Flames believe veteran roster ready for playoff push
In his first summer as Calgary Flames General Manager, Jay Feaster faced a conundrum.
The Flames have missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs in back-to-back seasons and Feaster could do one of two things to change his team's outlook for 2011-12 -- unload some of the team's aging but talented assets and rebuild from scratch, or do a little bit of tinkering and hope the veteran core clicks for a push to the postseason.
Interesting fact: Goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff's first win of the season will be a big one. Kiprusoff needs just one victory to pass Mike Vernon as the all-time leader in wins for the Calgary Flames. Both Kiprusoff and Vernon currently have 262 wins.
Feaster chose the latter, and Flames fans are hoping that commitment to the core will pay dividends.
Entering the summer, Calgary had most of its salary-cap room accounted for, along with 10 players with some version of a no-trade or no-movement clause.
That allowed the Flames to sign offensive blueliner Anton Babchuk to a two-year extension and re-sign forward Alex Tanguay to a five-year contract.
Add that to a roster that includes 34-year-old captain Jarome Iginla -- coming off 43 goals in 2010-11, the third-highest goal total in his illustrious NHL career -- veterans Olli Jokinen, Jay Bouwmeester and work-horse goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff, and the Flames believe they have a roster that's seasoned -- and ready to make a run at the Stanley Cup.
FLAMES: 3 QUESTIONS FOR 2011-2012
1. How much gas does Jarome Iginla have left in his tank? The 34-year-old forward began last season with 2 goals in his first 15 games, prompting many to question if this was the declining portion of the superstar's career. Not so fast. Iginla finished the season with a team-high 43 goals, the third highest total of his career. Expect him to carry the offensive load for the Flames yet again in 2011-12.
2. How many games will Miikka Kiprusoff play next season? Kiprusoff had played in at least 70 games in each of the past six seasons. The history of being a workhorse might finally catch up with the Finnish goaltender, who turns 35 in October. Kiprusoff will still play a majority of the games in 2011-12, but some fresh faces -- such as 27-year-old Henrik Karlsson -- might be seeing some more action.
3. Can the Flames make the Stanley Cup Playoffs? Fans in Calgary are itching for postseason hockey as the Flames have missed the playoffs in back-to-back seasons. Calgary made a strong push late in 2010-11, but ultimately a slow start caught up to the Flames. They'll have to begin the 2011-12 season strong in order to have a legitimate chance in an extremely competitive Western Conference.
-- Emily Kaplan
The Flames sent Regeher and Kotalik East to Buffalo in a late-June trade.
While Regeher enjoyed a successful career in Calgary -- recording a positive plus/minus rating in each of his past seven seasons -- his cap hit of $4 million was just too much.
Kotalik, meanwhile, never found his groove in Calgary. The 32-year-old right wing appeared in only 26 games this past season for the Flames, splitting time with their American Hockey League affiliate, the Abbotsford Heat.
Pardy, who signed a two-year, $4-million deal with Dallas, missed 52 games last season due to a shoulder injury. He'll be missed as the Flames were 17-8-5 when he was in the lineup last season.
Staios, who played for five different teams during his 13-year NHL career, also was hampered by injuries last season, appearing in 39 games.
Although he never appeared in a game for Calgary, another big departure this summer was Tim Erixon, perhaps the club's most-promising prospect. Erixon, the No. 23 pick of the 2009 Entry Draft, is a talented, swift-skating defenseman. However, he couldn't work out a deal with the Flames, and rather than watch him re-enter the 2011 draft and chance losing him for nothing, the Flames traded him to the New York Rangers for a prospect and a pair of draft picks.
A stay-at-home defenseman, Butler had 5 goals and 31 assists in his past three seasons with Buffalo. Feaster said the team is projecting Butler as a No. 5 defenseman, but the general manager could see him cracking the top four.
UP-AND-COMING: 3 PLAYERS TO WATCH
David Moss, RW -- Because of injuries, the 29-year-old had a shortened 2010-11 season. Still, it was one of the most productive seasons of his career. In 58 games, Moss had 17 goals and 13 assists. Look for him to build off that in 2011-12 as he adopts an increased role.
Curtis Glencross, LW -- The Flames certainly like what they see in Glencross -- that's why the rewarded him with a four-year contract this offseason, instead of letting him test the free-agent waters. The 28-year-old has improved his goal totals in each of his three seasons in Calgary. He finished strong in 2010-11, recording 12 goals and 12 assists in the final 31 games.
Tim Jackman, RW -- Jackman is coming off a stellar season where he established new career-highs in games played (82), goals (10), assists (13), points (23) and plus/minus (plus-4). The 6-foot-4, 220-pound versatile forward also dropped the gloves a team-high 12 times.
The 22-year-old Byron has eight games of NHL experience, but spent the majority of the past two seasons with the Sabres' AHL affiliate, tallying 40 goals and 46 assists in 124 games.
The Flames also acquired physical forward Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond from New Jersey in exchange for a fifth-round pick in the 2012 Entry Draft.
Three of the Flames' top five goal scorers this past season were older than 30, and Kiprusoff will turn 35 in October.
If the Flames are going to win with their current crop of players, it better be soon.
The group as currently assembled has talent, as evidenced last season.
Curtis Glencross and Rene Bourque each established career-highs in goals in 2010-11. Tanguay's 69 points marked his most productive output since 2006-07. And after scoring only 2 goals in his first 15 games, Iginla's 43 goals were third in the League.
All of that certainly is promising, but didn't equate to team success as the Flames finished 10th in the Western Conference.
Virtually the same roster returns for the 2011-12 season. So can the Flames finally catch fire and rekindle any realistic playoff hopes?
That's the burning question throughout Calgary.
If this team -- with its minor alterations -- can't step it up a notch, the answer may not be the one Flames fans want to hear.