Rebuild soldiers on in Cow Town
TJ Galiardi, David Jones, Shane O’Brien, Kris Russell.
Roman Cervenka, Cory Sarich, Alex Tanguay.
Last year: The shortened 2013 season began with some oddities and ended with a reality that had been facing the Flames and their fans for the past few years in Calgary.
The beginning of the campaign saw GM Jay Feaster go all-in on an attempt to lure holdout centre Ryan O’Reilly from the Colorado Avalanche - with a two year offer sheet worth a total of $10 million.
The Avs opted to match the deal and keep O’Reilly … which was a good thing for the Flames since they may not have landed O’Reilly regardless. After playing with Magnitogorsk during the lockout, O’Reilly would have been subject to waivers had the offer sheet been successful. The result would have been disastrous, with the Flames surrendering a first- and third-round pick for the right to lose O’Reilly via the waiver wire.
Without O’Reilly, the season chugged along. The Flames played average hockey, a win below .500 by late March. They were not out of it, mathematically, but on March 24, having lost six of nine, they realized that the time had come to end an ear.
Captain Jarome Iginla – facing unrestricted free agency in the off-season – had reached the end of the line for a club which was facing a fourth consecutive season finishing out of the playoffs.
The time had come to deal Iggy, yet even that didn’t go smoothly for the Flames. On March 27 Feaster worked the phones trying to make a franchise-altering deal. The Boston Bruins – believing they had a deal in place – kept Matt Bartkowski and Alexander Khokhlachev out of Boston and Providence's lineups respectively.
Then in the early morning hours, it was revealed that Iginla was a Penguin. Calgary received Ken Agostino, Ben Hanowski and a first-rounder in a deal so surprising to Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli that he held a press conference the following day stating: "We believed we had a deal."
Jay Bouwmeester would follow Iginla out of Calgary a few days later and the team would attempt to move another franchise face in goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff until he expressed no desire to be dealt.
The Flames reeled off five losses in a row immediately following Iginla’s departure, and by time the season ended they had fallen below their provincial rivals from Edmonton to finish with the league’s sixth-worst record.
This Year: The first few months “after Iggy” have already been tumultuous for Calgary.
As Chicago and Boston squared off for the Stanley Cup, Alberta was hit with devastating floods, putting the Saddledome partially underwater and forcing the evacuation of some 100,000 people.
As Calgary set about rebuilding the City, Feaster set about the tough task of rebuilding the Flames.
From The Insider
Check out TSN Hockey Insider Bob McKenzie's take on the Calgary Flames.
On the future front, Feaster used his stockpile of draft picks to try to recoup some talent to one day lead the Flames back to NHL relevancy while adding veteran pieces through the trade market to help the Flames compete in 2013-14.
Feaster turned to his Western Conference counterparts, swinging a four-player deal with the Avalanche that netted the Flames two-time 20-goal scorer David Jones. Feaster then added depth both up front and on D, acquiring Kris Russell from St. Louis and Sharks forward TJ Galiardi.
The Flames would hold their biggest off-season acquisition until the end of summer, however, unveiling Brian Burke as the team's new president of hockey operations to the surprise of many on Sept. 5.
The team's fortunes this season will really be tied to the youth on the roster and how they develop as NHLers.
If Sven Baertschi - and perhaps Sean Monahan - can break out in their first full NHL campaigns, then the Flames might be able to use a comprehensive team effort to compete night-to-night. However, for the team to hope to compete it needs max efficiency from its existing core.
If Mike Cammalleri, Lee Stempniak, Jiri Hudler and Curtis Glencross can’t fill the net it could be a long year for the Flames. Same goes for the back end – where Russell, Dennis Wideman, Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie will have to find a way to contain the best opposition players.
What might be most concerning, however, is the team’s goaltending. The Flames need an 18-man effort every night from the crease out to make 2013-14 a positive year, but the team will be in even worse trouble if the goaltending - led by Karri Ramo - does not hold up its end of the deal.
The Long and the Short – How will a full 82-game slate affect the Flames' performance after a shortened season?
The length of the season could be less of a concern to Calgary than a year without distractions.
With the biggest part of the Flames' fire sale now complete, the best thing for the team is if they are allowed to succeed or fail without the season becoming a circus of speculation.
If the Flames can accept their lot – for better or for worse – and sell the Calgary fans and media on this being a year to rebuild and assess the future, then the team’s season can be harmonious at the very least.
On the Books – What off-season moves did the Flames make to get themselves back in cap shape?
With Iginla, Bouwmeester and the retired Miikka Kiprusoff off the payroll, the Flames enter the year with loads of cap space.
The Flames still have both compliance buyouts in hand and three of their larger contracts – Cammalleri, Stempniak and Matt Stajan – coming off the books next summer.
They did take on a bit of extra salary in the Jones-Tanguay deal, but from a cap perspective those two forwards are effectively a wash at $3.5 million vs. $4 million over the next three years respectively.
Long Division – A look at the intriguing possibilities ahead for the Flames after realignment.
Welcome back to the West Coast, Calgary!
The Flames are back in the Pacific Division for the first time since 1998, joining former Smythe Division foes Los Angeles and San Jose, Pacific holdovers Phoenix and Anaheim and their Western Canadian counterparts from Edmonton and Vancouver.
Recent history dictates it will be a tough go for the Flames, with the Kings, Sharks and Canucks all riding playoff streaks of at least four seasons, to say nothing of the reigning Pacific champion-Ducks. It could be a hard season, but the fact that the Flames got tossed into a division with so many teams with a proven recent success rate doesn’t help.
Fantasy - Scott Cullen's Player to Watch
Sven Baertchi, LW - Still a rookie, with 25 NHL games played over the past two seasons, Baertschi finished strong in 2013, with nine points in his last seven games. It's not reasonable to expect that to carry over for an 82-game season but, for a team that lacks talent, a young player with upside, like Baertschi, ought to have no shortage of ice time and opportunity to produce.
The challenge that anyone on the Flames faces is that there aren't real proven playmaking centres on the roster -- Matt Stajan led Flames centres with 23 points in 43 games last season -- so no matter how talented Baertschi might be, it's going to be difficult to put up big numbers right away.
Click here for the latest Fantasy News!
Pressing Question: What’s your take on Calgary’s plan between the pipes?
The plan – as of the pre-season - is to ride 27-year-old Karri Ramo.
The Finn has not played an NHL game since a brief stint with Tampa Bay ended in 2008-09. His career NHL save percentage is below .900 with a career goals-against average of 3.35.
Ramo has been a standout the past three seasons with Omsk of the Kontinental Hockey League, with GAAs of 2.00 or lower and save percentages north of .925 - which no doubt played a part in the Flames’ desire to acquire Ramo in the 2012 deal that also brought Cammalleri to town.
The Flames signed Ramo to a two-year, $5.8 million contract in early July, so he appears to be the guy. But which guy are they going to get?
The NHL has seen the “best goalkeeper outside North America” mantle to varying success over recent years, be it Jonas Gustavsson’s tumultuous Toronto tenure or Viktor Fasth’s breakthrough with Anaheim last season.
With only Swiss keeper Reto Berra and career backup Joey MacDonald as Ramo’s safety net, have the Flames made a sound investment on an experienced goalie just hitting his stride? Or will they be searching for solutions in the crease all year long?
- Calgary Flames Preview by Shane McNeil, TSN.ca