With the end of one era comes the beginning of something new, and the Flames are hoping to rejuvenate their core around some exciting younger players. There are still a lot of question marks on the roster, and they certainly won’t compete for a division title this year, but the development of the organization’s next generation will be something to watch in the upcoming season(s).
There are a few elder statesmen left on the Flames’ roster that will do their best to make the team competitive each night and lead the up-and-coming prospects into the future of the organization. Curtis Glencross and Mike Cammalleri, who will each wear the “A” on their chest this year, will be surrounded by players nearly a full decade younger than them.
Flames GM Jay Feaster made a trade to add depth up front this summer, acquiring David Jones and defenseman Shane O’Brien from the Colorado Avalanche in a deal that sent veterans Cory Sarich and Alex Tanguay to Denver. Jones, Lee Stempniak and Jiri Hudler will provide an additional veteran presence this season.
Stempniak is coming off his best season since he was in St. Louis in 2006-07. He scored nine goals and added 23 assists in only 47 games last year, eclipsing his point total from 61 games the prior season. If he can get be a 20-goal scorer for the Flames this year it would be a nice boost for the offense.
Last season, the Flames average 2.67 goals per game, which ranked 12th in the NHL and ahead of the Rangers, Jets, Oilers, Canucks and Stanley Cup finalist Bruins. If they can continue scoring, they’ll compete many nights. One area of significant concern is at the dot, where Calgary ranked 28th in the league last year (46.6 percent).
Monahan, Baertschi and Colborne will join Mikael Backlund, 24, as the heart of the organization’s rebuild. Fans might also get to see prospect center Max Reinhart at some point this year; he’ll begin the season in the AHL.
While scoring wasn’t necessarily the problem every night in Calgary, their defense left a great deal to be desired. Only the Florida Panthers (0.57) had a lower 5-on-5 goals for/against ratio than the Flames (0.68), and the Flames’ 3.27 goals against average as a team ranked 28th in the league (ahead of only Carolina and, again, Florida).
The Flames passed their captaincy to Mark Giordano this year, who turns 30 on Oct. 3 and will eclipse 400 games played with the Flames in October as well. He will be joined on the blue line in Calgary this year by Dennis Wideman, Brodie, O’Brien and Kris Russell as Calgary looks to provide better play in front of whomever is in net for them this season.
As Kiprusoff officially walked away at the end of the summer, the Flames were left with more than just a marketing problem: they’ll start the season with Joey McDonald and Karri Ramo as their goaltending tandem.
McDonald, who will turn 34 in February, has played in 122 games with the Red Wings, Bruins, Islanders and Maple Leafs over parts of seven NHL seasons. He saw action in 21 with Calgary last year, winning eight with a .902 save percentage.
Ramo, 27, has 48 NHL games on his resume, and has been in the KHL since the 2008-09 season. He last played in the NHL with Tampa in the 2008-09 season, but had a very good season last year in Russia (26-9-0, 2.00, 4 shutouts).
The questions between the pipes will put more pressure on the Flames’ veteran defensemen to play well in front.
Special teams weren’t a significant problem for the Flames last year, and likely won’t be awful this year either. The Flames ranked ninth in the league on power play (20 percent) and 14th on penalty kill (81.5 percent).
While the Flames were effective on both special teams, the opportunities on both were limited. They were tied with Columbus for 19th in the league in power play opportunities with only 155 last year, and tied with Florida with the tenth-fewest number of penalties against last year (151).
The addition of Jones up front could impact both special teams; he saw a fair amount of action on both power play and penalty kill in Denver last year. The Flames will need Cammalleri and Hudler, both of whom scored five power play goals last season, to remain impact players while they have the advantage in the coming campaign.
An argument has been made by some that the job done rebuilding the Saddledome after the awful floods earlier this year has been more impressive than the job management has done trying to rebuild the roster. Truly, the work done to fix the arena has been magnificent.
But the arena won’t win games for the Flames this year, and the overwhelming lack of elite players across the roster will keep them on the outside of the playoff picture this year. The new-look Pacific Division is too deep and the top teams are too good for the Flames to be considered a postseason candidate… yet.
The bigger question for the Flames is how close they can get to the top overall draft pick. Stockpiling picks, and using them wisely, will help turn the page from the Iginla and Kiprusoff generation in Calgary to the next.
Tab Bamford is the Chicago Correspondent and a Columnist for The Fourth Period.