should help solidify the team’s defensive depth. The 31-year-old has dealt with shoulder, arm and knee ailments. Even so, additional players will have to step up for the Flames’ blue-line depth to match up to their top division rivals.
The Flames took an offseason gamble that 34-year-old Adrian Aucoin will regain the form he showed earlier in his career. The last two seasons with Chicago, he’s struggled with injuries and played mistake-prone hockey. Meanwhile, 29-year-old veteran Corey Sarich can be relied on for steady play as a defensive-minded fourth or fifth defenseman. New addition Anders Eriksson showed newfound on-ice maturity and vastly improved conditioning under coach Ken Hitchcock in Columbus last season. He posted a solid 23 points and plus-12 rating on a fourth-place club that finished tied for 28th in the NHL in scoring. The Flames will be thrilled if the 32-year-old former Detroit first-round pick makes similar contributions to their club this season.
Get the point
Phaneuf’s 13 power-play goals in 2006-07 were a big part of the reason why the Flames significantly improved their total goal output from the previous season. The team ranked just outside the top one-third the league (11th overall) in power-play efficiency, although they were much better at the Saddledome than on the road.
Even a partial return to form by the right-handed-shooting Aucoin will add an important dimension to the Calgary power play. He’ll likely never be a 20-plus goal scorer again, but is still capable of reaching double digit goals when healthy.
In the Wings
Tim Ramholt -- Flames drafted the 6-foot-2, 195 pound Swiss defenseman in the second round (39th overall) of the 2003 Entry Draft. … Like most Swiss-trained players, is mobile and positionally sound, but is not inclined to take many chances offensively. … Has improved his physical game somewhat and added strength.
Gord Baldwin -- Flames drafted the 6-foot-5 defenseman in the third round (69th overall) of the 2005 Entry Draft. … A defensive defenseman who plays a physical game and kills penalties. …In 2006-07 posted seven goals, 26 points, and 70 penalty minutes in the WHA regular season for the Medicine Hat Tigers. …Added eight points (two goals) and 32 penalty minutes in 23 WHL playoff and Memorial Cup games for the WHL champion Tigers. …20-year-old is set to make his professional debut in 2006-07.
Adrian Aucoin -- The Flames are taking a $4 million gamble against their salary cap that Aucoin will be healthy and start playing up to the form he showed at times with the Canucks and Islanders. Fifty of Aucoin’s career 92 goals in the NHL (combined regular season and playoffs) have come on the power play.