Next in the Pacific Division we have the Calgary Flames. Most of the feelings I have for the fans of the Flames has to do with the disservice that was done to them over the last several years. Before the start of last season, there were a lot of question marks that were left over after Miikka Kriprusoff retired ( I might add a season too late) and facing a new season without their former franchise player Jerome Iginla. I put the majority of these problems on the shoulders of Jay Feaster former GM of the Flames. Over the years he squandered draft picks to stay competitive in the hunt for playoff spots, with a hope of "Quicksilver" if they got in the playoffs to win a Cup for Iggy. They haven't been good enough since the missed season in 2005 and nobody told Feaster. Bad free agent signings like Ollie Jokinnnen, Mike Cammalleri, Alex Tanguay and assorted free wheeling defensemen such as Dennis Wideman. In my opinion pretty much all busts. They rode Kriprusoff to death and injury his last four season and failed to develop any real talent behind him, even though the end was in sight for quite a while. Some of the bright spots were Mark Giordano who turning into a world class talent and recent year draft picks of Johnny Guadreau and Sean Monahan. I'm not usually in favor of small forwards like Guadreau but seeing him develop locally in college I'm a fan and he has that Theo Fleury fire about him.
Last year the Flames started the big changes by bringing in Brian Burke as President and Director of Hockey Operations. Instead of waiting until early in the season, he should have fired Feaster immediately rather than confuse the players about the direction the team was headed. Brad Treliving was named GM in his place and surprising nobody, he seems the perfect mouth piece for Burke and when filmed together, Burke does all the talking and Treliving all the yes head nodding. I can't imagine it's a comforting thought to place your franchise into the hands of Brian Burke, but if you want true change and an organization hit man, he's the guy to get it done.
Goaltending: Jonus hiller will be the main man between the pipes this year and is an upgrade of the make do talent since Kriprusoff left. Karri Ramo is a capable backup and should see some 25-30 starts and finally get a chance to develop at a reasonable pace. Together if injuries are avoided, enough to form tandem that should finish 17-23rd in the Jennings placement.
Defensemen: Giordano should start to elevate eyebrows with his complete game package. Probably should have been a dark horse candidate for the Norris last year and might be this year if he can stay healthy. Giordano helps in the development of T J Brodie by being on the ice with him as much as possible. Last year things start going south as soon as these two sat on the bench for a breather. Deryk Engelland was brought in to be that stay at home, physically imposing 5th defenseman and should be a good fit. Ladislav Smid should benefit from his arrival and seems a natural pairing in the final minutes of periods and short handed as the shutdown guys. This means Kris Russell will be paired with Wideman, who has up games and down games. One of the most talented and inconsistent talents to patrol a blue line over the years. At any rate, it will be harder to come at Calgary's goalies this year and your going to have to pay a physical price which should please Burke no end as he likes tough physical hockey.
Forwards: Well finally youth and veterans should blend together for the first time in a quite a while. The promise and skill of Guadreau and Monahan with Hudler and Glencross who I feel is an under rated two way player. Depth in the bottom 9 with Raymond Mason and Brandon Bollig should provide leadership from the locker room and a winning attitude with intense compete levels. I expect a better power play with a first squad and the second squad is going to have to try mixing and matching. The Penalty Kill will be better for the additions of Bollig and Mason. I still wonder where Joe Colburne fits on this roster, with his size he should be a dominant face-off man, but he seems stuck between skill and uncertain effort.
I think Calgary wins the battle of Alberta this year on grit. But it's another disappointing season out of the playoffs while they start the slow climb up to significant performance. As a sidebar with Edmonton and Calgary separated by about 200 miles, anyone else ever wonder if that challenge to a barn fight might finally happen between Brian Burke and Kevin Lowe. Last I heard they don't speak or acknowledge one another still.
Until Next Time!