Welcome back to Puck Drop: NHL Preview 2013-14, where our hockey department gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season. Check back often as new teams are added to our Puck Drop page. Today we take a look at the 2013-14 Calgary Flames.
If the Flames organization had a slogan in 2013, it was undoubtedly “one step forward, two steps back”. Calgary entered the season with playoffs dreams, after narrowly missing the post-season the year before, thanks to the installation of former Stanley Cup winner Bob Hartley as head coach. However, the team stumbled out of the gate, winning only two of their first seven games, an early hole that they weren’t able to climb out of for the rest of the year.
Injuries to starting goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff, as well as young forwards Mikael Backlund and Sven Baertschi certainly didn’t help. Compounding matters was captain Jarome Iginla’s now infamous slow start. By February the winger had only scored two goals in the last 28 games, dating back to the previous season. Though the Flames would flirt with the .500 mark for the rest of the year, it soon became apparent to GM Jay Feaster that the team was nowhere near as good as the organization hoped it would be, and the fire sale began.
First and foremost was the trade that everyone saw coming, yet nobody dared to believe, as Iginla was sent packing to Pittsburgh in a deal that gave the Flames a somewhat underwhelming return. Iginla was the face of the franchise for his 17 years in Calgary, and there could be no larger indication that the Flames were looking to turn the page on a new era. The Flames also shipped off one of their top defensemen in the form of Jay Bouwmeester to St. Louis, as it became apparent the rebuild was in full effect.
Predictably, the Flames suffered mightily after that, going 6-10 post trade deadline to ultimately finish 13th in the Western Conference, missing the playoffs for a fourth straight season.
The offseason for the Flames was highlighted by an unusual and catastrophic event that actually had nothing to do with hockey. Alberta suffered massive floods during the summer, and Calgary was not spared. The Saddledome suffered millions of dollars worth of damage with a water level so high at ice-level that it would have been above the player’s heads. Luckily, the damage will be repaired in time for the season opener.
That isn’t to underscore the true story of the Flames offseason however, which was the announcement of Kiprusoff’s retirement. Kipper was the Flames all-time leader in several goaltending categories, and his exit (along with Iginla and Bouwmeester) signifies a true end of an era in Flames history. Calgary brought in fellow Finnish puckstopper Karri Ramo to take Kiprusoff’s place, along with Joey MacDonald as his backup. The Flames also parted ways with left-winger Alex Tanguay, sending him back to Colorado along with Cory Sarich in exchange for David Jones and Shane O’Brien.
So there was a massive restructuring in the locker room (both literally and figuratively) but the Flames weren’t done there. In September it was announced that former Leafs/Ducks/Canucks GM Brian Burke was going to be brought into the managerial fold as the team’s President of Hockey Operations, a position seemingly created specifically for him. The understanding is that Feaster remains the GM of the team, however he will have to report to Burke in hockey related matters. This is a relatively new system for the NHL (the Avs are also employing this type of structure with Joe Sakic and Greg Sherman) and how effective it will be for a team in transition is yet to be seen.
Story Lines To Watch:
- Who exactly is going to step up and lead the Flames? As I’ve already mentioned, the team has essentially been gutted of most of it’s on-ice leadership and talent, so the Flames will need some new players to step up. The team still has last season’s leading scorers Mike Cammalleri and Lee Stempniak, who will have to carry the bulk of the offense. They’ll also be looking for the aforementioned Baertschi and Backlund, along with free agent signing Jiri Hudler to make an impact on the scoresheet. But there’s nobody in the lineup who appears ready to take over Iginla’s mantle, and the team may be lost and captainless for the foreseeable future.
- Can Karri Ramo be a starting goalie in the NHL? Back when he was drafted by Tampa Bay way back in 2004, the Lightning hoped he would be their goaltender of the future. Alas, he struggled at the NHL level, sporting a 3.35 GAA and .895 save percentage over parts of three seasons in Tampa before heading to the KHL. However, Ramo became an all-star for Omsk and has consistently been one of the best goalies in Russia since then. Whether he can finally adapt to the North American game or not will be the key to any success the Flames can manage to grab this coming season.
- Who’s really pulling the strings? That is to say, will Burke begin to mold the team in his likeness? Nobody’s quite sure how the power-struggle will work out at the executive level for the Flames, though one can assume that Burke will be calling all the shots with his usual bravado, making Feaster somewhat of a lame duck. It’s going to be very interesting how things shake out in the hockey operations department this year in Calgary, especially considering how much works needs to be done to make the Flames a contender again.
Players to Watch:
If there’s one player that could be considered the future of the Flames at the moment, it’s probably Baertschi. The young Swiss forward is an excellent skater and playmaker with the potential for high-end offensive talent. On a rebuilding (though they won’t admit it) team with a relatively weak prospect pool, there’s going to be tons of pressure on Baertschi to produce and build on the 10 points in 20 games he had last season.
On the backend, keep an eye on Mark Giordano. The 29-year-old has come into his own in recent years and developed into a highly underrated offensive threat from the blueline. Expect him to get tons of powerplay time and be one of the team’s leaders on defense.
And of course, pay attention to Ramo. On a team that seems destined for a lottery pick next year, with so little top end talent and depth, Ramo is going to have to bail his team out consistently over the course of the season. As Ramo goes in 2013-14, so will the Flames.
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Main photo credit: woychukb via photopin cc