Flames Reload To Challenge Out West

The Calgary Flames have had a difficult time living up to expectations. After reaching Game 7 of the finals back in 2004, many felt the Flames were on the cusp of something.

Instead they have fizzled and have done nothing but bow out rather meekly in the playoffs. For a team with lots of high end talent, expensive stars and high expectations, that is unacceptable.

So the team made one of the biggest splashes this summer getting one of the big free agents available and added a top coach with the hopes that they have finally found the missing element to take them to the next level.


Coaching

Keeping it in the family is what GM Darryl Sutter thought best. So he did by hiring his brother Brent, last of the NJ Devils, to be the team’s new head coach.

Being of similar styles and having similar ideals, there should be no question as to what direction this team wants to go. The Sutters are known for their hard nosed style and the players should expect to be pushed hard by Brent as they try and avoid early playoff failure.

This team is a bit different than the one he had in Jersey. This time he will have an elite blueline to work with while he tries to squeeze some offence that does lack depth. He will at least have here in Calgary a good goalie like with the Devils to be the backbone of the team.

He tried to get the offense going in Jersey to some success, staying away from the tradtional trap hockey they’ve played. Here in Calgary it will be interesting to see what style he employs.

A key will be improving a defence that gave up 3 goals a game on average. That is unacceptable if the team has any hope of success.

Lineup:
C: Jokinen, Langkow, Conroy,
RW: Iginla, Moss, Nystrom, Prust, McGrattan
LW: Bourque, Dawes, Glencross, Sjostrom, Stuart
D: Phaneuf, Bouwmeester, Giordano, Regher, Sarich, Pardy, Stralman
G: Kiprusoff, McElhinney

Forward

Any team with Jarome Iginla on it should be in pretty good hands offensively. The team will miss the big production though from Cammellari and the depth Bertuzzi provided. Not having as many weapons could prevent them from matching their over 3 goals a game output they had last year.

Iginla is the focal point as he has been for years. His combination of size, speed, skill and strength is second to none. Sutter is likely going to lean on him even more than his previous coaches as they need their catalyst producing big numbers to boost the Flames.

There is little supporting him with unproven 20 goal men in Bourque and Moss as the next best things on the wing. Both are solid, very industrious players who are solid in support. But can they handle being top line wingers being asked to produce 25-30 goals? They may have to for the Flames to have any balanced scoring. They may need something from young Dawes who scored big in junior but has not translated that yet to the NHL.

The only true gunner the team has other than Iginla is Jokinen. The big Finn didnt have a great year but is capable of 30 plus goals, 70-80 points and will need to do at least that to make the Flames offence credible. Sutter will likely at times play him with Iginla and load up one big line, while in other cases he will split them up and allow Langkow to play with Iggy.

Langkow is another key. He isnt a big goal scorer but can produce points racking up assists. He and Jokinen form a nice 1-2 punch up the middle. The problem is only one can centre Iginla’s line and when they are not, they will need to try and make others around them better.

Players like Conroy, Sjostrom and Glencross are excellent checkers who can probably contribute goal totals in the teens. They will be counted on for key checking assignments and PK duty.

Players like Nystrom, Prust and Stuart will provide some size and sandpaper to the team and hopefully they can be quality energy players and make them hard to play against.

Defence

The addition of Bouwmeester gives the Flames one of the deepest, most talented bluelines in the league. He, Phaneuf and Regehr are 3 big minute, impact blueliners that are matched by very few.

Bouwmeester was a horse in Florida leading the league in time on ice. He is a thoroughbred capable of 30 minutes a game, running the PP, killing penalties and facing the opposing team’s top players. A terrific skater, he may be asked to jump in the play more and engage himself offensively more than he was in Florida.

Regehr is one of the better shutdown defenders in the NHL. He is a big, imposing presence and someone opponents need to be aware of with his big hitting ability. He should excel in a Sutter system that will likely aim to be stronger defensively allowing him to succeed at what he does best.

Phaneuf is a beast who needs to recover from a rather bland year last year. He too is a big hitter, but is also a big offensive contributor and key PP QB. He was not as strong defensively and hopefully Sutter will help his game. He, like the other two are challenging for roster spots at the Olympics and if he shows that hard hitting, goal scoring prowess in his earlier years, Phaneuf should be a lock for Team Canada.

Rounding out the D are big stay at home types like Sarich and Pardy who bring some more size and nastiness to the proceedings. Giordano and Stralman bring some mobility and skill to the D giving them a different look and some needed quickness.

Goal

This is a big year for Kiprusoff who needs to show more sharpness and consistency. On a lot of nights he was not sharp and let in a few more soft goals than usual.

The team may be stronger in front of him defensively now with more talent, but he needs to show that Vezina trophy form from 2006 for the Flames to do well.

Obviously the talent is there. But some nights he didnt look ready to play and that cannot happen this year. It would probably help if they had a better backup but they must live with affordable McElhinney who might get more starts.

But seeing how much Sutter leaned on Brodeur until he had no choice but to play someone else, its likely Kiprusoff is due for another 70 plus games this year.

Special Teams

The defence depth should improve both the PP and PK.

Bouwmeester gives the PP a good puck mover and another big shooter from the point. While he and Phaneuf are both LH shots, there still will be some confusion created as to whom to cover. And if opponents totally focus on just them, it leaves players like Iginla and Jokinen free down load to use their size and skill to take advantage of the man advantage.

On the PK, Bouwmeester’s presence should either allow the Flames to have a dominant duo with him and Regehr protecting the net or allow them to play the two separately giving them two legitimate shutdown players. Its a nice problem to have. If Phaneuf improves his defensive play, there is enough menacing talent on D that will make life miserable for opponents attempting to go to the net. Up front, Sjostrom, a part of the top PK unit in NY will help as he brings a speed element to the forward ranks that was lacking.

Depth:
F: Greentree, Ryder, Armstrong, Van Der Gulik, Murray, Germyn, Cunning, Tremblay, Vandermeer, Jaffray, Lundmark
D: Baldwin, Cole, Palin, Spang, Kronvall, Seabrook
G: Keetley

What’s Left
Payroll: 55.6 mil
UFA: Warrener, Roy, Eriksson, Nilson, Seitsonen
RFA:

The Flames do not have much cap space to work with and have to be careful with how they manage the cap. They suffered the embarassment late last year dressing less than a full lineup due to cap constraints. Sutter must do a better job at ensuring he has enough space for more importantly injuries and callups and if he has a few dollars to spend beyond that, then he can maybe look for a scorer to help support the offence.

Draft Picks
R1/
23 T. Erixon (D)
R3/74 R. Howse (LW)
R4/111 H. Bjorklund (RW)
R5/141 S. Bennett (LW)
R6/171 J. Ortio (G)
R7/201 G. Patterson (C)

Family is important in the Flames organization with players like Kronvall and Stuart with brothers in the NHL and of course the GM/Coach due being brothers. Erixon is the son of former NHLer Jan Erixon who was a fine defensive player and excellent penaltiy killer. The team hopes the good bloodlines will help the younger Erixon become a solid NHLer.

He like most Swedish players are very industrious, smart and can do many things well. Erixon has good size and skating ability but he isnt the big offensive guy like fellow draftees Hedman, Rundblad and Ekman-Larsson. He is more of a guy who can move the puck and play a safe solild defensive game in his own end.
Top Prospects:F: Mikael Backlund, Mitch Wahl, Andrei Taratukhin, Kris Chucko, Brett Sutter, Greg Nemisz, Juuso Puustinen, John Negrin
D: Matt Pelech, Keith Aulie, TJ Brodie
G: Leland Irving

Backlund is their top prospect and is a highly skilled centreman who is very creative and imaginative with the puck. He made his NHL debut last year and is sure to see some action down the road this coming season. The team demoted him in camp, but are hoping that he can get more use to the North American game and gain some experience on the smaller ice.

Nemisz is another skilled centreman who will once again try and help his junior team in Windsor to a championship. He has had back to back 30 goal seasons and with Windsor strong again, the team hopes for even more from Nemisz.

The D is looking very big with 6’6 Aulie and 6’5 Pelech possibly on the cusp of the NHL. They would like Aulie to get some extensive seasoning after finishing up his Jr career. Pelech looked ready in a short 5 game trial last year but with the depth on D, its best he gets lots of ice time on the farm.

The team is still high on Irving in goal even though he is sort of buried behind Kiprusoff. He will begin his 2nd AHL campaign and may get his first NHL start this year. The team though is more than happy to see him gain experience and get lots of playing time in Abbotsford.

Outlook: The Flames are built to win and have a ton of high priced, big name talent to do it. Sutter should be a big help to improve the team’s defensive play but they really need Kiprusoff to deliver better than he did last year. Will they score enough goals is another question but if they can keep some more out, that may be enough to withstand some of the losses they had up front. Its a big year in Calgary. They got close 5 years ago and need to get close to that again or else these Flames will be doused for good.


One Response to Flames Reload To Challenge Out West

  1. Kramer says:

    Bouwmeester is not happy with the food in Calgary.

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