If you don’t follow the Calgary Flames that closely, you’d probably be hard-pressed to recognize the differences between last year’s team and the team heading into 2011-12. Not to say freshly announced GM Jay Feaster hasn’t done anything, in fact he played an absolute perfect hand in a very tight salary cap situation. He shipped away guys like Ales Kotalik, Robyn Regehr and Daymond Langkow, all who had large contracts they weren’t performing up to. He also locked up Curtis Glencross and Alex Tanguay to long-term deals and brought in a mix of youth and veteran presence on the blueline. In the end, the Flames now have a little over $3.6 million in cap-space heading into the season, and Feaster has made it abundantly clear he’s willing to spend that money to improve the team. Whether or not Calgary’s off-season roster tweaks can push them into a playoff spot in the insanely competitive Western conference remains to be seen.
Robyn Regehr – While you have to acknowledge Regher’s solid career as a Flame, he’s making over $4 million this season and the NHL is a business. The reality of that business is that players get older, and in an age of quick transition, puck moving hockey, Regehr’s two goals and 17 points last season aren’t worth the money. It’s time to move on and let Jay Bouwmeester hopefully take over this defence.
Ales Kotalik – Good riddens. This guy just up and forgot how to play hockey one year and is somehow making $3 million this year. How Calgary convinced Buffalo to take Kotalik along with Regehr, I’ll never know. That is all.
Daymond Langkow – Calgary traded Langkow to Phoenix for Lee Stempniak less than a week ago, and once again, it was a savvy money-saving move by Jay Feaster. Langkow, coming off a bad neck injury at age 34, is no guarantee to return to his old self. Calgary also happens to have good depth at the centre position and saved $2.9 million in the process.
Scott Hannan – Hannan signed a one year deal an late August and with no long-term risk, he might quietly be able to help fill Regehr’s shoes on the defensive end. If anything, he’s a good veteran presence on and otherwise younger defensive corps.
Lee Stempniak – Stampniak, acquired for Langkow, will likely land the right-wing of the third-line this year. He hasn’t been overly productive offensively in the past few years but plays with a lot of speed and energy . He was also good friends and roommates with Matt Stajan in Toronto.
Chris Butler – Butler came along with Clay Wilson from Buffalo in the Regehr trade. Buffalo’s 4th round pick in 2005 played only 49 games last season finishing a plus-8 with 9 points. Butler’s an NHL-ready defenceman who has play-making ability. While he’s still young, at 24, he’ll challenge for a spot out of camp, but will have a tougher time since the Hannan signing.
Clay Wilson – Regardless of Wilson’s lack of NHL experience, do not sleep on this kid. He’s been tearing up the AHL as a mobile, offensive defenceman for a few seasons now, but can never seem to stick at the NHL level. The interesting thing with Wilson is that the second year of his entry-level two-year deal is one way, so the team has some stock in his future.
It might be a surprise to some, but I think the strength of this team will really be the defence this year, and that does include Miikka Kiprusoff. Wile Jay Bouwmeester hasn’t been dazzling since he’s arrived, he’s been solid. It’s officially the first season of Mark Giordano’s $4.2 million contract to kick in and logic says he should keep improving. Whether or not Anton Babchuk pans out is yet to be seen, but he does have the potential to contribute, especially offensively after last year’s solid campaign. Don’t forget veteran Corey Sarich then add the aforementioned Scott Hannan and you’ve got a solid corps. The competition among defensemen in camp and preseason should be phenomenal this year with Chris Butler, Brett Carson, T.J. Brodie and Clay Wilson all scrapping for a spot. Competition breeds maximum efficiency.
Based off what we saw at the end of last season, Calgary certainly has the potential to work their way into a playoff spot, maybe 7th or 8th. That will largely depend on the team’s ability to stay healthy. A lot of the guys they’re heavily depending one are not getting any younger; guys like Jarome Iginla, Alex Tanguay, Olli Jokinen and Miikka Kiprusoff, who are all over 30. There’s not a lot of depth in the farm-system should the Flames get bit by the injury bug.
When Feaster took over last season on an interim basis, he began cultivating a different culture in the locker room and around the organization. We saw the team benefit from that in the back-half of last year when they pushed within 3 points of squeezing in the 8th playoff spot. Everyone had they written off by mid-season. While Feaster did a fantastic job this off-season, in the draft, and with freeing up cap-space, the Western Conference is ridiculously tough and will be better this year. They will be a bubble team again this season and if I were a betting man, I’d peg them between 8th and 10th. If they do reach the playoffs, it will hing on staying healthy. While Jarome Iginla is always going to show-up, Brent Sutter needs maximum efficiency from his role players. A few of those names are Rene Bourque, Curtis Glencross, Mikael Backlund and David Moss.
Keep watching throughout September for Fansided’s 30 teams 30 days NHL season preview. Tomorrow, check out Cardiac Cane for their Carolina Hurricanes preview. They always keep it interesting at Cardiac Cane.