With an elite forward, one of the league's best goaltenders and a strong defense, the Calgary Flames appear to have the ingredients necessary to win the Stanley Cup. They hope the surprise addition of coach Mike Keenan is the final piece.
The well-traveled Keenan makes his debut as coach of the Flames on Thursday night against the revamped Philadelphia Flyers in the season opener for both teams.
Following a first-round playoff loss for the second consecutive season, Flames general manager Darryl Sutter surprised many on June 14 when he hired Keenan as the team's new coach. Calgary will be the eighth stop for Keenan, and his first since 2 1/2 unsuccessful seasons with the Panthers from 2001-2004.
Although Keenan has taken his teams to the finals four times, winning a Stanley Cup with the New York Rangers in 1994, his last four stops in St. Louis, Vancouver, Boston and Florida have produced 189 wins and 219 regulation losses.
Keenan, sixth on the all-time wins list (584), is known for his fiery temper and often tyrannical ways that have earned him the nickname "Iron Mike."
"I expect a lot. I don't think there's anything wrong with that," Keenan said. "If you have high expectations, if you raise the bar for the players I think they'll deliver and they'll push themselves to be better."
Unlike many of his other coaching situations, anything less than Western Conference title will be considered a disappointment in Calgary.
The Flames finished eighth in the West last season, losing to top-seeded Detroit in six games in a series that would have ended sooner if not for the brilliant play of goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff.
Kiprusoff, who has won at least 40 games each of the last two seasons, is entering the final year of his contract and signing him to a long-term deal figures to be a top priority.
"In the dressing room, we believe he's the best goalie in the league so we hope it gets done soon," Flames captain Jarome Iginla said. "There's a lot of good things going on here and he's a big part of it."
Iginla provides the Flames with a rare combination of 50-goal potential and a physical presence few can match. Iginla had 39 goals, a career-high 55 assists and 94 points last season.
He was one of four Flames with at least 70 points in 2006-07, part of an offense that boasted three 30-goal scorers and finished seventh in the NHL with 3.11 goals per game.
Calgary also has an emerging star on defense in Dion Phaneuf, who followed a stellar rookie season with 17 goals including 13 on the power play.
Few teams underwent more offseason changes than the Flyers, who hope to rebound from the worst season in franchise history. Philadelphia finished with franchise lows of 22 wins and 56 points, missing the playoffs for the first time since 1993-94.
"It was a different year," coach John Stevens said. "We certainly had a lot of adversity to overcome. But that's behind us now. We need to learn from that and move on to continue to make this right."
Signing center Daniel Briere to an eight-year, $52 million contract proved the Flyers were serious about bouncing back. Briere, 10th in the league last season with 95 points, should combine with Simon Gagne and Mike Knuble on a potent top line.
Philadelphia also figures to be a more mobile team this season with the additions of Briere, Scott Hartnell, Joffrey Lupul, Kimmo Timonen and new captain Jason Smith.
Martin Biron, acquired from Buffalo on Feb. 27, will try to end Philadelphia's seemingly endless quest for a top goaltender. Biron was 6-8-2 with a 3.03 goals-against average last season after joining the Flyers.
These teams have met only once in the last four years with the Flyers winning 1-0 in a shootout on Dec. 6, 2005. Philadelphia hasn't won in Calgary since Oct. 12, 2002.