2008-09 Team Preview: Calgary Flames
Jamie Sabau/NHLI/Getty Images
OUR EXPERT'S TAKE
By Pierre LeBrunThe Calgary Flames have made the playoffs three straight seasons since the lockout, but have failed to advance to the second round.
Making the postseason every year means there's a pretty good core. Not winning a playoff series means there needs to be some level of change.
GM Darryl Sutter tried to walk that fine line -- making some changes without blowing up the core. This is still a team that's about star winger Jarome Iginla, top defensemen Dion Phaneuf and Robyn Regehr, and former Vezina Trophy winner Miikka Kiprusoff.
Gone are forwards Alex Tanguay, Kristian Huselius, Stephane Yelle and Owen Nolan, and defenseman David Hale. Replacing them are Mike Cammalleri, Todd Bertuzzi, Curtis Glencross, Rene Bourque and tough guy Andre Roy.
"I definitely like the moves we've made," Phaneuf told ESPN.com. "You never like to see guys get moved; we have a pretty tight-knit group of guys. When you lose a few guys in the offseason, it's not something you like. But we made some real good acquisitions I think that are definitely going to help us."
The Flames should contend again for the division title, but it's not clear yet whether the offseason changes were lateral moves or a real improvement.
Maybe it's because of their gritty run to the Stanley Cup in 2004, but the Flames continue to be typecast as a team that can't score but wins on defense and goaltending. The reality is that the offense has been there since the lockout and the Flames were tied for fifth best in the Western Conference with 276 goals last season.
That said, they lost a pair of top-six forwards in Huselius (66 points last season) and Tanguay (58 points). Cammalleri should be good for 60 or 70 points, but the key is whether Bertuzzi can deliver. The 33-year-old winger had 40 points last season after missing most of the 2006-07 campaign with injury. The question is whether he puts up enough points to adequately replace Tanguay or Huselius or he puts up another 40-point season, which essentially means he's replacing Nolan (32 points).
On the surface, it appears this is a group of forwards that got speedier and grittier, but lost a touch of offensive touch.
The group is led by the 23-year-old star Phaneuf, who already has piled up 159 points in only three NHL seasons. His career-best 60 points last season warranted his first Norris Trophy nomination. There will be more of those in years to come, not to mention a possible berth on the 2010 Canadian Olympic team.
"It's definitely a great honor to have been nominated for the Norris last year," said Phaneuf. "And when you hear your name mentioned for the 2010 Olympic team, that's a huge honor, as well. But that is still a ways away and I know I have to keep getting better and I have to keep growing as a player. I still have lots to learn."
He's learned from the likes of Regehr, a leader and rock on Calgary's blue line. Adrian Aucoin, Rhett Warrener, Anders Eriksson, Cory Sarich, Jim Vandermeer and Mark Giordano complete a solid if unspectacular group.
Here's another key to the Flames' season. For as much as Kiprusoff has been hailed in recent seasons for his amazing play, the reality is that it dropped off last season. His 2.69 GAA and .906 save percentage did not crack the top 25 in either category. Getting pulled in Game 7 of Calgary's first-round loss to San Jose last spring wasn't too impressive, either. He's got to get back to his old form for the Flames to have any chance of making a deeper run.
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
FROM INSIDE THE GM'S BRAIN ...
By Jay FeasterThe biggest improvement in Calgary is the fact that an already tough, intimidating team has become even tougher with the additions of Todd Bertuzzi and Andre Roy. Newcomers Mike Cammalleri, Rene Bourque and Curtis Glencross will boost the offense and will do so in a fashion more consistent with Calgary's blue-collar image.
The Flames already boast one of the toughest blue lines in the game with rising star Dion Phaneuf, Robyn Regehr, former Stanley Cup champion and hard-hitter Cory Sarich and tough Jim Vandermeer. Add the bomb of a shho that Adrian Aucoin unloads from the point, and this group of defensemen is lethal. Miikka Kiprusoff has struggled a bit the past two seasons, but he remains one of the game's elite goaltenders. Look for him to have a significant bounce-back season.
Jarome Iginla is the leader, face and heart and soul of this team. One of the best players in the game, he has the ability to carry this club on his back for extended stretches. Dustin Boyd and Eric Nystrom are high-profile youngsters who will continue to contribute on both sides of the puck. This team will win the division.
Jay Feaster served as general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning from 2001-02 season before resigning last season. He is a contributor to ESPN.com.
• Flames Home
• 2008-09 Schedule
• Complete Roster
• Search: Flames IN REVIEW
• Record: 42-30-10
• Division: Third in the Northwest
• Conference: Seventh in the West
• Playoffs: Ousted in first round vs. SJ
• A season-long, seven-game trek March 3 to March 14 with games all in the Eastern time zone -- Ottawa, Philadelphia, Carolina, Atlanta, New Jersey, Detroit and Toronto.
Experience: 19 years
Stanley Cup titles: 1
• Mike Keenan is back for another season after his stunning hiring a summer ago. His most outlandish act came in the final game of the season, when he pulled Kiprusoff during Game 7 of Calgary's first-round loss to San Jose. We're not sure it was a move that was totally welcomed by his players. Still, it appears Keenan and Kiprusoff made amends in the offseason and all is well again until the first hook! GM Darryl Sutter's offseason changes have made this more of a Keenan-esque team, grittier to be sure. Anything short of reaching the second round, however, could possibly end the Keenan experiment in Calgary.
STARTING FIVE ... AS WE SEE ITF -- Todd Bertuzzi
• Arrived from Anaheim via free agency. He has a believer in coach Mike Keenan, who had him in Vancouver.
F -- Daymond Langkow
• Entering his fourth season with the Flames. Back-to-back, 30-goal seasons for the first time in his career. He's got it going at 31.
F -- Jarome Iginla
• Entering his 12th season with Calgary. The Flames captain produced another doozy last season -- 50 goals, 98 points and was a plus-27. Expect more of the same rarefied air this season.
D -- Dion Phaneuf
• Entering his fourth season with the Flames. Norris Trophy nominee, nice contract and your girlfriend is a Hollywood actress. Tough life, huh?
D -- Robyn Regehr
• Entering his ninth season with the Flames. Cerebral blue-line leader remains underrated as one of the NHL's top shut-down guys.
Answer: When it comes to Bertuzzi, we're not just talking points. Not even taking into account the baggage that comes from the Steve Moore incident, Bertuzzi was immensely disliked by Flames fans because he was so darned good earlier this decade for the rival Vancouver Canucks. Only one thing can make this a peaceful situation: a bounce-back offensive season.