Off-Season Game Plan: Flames

Scott Cullen
6/1/2009 12:53:04 AM
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Though the Calgary Flames slumped late in the season, lost in the first round of the playoffs and fired their coach, all is not lost.

Off-Season Game Plan looks at what the Flames may do this summer to get back on track next season.

The first step appears to be replacing Mike Keenan behind the bench and general manager Darryl Sutter appears to be the front-runner for the position.

Sutter is expected to add some accountability to a Flames team that needs more from its best players.

"The star guys, the ones we all love, who've been here for a while, have to get back to the way they played before," Sutter told the Calgary Herald. "(The new coach) has gotta be someone who can coach the top guys. They all had seasons that were very average. This is a difficult group to coach, obviously. I know they can be better."

If Sutter the coach can elevate the play of the players already on the roster and Sutter the GM can assemble a team that won't be so jammed up against the cap that they have to play games with a short bench, then the Flames will once again be a playoff team; a team that, with better health, might be able to make some noise in the playoffs.

With a number of key players on the north side of 30, including Jarome Iginla, Daymond Langkow, Olli Jokinen and Miikka Kiprusoff, there ought to be a sense of urgency, from the front office on down through the organization, if the Flames are going to get the job done with this core.

Darryl Sutter/Vacant

Returning Forwards

Player Rating Salary
Jarome Iginla 85.33 $7.0M
Rene Bourque 77.52 $1.4M
Curtis Glencross 74.21 $1.2M
Olli Jokinen 73.78 $5.5M
Craig Conroy 73.42 $1.0M
Daymond Langkow 73.34 $4.25M
David Moss 70.53 $1.3M
Eric Nystrom 60.52 $775K
Wayne Primeau 57.83 $1.4M

Free Agent Forwards

Player Rating Class '08-'09 Salary
Mike Cammalleri 81.03 UFA $3.6M
Todd Bertuzzi 67.33 UFA $1.95M
Dustin Boyd 60.92 RFA $3.25M
Andre Roy 55.59 UFA $550K
Jamie Lundmark 68.15 UFA $600K

Top Prospects: Mikael Backlund (12-18-30, plus-10 in 28 GP; Kelowna-WHL), Greg Nemisz (36-41-77, plus-52 in 65 GP; Windsor-OHL), Mitch Wahl (32-35-67, plus-42 in 63 GP; Spokane-WHL), Juuso Puustinen (13-20-33, plus-2 in 53 GP; Espoo-FNL), Kris Chucko (28-23-51, minus-8 in 74 GP; Quad City-AHL)

While he didn't notch 50 goals, as he did in 2007-2008, Jarome Iginla scored 35 goals and 89 points and he's averaged nearly 94 points per season over the last three years, second-best among NHL wingers (behind Alexander Ovechkin) in that time. However, Iginla's consistency at both ends of the rink can be better.

Not many players in the league surpassed expectations like Rene Bourque, who notched a career-best 40 points and plus-18 rating despite missing 24 games with an ankle injury. Bourque is a solid two-way winger and penalty killer, who showed more offensive flair than anticipated. Can he duplicate his sensational season?

Like Bourque, Curtis Glencross was an off-season acquisition that paid off handsomely. Glencross is a high-energy winger who gets in quickly on the forecheck to create scoring opportunities, offering a little offensive upside for a checking winger.

While Olli Jokinen put up a respectable 15 points in 19 games after arriving in Calgary, he limped into the finish with just three assists in the last 11 games of the regular season. While he ended his career-long playoff drought, Jokinen also finished the season with 57 points, his lowest total since 2001-2002 and the Flames need him to be better next season.

Ageless Craig Conroy had a tremendous season, registering 48 points and a plus-20 rating while providing his usually reliable two-way game. He'll be 38 next season, and is entering the final year of his current contract, but Conroy's a safe bet as the third line centre.

Daymond Langkow enjoyed some productive years, particularly when paired with Iginla, but managed just 49 points last season, his lowest total since 1998-1999. Langkow plays a sound two-way game, but he'll have to be more productive if he's going to provide good return on the final three years of deal.

In the vein of Bourque and Glencross, David Moss is a strong winger, whose size allowed him to make a difference on the power play, where he tallied eight of his career-best 20 goals. Signed to a three-year contract extension, Moss should be a sound two-way winger.

After scoring 20 points in 122 career games, Eric Nystrom put up four points in the first-round playoff loss to Chicago, perhaps indicating he's capable of more than a third consecutive ten point season. If not, he's still a gritty fourth-liner.

A broken foot kept Wayne Primeau out of action after the first week of December, though it's hard to imagine how he warrants his salary even if healthy.

A victim of the Flames' late-season numbers game, Dustin Boyd has some skill, yet needs to be more assertive if he's going to be a scorer of any note.

If Mike Cammalleri and Todd Bertuzzi leave via free agency, the Flames will need to find some scoring punch on the free agent market. Alex Kovalev, Steve Sullivan, Mike Knuble and Jason Williams are among the scoring wingers that might fit in with the Flames and help offset those losses.

Top prospect Mikael Backlund may also be ready to challenge for a spot after a strong playoff run with the Kelowna Rockets.

Returning Defencemen

Player Rating Salary
Dion Phaneuf 79.40 $6.5M
Mark Giordano 70.45 $1.0M
Cory Sarich 69.05 $3.7M
Robyn Regehr 67.37 $3.5M
Jim Vandermeer 64.51 $2.3M

Free Agent Defencemen

Player Rating Class '08-'09 Salary
Adrian Aucoin 70.96 UFA $4.0M
Jordan Leopold 66.20 UFA $1.5M
Adam Pardy 65.10 UFA $500K
Rhett Warrener N/A UFA $2.5M

Top Prospects: Keith Aulie (6-27-33, plus-12 in 58 GP; Brandon-WHL), John Negrin (8-41-49, plus-8 in 63 GP), T.J. Brodie (12-38-50, plus-8 in 63 GP; Saginaw-OHL), Matt Pelech (3-6-9, minus-3 in 59 GP; Quad City-AHL)

Dion Phaneuf's fourth NHL season was a decided step back from the development he had shown in his first three campaigns. While 47 points is nothing to sneeze at, Phaneuf had career lows in goals, points, plus-minus and power play points.

Phaneuf can be an intimidating presence, but now needs to learn how to pick his spots so that he doesn't get caught out of position and can handle one of the league's heaviest workloads. For the Flames' sake, 2008-2009 had better just be a down season.

Back from Russia, Mark Giordano played well before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury. With Adrian Aucoin headed for unrestricted free agency, there could be an opportunity for Giordano to move into a more prominent puck-moving role next season.

Cory Sarich is rock solid and durable on the blueline and his 20 points and plus-12 rating from last season represented career-bests. He doesn't come cheaply for a defensive defenceman, but if he's just as reliable in future seasons, Sarich is a sound investment.

Robyn Regehr joins Sarich as a hard-hitting physical presence on the blueline. While he was an afterthought offensively, managing just eight points, Regehr's late-season knee injury left the Flames fighting an uphill battle in the postseason.

Though he missed 37 games with ankle injuries, Jim Vandermeer adds some bite to the lineup when healthy. It's debatable whether or not Vandermeer's nastiness is worth his level of pay, but he's certainly capable of regular turns on the third pairing.

With several free agents on defence, the Flames will have to address the position, possibly re-signing Adam Pardy, or looking for a prospect like Keith Aulie to make the jump, but also looking for at free agent options.

Jay Bouwmeester would certainly give the Flames an impressive defence corps, though adding Bouwmeester would likely leave little financial flexibility, something that proved to be more than a bit of a problem for the Flames last season. Others that may be of interest would include Mattias Ohlund, Derek Morris or Francois Beauchemin.

Returning Goaltender

Player Rating Salary
Miikka Kiprusoff 78.47 $7.0M

Free Agent Goaltender

Player Rating Class '08-'09 Salary
Curtis McElhinney 47.93 UFA $500K

Top Prospect: Leland Irving (24-18-2, 1 SO, 2.23 GAA, .912 SVPCT in 47 GP; Quad City-AHL)

While Miikka Kiprusoff has been incredibly durable, averaging 75 games per season over the last four years in Calgary, his goals against average and save percentage have declined every year; perhaps an indication that he's not at his best when carrying such a heavy load. For better or worse, the Flames are committed long-term to Kiprusoff, so they had better find a way to reverse the trend.

One way to do that may be to find a more proven backup. While Curtis McElhinney hasn't been given much of a chance in the NHL, he hasn't shown enough to think that he could start 15-20 games.

Some free agents that might be able to handle that role would include Mathieu Garon, Ty Conklin, Brian Boucher, Brent Johnson or Jason LaBarbera.

20th - Peter Holland, Carter Ashton, David Rundblad.

The Flames have approximately $47.8-million committed to salaries for next season.

Needs: Two top nine forwards, one top four defenceman, another defenceman, backup goaltender

What I said the Flames needed last year: Four top nine forwards, one defenceman

Who did they add? Mike Cammalleri, Todd Bertuzzi, Rene Bourque, Curtis Glencross, Dustin Boyd, Mark Giordano, Brandon Prust.

Daymond Langkow, Dustin Boyd, Jim Vandermeer.

Scott Cullen can be reached at 

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