Colorful characters, revered championships, staged fights ... the rink shares plenty with the squared circle. So here at Puck Daddy, we've decided to preview the 2010-11 NHL season with the help of old-school wrestling icons, images and lingo. It's a slobber-knocker, Mean Gene ...
Last Season (40-32-10; 90 points. Third in Northwest, 10th in the West)
At the start of the 2009-10 season, the Calgary Flames were coming off a 98-point season and a fifth-place finish in the conference. They lost Michael Cammalleri(notes) as a free-agent, gained Jay Bouwmeester(notes) as a prized blue-liner. They also had a new coach, Brent Sutter, that hadn't missed the playoffs during his brief tenure with the New Jersey Devils.
By Jan. 31, whatever optimism there was about the Flames had been erased by a 1-8-3 tailspin, including a 7-game losing streak. That's when GM Darryl Sutter pulled the trigger on a trade that saw Dion Phanuef and two others go to the Toronto Maple Leafs for a collection of salary dumps and complimentary players. The Flames would linger near the playoff bubble, but fall short with a 3-5-1 finish.
Also, Olli Jokinen's wife yelled at us after he was traded to the Rangers. That happened, too.
This summer, the Flames attempted to calm their fans and silence their critics giving both their beleaguered coach and GM votes of confidence and by reacquiring a fan favorite (Alex Tanguay(notes)) as well as one of the most abhorred players in recent team history in the aforementioned Mr. Jokinen.
It wasn't a good summer, PR-wise; but what might happen on the ice?
The return of Jokinen as a free agent was met with shock and ridicule during the free-agent frenzy, as he came back to the team that traded him for a 2-year, $6 million deal. The thought from Sutter, in part, was that Jokinen putting up 35 in 56 games as a $3 million player might be more palatable to fans than as a $5.5 million player.
Tanguay spent last season moving around the Tampa Bay Lightning lineup; Sutter brought him back to Calgary to play left wing with Iginla. Is he still the player that put up 81 points in 2006-07 with the Flames?
The loss of Eric Nystrom(notes) could hurt if he finds an offensive game to go along with his grunt work for the Minnesota Wild, who signed him to a 3-year deal. He was a fan favorite in Calgary, even if he never lived up to the promise of a 10th overall pick in the draft.
Christopher Higgins(notes) continued to be an enigmatic offensive player and left for the Florida Panthers. Jamal Mayers(notes), acquired in the Phaneuf trade, went to the San Jose Sharks for 1 year and $600,000.
Wrestler That Best Personifies the Team
Giant Gonzalez. Lumbering, clumsy, overpaid and underwhelming ... although dressed to look more impressive than he really ever was.
Losing Cammalleri may not have been the only factor, but Jarome Iginla's(notes) points dropped by 20 year-to-year, finishing with 69 in 2009-10. It was the lowest total in a season with 80 or more games since 1998-99 for the captain. So Sutter signed Jokinen, the center Iginla couldn't mesh with, and Tanguay, who played well with Iggy during his time in Calgary.
Matt Stajan(notes) (16 points in 27 games) saw time with Iginla last season, but should be slotted on the second line; potentially with Rene Bourque(notes) (58 points in 73 games), who broke out with a 27-goal season last year. Niklas Hagman(notes) couldn't repeat the torrid offensive game he had with the Leafs, but is a versatile forward.
The ageless Craig Conroy(notes) will be back for another season at the pivot, and Curtis Glencross(notes) should contribute his gritty offensive game again. The untradeable contract of Ales Kotalik(notes) means he could be a Flame again this season; which is, at the very least, good news for the shootout.
Two X-factors: Top prospect Mikael Backlund(notes), who had 10 points in 23 games last season but should see increased ice time this year; and Daymond Langkow(notes), the standout center who is trying to come back from fractured vertebrae in his neck.
Bouwmeester wasn't a bust in the first year of his 5-year contract with a $6.68 million cap hit, but he was certainly underwhelming. His point total was the smallest since his sophomore season in 2003-04, and his power-play numbers (12 points) were the lowest since 2006-07. He was paired with Mark Giordano(notes) and with Cory Sarich(notes) last season before playing with veteran defensive defenseman Steve Staios(notes), who was acquired in a controversial move at the deadline.
Robyn Regehr(notes) had to deal with another offseason of trade scuttlebutt that never came to pass. He's a solid as they come, though he'll never get full marks from critics because it's difficult to quantify his intangibles. The same could be said of Ian White(notes), the former Leafs fan favorite who signed a 1-year extension with Calgary and can play both defense and up front.
It was a quiet comeback season for Miikka Kiprusoff(notes) after his stats (and his body) ballooned in 2008-09. Better conditioned, better focused, Kiprusoff posted a .920 save percentage and a 2.31 GAA, his best numbers since 2005-06, to go along with four shutouts. Impressive when you consider the personnel changes and lack of offense in front of him.
Match We'd Pay To Watch
THE SUTTER BATTLE ROYALE! Flames GM Darryl Sutter, Coach Brent Sutter, scout Ron Sutter, director of player personnel Duane Sutter, forward Brett Sutter(notes) ... as well as Phoenix scout Rich Sutter, Carolina forward Brandon Sutter(notes), former NHL coach Brian Sutter ... and a masked man who later in the match is revealed to be Ryan Suter(notes) of the Predators, tired of being mistakenly lumped in with this family.
Backlund, if only because he has so much offensive upside (32 points in 54 games in the AHL last season). He skated with Kotalik and Bourque last season, as saw time with Iginla to get his skates wet in the NHL. He averaged 1:12 on the power play in 23 games; will he see more special teams time this season?
Tanguay. It all depends on whether his season in hell with the Lightning was a fluke or the continuation of a steeper decline. The good news is that he played 80 games after an injury-filled year in Montreal. Can he hit at least 50 points again with Iggy and Olli?
We'd call Rene Boruque's toe-drag, fake shot, spin-o-rama bank shot unstoppable, but "un-repeatable" might be just as applicable a term.
The Flames were 26th in the NHL on the power play (16 percent) and 15th on the kill (82.3 percent). If Bouwmeester rebounds and the Flames can find a bit more offensive chemistry up front, the former number can improve; the latter is probably about right for this collection, although Langkow's health could affect both units.
That Darryl Sutter received a vote of confidence from ownership made some Flames fans enraged, and the team's roster and cap situation at the moment gives them ample justification for those feelings. It's not that Sutter made a mess of the Flames' roster; it's that there's little confidence he can repair it.
Brent Sutter squeezed a lot of offense out of the Devils' rosters he coached, but last season's Flames team couldn't repeat the feat. He likes the offseason moves they made offensively, which is probably a more proactive move than throwing an empty beer bottle against a wall and screaming "we're so [expletive'd]."
2010-11 Preseason Report Card:
Special Teams: C-
Management: D+ (If only for headlines like this.)
Main Event or Dark Match? (Prediction)
Iginla will be better. Bouwmeester will be better. The locker room will be better. Kiprusoff will be Kiprusoff.
The Flames will not be as bad as their offseason moves make one believe they'll be. But they'll also not be a playoff team. If nothing else, the Flames are still better than the Minnesota Wild and the Edmonton Oilers, so third place in the division by default isn't outlandish. If the Colorado Avalanche come back down to earth, that's even more possible points to pad the total.
So it should be the bubble again for the Flames. And, again, they'll be on the outside looking in.
Entrance Music: Flames? You want Flames? Well, nothing accompanies flames better than the entrance theme for Kane, the Undertaker's fake brother and a former dentist.
- Brent Sutter