It's going to be another year of blockbusters and huge flops in the NHL. Which teams blew out their budgets for big name stars and gigantic special effects to score Michael Bay-levels of box office gold? Which teams are bloated action retreads and terrible sequels? Find out in Puck Daddy's 2011-12 NHL Season Previews, running throughout the month.
After missing the playoffs, then opening up the 2010-11 campaign with a record of 16-18-3 -- good for 14th in the Western Conference -- Flames GM Darryl Sutter was gently inspired to step down from his job by team president Ken King. Jay Feaster took over, and the Flames clawed back into the playoff race, missing out on the eighth spot by only three points.
Perhaps inspired by their finish, Feaster chose to keep the team mostly as-is, rather than blow it up, and there's plenty of reasons why it's the right idea. Jarome Iginla had his best season in two years, reaching the 40-goal mark for only the second time since the lockout; Rene Bourque and Curtis Glencross have established themselves as bona fide top six guys; and Mark Giordano has emerged as a top-pairing defenseman.
But there are also plenty of reasons why it's the wrong idea, chief amongst them the results of the past two seasons. The Flames have missed the playoffs two years in a row.
Will a belief in the core return the Calgary Flames to the postseason?
Feaster's largest move as Flames' GM to date came at the draft, when he moved Robyn Regehr and Ales Kotalik to Buffalo in exchange for defenseman Chris Butler and centre Paul Byron.
Also gone from the blueline are Adam Pardy and Steve Staios, whose veteran leadership on on defense will likely be replaced by Scott Hannan. After going unsigned while the big money was flying around in July, Hannan accepted a cheap, one-year deal worth $1 million on August 13. He could be a bargain.
At forward, the Flames added inconsistent but skilled winger Lee Stempniak in a trade that also sent Daymond Langkow to Phoenix, and they picked up Pierre Luc Letourneau-Leblond from the New Jersey Devils. Considering PL3 has two full names on his unnecessarily long birth certificate, one wonders if Jay Feaster thought he was two players.
At forward, the Flames are deep, especially on the wing. Returning is Alex Tanguay, after being gifted an exceedingly generous 5-year, $17.5 million extension. While some are skeptical of the deal -- especially in terms of its term -- Jarome Iginla would like to remind you that someone who sets up Jarome Iginla is someone you pay through the ass to keep.
I wish that was a direct quote.
Rounding out the wings are Alex Tanguay, Curtis Glencross, David Moss, and Lee Stempniak. While none of the four are world-beaters, all have 20-goal seasons under their belts. One assumes a team with six potential 20-goal wingers should be able to score.
That said, things are a little dicier at centre, where Olli Jokinen, Michael Backlund, Brendan Morrison, and Matt Stajan will patrol the middle. All four are capable guys, but none quite match up to the elite centres boasted by the Western Conference's powerhouses.
On defense, the Flames continues to wait for Jay Bouwmeester to play like a superstar, thereby reminding people he was once considered one of the league's best blueliners. If he were to meet some of the expectations that led to his immense contract, the Flames would go from a bubble team to a contender in a hurry.
In the meantime, Mark Giordano is the defenseman that has everyone talking after a breakout, 43-point season. Can he match those totals this year?
The blueline is rounded out with Cory Sarich, Scott Hannan, Chris Butler, and powerplay specialist Anton Babchuk.
One storyline to watch will be the play of Chris Butler. He's projected as a number five defenseman, and he'll do just fine on the bottom pairing. However, an injury to a top four guy thrusts him into a top-four role -- a job the Sabres felt he wasn't up to.
Two things would help his cause: a better season from Jay Bouwmeester in front of him, and more rest. Kiprusoff's 71 games played in 2010-11 were his lowest total since arriving in Calgary, and it looks like the team has some faith in backup Henrik Karlsson. Expect Kiprusoff to dip below 70 GP for the first time as a Flame.
"Batman Forever." A directorial change leads to some questionable decisions regarding the direction of the franchise. Will replacing Daymond Langkow's scoring with Lee Stempniak be like replacing composer Danny Elfman's scoring with Eliot Goldenthal? Will trading Robyn Regehr be Jay Feaster's "nipples on the batsuit"?
And Jarome Iginla is undoubtedly Calgary's version of Seal's "Kiss From a Rose": an absolute classic that, while forever tied to the franchise, transcends it altogether.
After Calgary's slow start, you had to know that one of the Sutters was going to get thrown overboard. Most expected it would be Brent, since his brother Darryl had firing power over him but, instead, it was Darryl that walked the plank.
Jay Feaster has retained Brent Sutter for now, but both are under a lot of pressure to make things right in Calgary. And, since Feaster doesn't have to look Brent Sutter in the eyes at Thanksgiving dinner, the Flames' bench boss will likely have a much shorter leash this time around.
Though David Moss only has 59 goals in his five-year NHL career, 20 of those goals came in 2008-09, his only full season with the team. Injuries have slowed him down since then, but he still managed 17 in only 58 games last year. A healthy season from Moss could allow the Flames forward to establish himself as a power forward on the rise.
20 goals isn't out of the question, especially if he gets another chance to centre the top line, as he did when Brendan Morrison went down with an injury last March. Expect this to happen, as Moss's showing in the middle was enough for the Flames to justify moving Daymond Langkow.
"RELEASE ME..." Alien-possessed Brent Spiner from Independence Day, can there be playoffs for the Flames? "PLAYOFFS? ... NO PLAYOFFS..."
When the Flames sent Daymond Langkow to the Phoenix Coyotes for Lee Stempniak, someone claimed that Stempniak could put up "20 goals in a bad year." Considering Stempniak only posted 19 goals last season, one wonders exactly wherefrom this line of flimflam came. Turns out the quote belonged to Don "Baloney" Maloney, the Coyotes GM that had just traded him away. Who wants to bet he used that exact same line during the trade call?
Stempniak can dangle, and a 20-goal season out of him would certainly help Calgary's cause, but considering he's only put up two 20-goal seasons in the last five years, and they came three years apart, fans and Feasters might feel misled by the time the season's over.
The 2011 NHL Heritage Classic didn't quite match the entertainment value of the Winter Classic, but that might have been because it was a complete drubbing. Still, as disappointed as some were, it was probably a ton of fun for Calgary fans.
Rene Bourque's hand-eye on the third goal is crazy. He'd probably rock a cup and ball.
A bad season from Jarome Iginla. The Flames live and die with the production of their superstar captain, and a subpar campaign from Iggy would be nigh impossible to overcome. The 34-year-old Iginla has been productive and hasn't missed a game for four seasons, which either means he's invincible or due for a setback. Let's hope it's the former, because if anything slows him down, Calgary's playoff hopes will suffer immensely.
On paper, this team should make the playoffs, but folks have been saying that for two years now. It may be time to disregard the paper. The Flames will contend in the Western Conference but, since the team remains basically the same, so too does the song.
It will come down to the wire, but the Conference has gotten a lot better and, unless Jay Bouwmeester and Miikka Kiprusoff are All-Stars again, Calgary simply hasn't. Expect the Flames to finish outside of the playoff picture.
Harrison Mooney is also the co-editor of Pass it to Bulis.