September's finally here. And given how slowly teams are coming together, we decided to put off the previews until September this time. We go in alphabetical order because hey, why not? We'll be doing this until September ends. With that said here we go.
And now, the Calgary Flames.
Team M.O.: The team has always been known as one of the toughest teams in the Western Conference. Though the team was more of a "run-and-gun" type of team in the past, the team will likely start putting more focus on defense to keep in line with what's happening in the league. Nevertheless, teams will know when they're playing the Flames because they have a balanced group of forwards and defenders; not to mention one of the best goaltenders in the league.
Last Season: Tenth in the Western Conference and out of the playoffs. The team had some chemistry issues throughout the season and had to change directions midway through through a series of trades involving the Toronto Maple Leafs and the New York Rangers. However, they're going into this season with not only pieces they acquired before the trade deadline, but even a few they've given up along the way too.
Offense: If there were ever two people who ever needed to find each other to salvage their hockey careers, it was Olli Jokinen and Alex Tanguay. Jokinen was taking heat for not being able to do what was needed of him, but many teams overlooked the fact that he was a goal-scoring centerman, not one of the playmaking variety. Tanguay, meanwhile, hasn't done as well since leaving Calgary (going from an 80 point season when he left to a sub-40 point season last year) and would stand to benefit from dishing passes to two guys who can score goals. Put them on a line with Jarome Iginla (who can do everything right) and you have a unit that could conceivably get 80 points or better. What's more is when you look at the next three scoring forwards (Rene Bourque, Matt Stajan, and Nikas Hagman) you see a second scoring unit that should generate an additional 50-60 points. Daymond Langkow would be a better option, but he's still recovering from his freak injury that shattered a vertebrae. Due to his injury, his salary, and the Flames' own salary cap concerns, it would be better for everyone for him to start off the season on the IR while they ensure his complete recovery/figure out who to move to make the salary cap work. Alex Kosalik is one of the people suggested to move, so he'll have to make the most of whatever ice time is given to remain with the Flames in a Top-9 forward role. If he stuck around, I could see him being on a line with Curtis Glencross and either Stajan or Langkow, with that unit being good for around 30-40 points.
With the Flames being able to roll seemingly three scoring lines, they're free to figure out how they'll want to use their last five forwards. No doubt will Tim Jackman and Raitias Ivanans hold two of those spots; Jackman's a nasty checking winger while Ivanans is a pure enforcer. David Moss will be in that group of forwards but doesn't seem as effective at defense as he is at offense. Michael Backlund will get a good look at camp, yet Craig Conroy could reasonably steal the job from him; it should be a good competition. If the team has room for another forward, Ryan Stone will likely get the nod.
There's really nothing more the team can do at this point in terms of addition; they're solid as is.
Defense: So Jay Bouwmeester wanted to play in a market where "hockey mattered" and he got his wish by going from the Florida Panthers to the Flames. He apparently got more than he bargained for, as he put up his lowest point totals since the lockout ended. If he can get stronger between the ears, he'll dominate for the Flames like he was able to for the Panthers. Robyn Regehr may not have had the highest plus/minus in recent history (he's usually double digits in that department) but he was still a plus player on a non-playoff team and can still provide the team with a premier level of defense. Mark Giordano managed to thrive on the team last season, putting up 30 points while Ian White remained productive after being traded from Toronto; both should play an effective role as good puck-moving defensemen on a team that has such a deep corps of forwards. Cory Sarich may have tumbled down the depth chart due to injuries but still provides the team with a solid defender who drops the mitts when he has to. One has to wonder why the team decided to take on Steve Staios's contract from the Edmonton Oilers; though a solid defender, he seems redundant and his contract was one of the last things the team needed. Adam Pardy might not be a house hold name in the NHL, but he's definitely a solid depth option and will figure to make the team.
Calgary's best bet would be addition through subtraction. Though Staios would be the most ideal to move, other teams would be more likely to take on either White or Sarich (Giordano won't be moved because the Flames are getting excellent value out of him.) If one of those guys could be sent off to a team that needs defensive help (hello Anaheim) then they could either take a depth defender back in trade or give Matt Pelech the opportunity to make the team.
Goaltending: While Miikka Kiprusoff is the undisputed starter for this team, he's appeared in over 70 games for each season since the lockout; and each of those seasons ended in either a Conference Quarterfinals exit or a non-playoff berth. While Henrik Karlsson is making the team for no other reason than his salary cap hit ($500,000), he has been excellent for the past two seasons that he's played in the Swedish Elitserien. If he can seamlessly adjust to the North American-sized rinks, the Flames may have the luxury of not having to play Kiprusoff so much and extend his effectiveness deeper into the post-season than they have in the recent past.
Management: A lot of people give Darryl Sutter hell for the moves he's made but I think he's put together a fine squad this year and will do well once he gets his salary cap issues figured out. If anything, the heat's now on coach/younger brother Brent Sutter to get a high-caliber team to perform the way on the ice as they should on paper. Might Darryl have to fire his own brother? Flames fans should hope it doesn't have to come down to that.
Prediction: Second in the Northwest Division and in the playoffs.
It's hard to be the best when you're in the same division as the Vancouver Canucks but it's hard to be the worst when you're in the same division as the Edmonton Oilers. I don't think the Minnesota Wild have improved significantly enough to be better than the Flames while the Colorado Avalanche may have devolved since last season (they traded a great scoring forward for a kid with concussion and attitude problems.) Put it together and while they may not crack the top-four teams in the conference, they should at least break one of the 5-8 spots and make the playoffs. How deep they can go relies on how much they're forced to lean on Kiprusoff during the regular season.