2009-10 Team Preview: Calgary Flames
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10 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE FLAMES
By Pierre LeBrun
Can we rewind the clock for a moment?
The Flames scratched and clawed their way to a home-ice berth in the tough Western Conference last spring only to lose to the up-and-coming Chicago Blackhawks. That one still stings Flames GM Darryl Sutter.
The point is, it's not about just making the playoffs in Calgary. The goal is higher than that.
"It's nice for teams to want to make the playoffs, but there's also some who want to go beyond that, and I'd like to think we're one of them," Sutter told ESPN.com.
He's assembled a squad that may very well go a few playoff rounds this season.
Here are 10 things you need to know about the Flames heading into the new season:
1. Welcome, Mr. Bouwmeester
It was clear from the onset of last season's training camp that Jay Bouwmeester was not going to remain a Florida Panther past the 2008-09 season. That didn't mean he wasn't asked about it every single day.
"You just dealt with it," said Calgary's blockbuster acquisition of the summer. "It's one of those things where you answered the same question over and over and over again. And the answer never changed. But it is nice to have all that settled now."
He's in a hockey-mad market now. With that comes a bigger spotlight and more pressure, but he mused during an interview with ESPN.com that it would beat "playing in front of 5,000 people against Atlanta on a Tuesday night."
"It's exciting," Bouwmeester said. "It's a change and hopefully a good change. There are a lot of positives about it. My family is close by and they're excited about it."
Of course, he's from Edmonton, not Calgary. The Battle of Alberta runs deep among hockey fans in the Canadian province. How did an Edmonton boy end up in Calgary?
"The whole Edmonton-Calgary thing, you take some ribbing from your friends," Bouwmeester said with a laugh. "But it's all good."
2. Blue-line heaven
Let's put it this way, when an NHL team has three of its defensemen attending the Canadian Olympic camp, you know it's good. Bouwmeester, Dion Phaneuf and Robyn Regehr form a three-headed monster that's hard to beat in the NHL.
"Everyone always talks about the three guys, but I think we're deep as a group on the blue line," Bouwmeester said. "You look at a guy like Cory Sarich, for example, he's a good player, and Mark Giordano."
3. But Phaneuf
Phaneuf dipped from 60 points and a plus-12 rating in 2007-08 to 47 points and a minus-11 rating last season, and local observers believe his overall game regressed. The hope is that under new coach Brent Sutter, whom Phaneuf played for in junior, he'll bounce back.
4. Killing Kipper
Flames netminder Miikka Kiprusoff played 76 games for former coach Mike Keenan last season, the fourth consecutive season he played at least 74 games. There are those who believe he's been worn down by the immense work load.
"He can't play 70-plus games, that's too many," Darryl Sutter told us. "That's not a fault of Mike's, either. You can't pin that on Mike. That's the team as a group getting off to a bad start last year [and being forced to play him]."
So that plan, at this point, is for backup Curtis McElhinney to see the net a little more often.
5. Secondary scoring
With the offseason losses of top-six forwards Mike Cammalleri and Todd Bertuzzi, and no real "name" replacements for them, there's some concern Calgary might lack in offensive depth. The top line should feature Olli Jokinen, captain Jarome Iginla and Rene Bourque, with a second line possibly of Daymond Langkow between Nigel Dawes and David Moss. Bourque and Moss both had career years last season, and the Flames can't afford for them to regress.
6. Power play
The Flames were only 21st on the power play last season, and that's despite having Cammalleri's 19 power-play goals, tied for second in the NHL. Now he's gone, and the Flames will need newcomer Bouwmeester and a full season of Jokinen to make up the difference.
"Cammy was real good for us there," Sutter said. "But we'll just have a different look now. Jokinen was real good for us after coming over last season."
7. Curtis who?
One of the better signings from last season was Curtis Glencross, a fast-skating forward who can play on all four lines for the Flames. He put up a career-high 40 points (13-27) with a plus-14 rating.
8. Pretty PK
The Flames were fourth in the NHL in penalty killing with an 83.4 success rate last season, a huge improvement over the 20th-ranked unit from 2007-08. Regehr was a huge part of the team's PK efforts last season, leading the club in short-handed ice time. The second player on that list is gone: Wayne Primeau.
9. A scheduling note
The Flames will be tested during a six-game road trip from Nov. 27-Dec. 7, with stops in Detroit, Columbus, Nashville, Phoenix, San Jose and Los Angeles.
10. Olympic exposure
If there's a lock on this team for the Olympics, it's certainly Iginla, who will be headed to his third Games after winning gold with Canada in Salt Lake City in 2002. Bouwmeester, Regehr and Phaneuf are also Canadian team hopefuls, while Jokinen will surely be skating for Finland again after grabbing a silver medal at the 2006 Games. Kiprusoff is also in the mix for the Finns.
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
• Record: 46-30-6
• Division: Second in the Northwest
• Conference: Fifth in the West
• Playoffs: Ousted in first round by Chicago
• What's not to love about a defense anchored by a top three of Bouwmeester, Regehr and Phaneuf? Stanley Cup or bust. The Flames win the Northwest Division and finish second in the Western Conference.
NORTHWEST DIVISION PREVIEW
Experience: Entering third NHL season
Stanley Cup titles: 0
• The GM thought about going behind the bench again himself, but instead turned to his younger brother Brent, who left New Jersey after two seasons to be closer to his Alberta home.
"We're going to be a really young team, the youngest we've been in a while," Darryl Sutter said. "When I looked at the coaching position, I looked at someone that could get the most out of our stars, but also someone that would need to work with young players, and that's Brent."
STARTING FIVE ... AS WE SEE IT
F -- Rene Bourque
• Coming off a career-high 21-goal, 40-point campaign.
F -- Olli Jokinen
• His 57 points last season were his lowest tally in seven seasons.
F -- Jarome Iginla
• The captain has seven consecutive seasons of 35 or more goals.
D -- Jay Bouwmeester
• Big contract, more spotlight, you are labeled as the missing piece -- no pressure, right?
D -- Robyn Regehr
• Continues to be a vastly underrated top-four defenseman. He's as good defensively as they come.
Best Bet: Olli Jokinen, F: Turmoil in Florida over his future and new surroundings in Calgary led to Jokinen's worst season since 2001-02, but here's calling for a huge bounce back from the powerful Finnish center. First, he'll be comfortable with his teammates this season. Secondly, he gets to play consistently with Jarome Iginla. Third, a familiar face in Jay Bouwmeester will be on the blue line. Look for Jokinen to, at worst, return to the 84 points he averaged over his final three full seasons in Miami.
Risky Move: Dion Phaneuf, D: Phaneuf had some high expectations going into last season, but posted a career-worst 11 goals and 47 points, while his plus/minus inverted itself to minus-11 from his previous plus-12. There was all kinds of talk about nagging injuries hampering Phaneuf's ability to play his hard-nosed style of game, but none of the injuries has been confirmed. Either way, a new coach and new defensive partner have us excited for a bounce-back season for Phaneuf.• Player projections | 2009-10 Fantasy Draft Kit
INSIDE THE PROJECTIONS
Puck Prospectus uses its VUKOTA projection system to evaluate every NHL team in pivotal categories, while Will Carroll and E.J. Hradek weigh in on injuries and intangibles, respectively. Get an in-depth look at a new category every weekday leading up to the unveiling of The Mag's full rankings.
Where will the Calgary Flames finish this season in Northwest Division?
Make your 2009-10 picks here.