The Calgary Flames have missed the playoffs for three consecutive seasons, which might be an indication that it's time to rebuild.
Off-Season Game Plan looks at a Flames team that doesn't appear inclined to take that route, yet, preferring another kick at the proverbial can with the old guard.
And it's not as if the Flames have been ridiculously bad -- they finished five points behind the Los Angeles Kings -- but it's entirely fair to wonder if this team has the horses to get over that hump into the postseason and that led to speculation last season that cornerstone pieces like Jarome Iginla or Miikka Kiprusoff could be moved to accelerate the rebuilding process.
One reason that the Flames might consider rebuilding is that, even though they were close to the playoffs last season, it was during a season in which their 35-year-old goaltender was at the top of his game, which has been a hit-and-miss proposition in recent years. If the Flames weren't quite good enough to reach the playoffs with Kiprusoff at very close to his best, where could they finish if his performance dips?
Nevertheless, Calgary is pressing forward. They parted ways with coach Brent Sutter and are still in the process of hiring his replacement.
Whomever is chosen as coach will have talent with which to work. It's not as if the Flames are without quality players and that's what makes the decision so difficult. If the Flames were terrible, it would be easy to throw in the towel and start building with young players.
If they were great, there would obviously be no need to change the path. But, the Flames are stuck in between. Bad enough to miss the playoffs three years in a row, but not bad enough to land a top-end draft pick and get slapped in the face by the cold reality that comes when a team finishes way out of the playoff picture.
And this leads to the Flames' current goals and that is to press forward.
"Our objective is we have to improve the hockey team," GM Jay Feaster told the Calgary Herald. "Where we've been the last three years is not where we want to be.
"So every avenue that's available to us in terms of improving the team — whether as you saw with Roman Cervenka that it's a free-agent signing, whether it's a trade, whether it's through the draft, whether it's trades at the draft, or free-agency that comes July 1 — all of those things are tools available for us and tools we intend to utilize."
Until we see what acquisitions are possible, judgment can be reserved on the Flames but, after three years on the outside looking in, it sure appears that they are facing an uphill climb and if they aren't a playoff team in 2013, the rebuilding may be forced upon them.
The TSN.ca Rating is an efficiency rating based on per-game statistics including goals and assists -- weighted for strength (ie. power play, even, shorthanded) -- plus-minus, hits, blocked shots, giveaways, takeaways, penalty differential and faceoffs. (Stats are listed in this format: G-A-PTS, +/-, PIM, GP). Generally, a replacement-level player is around a 60, a top six forward and top four defenceman will be 70-plus and the biggest stars will be over 80. Evgeni Malkin finished at the top of the regular season ratings with a 93.12.
Salary cap information all comes from the indispensable www.capgeek.com.
This will be an interesting season for Jarome Iginla. He remains a dangerous offensive performer, on a streak of 11 seasons with at least 30 goals, but he hasn't scored fewer than last year's total of 67 points since 1999-2000.
He turns 35 this summer and will be going into the final year of his contract, which seems like it would make him a trade possibility, but the Flames seem poised to push forward and that means the durable Iginla, who hasn't missed a game in five years, will be at the core of their efforts.
Curtis Glencross enjoyed a career season, earning a contract extension, as he scored 26 goals and 48 points playing against top quality of competition (www.behindthenet.ca), totals that would have been even higher had he not missed time with a knee injury. Of course, there is zero chance that he will score on 23.6% of his shots again, but Glencross is a self-made player who has put up 40 points or more in three of the last four seasons.
Returning to Calgary has been good for Alex Tanguay's production. He's a winger who thrives in a setup role and that fits well with a shooter like Iginla. Whether he'll be effective for four more seasons, through the end of this contract, is up for debate, but he's not outrageously priced anyway.
Following subpar production in Montreal, Mike Cammalleri's return to Calgary brought better production (11 goals in 28 games) and he's certainly capable of producing more than Rene Bourque, so there is some reason to be hopeful even though Cammalleri is coming off a 41-point season, his lowest total since 2003-2004.
While Calgary has brought better results for Tanguay and Cammalleri, it has had the opposite effect for Matt Stajan, who had a career-low 18 points last season. He was an afterthought for much of the season, but was given more ice time late in the year and put up nine points in the last 16 games, while he played more significant minutes. Stajan, 28, should be able to find a role as a contributor, even if it's not one that provides ideal value for his $3.5-million cap hit.
Acquired from the New York Rangers in exchange for Tim Erixon, Roman Horak was a bit of a surprise to make the team and, after five points in six games to open the season, his role decreased and he managed five points in his next 55 games before getting sent down to the AHL. He may be in the AHL to start next season, or he may be abl to earn a depth role.
Tough guy Tim Jackman had a career year in 2010-2011, scoring 10 goals and 23 points, but his contributions fell off last season. However, he's scrapped 64 times over the last five seasons, so he has his role to play.
Of course Roman Cervenka is not a returning forward, but a 26-year-old who will have a cap hit of $3.775-million (including bonuses) is a pretty safe bet to be included among the regulars. While he managed 39 points in 54 games last season, Cervenka had more success the year before, scoring 61 points in 51 games with Avangard Omsk of the KHL, when he had Jaromir Jagr patrolling his wing.
Considering the Flames' lack of playmakers down the middle (and assuming that Olli Jokinen could move on as an unrestricted free agent), there should be an opportunity for Cervenka to play with Jarome Iginla and if he can stick there, that will be an opportunity to put up some points.
23-year-old Mikael Backlund has been pushing for a bigger role, but it's been a gradual process that was hampered by injuries that cost him half of last season. However, when he did play, Backlund was given tough matchups and more defensive zone starts (per www.behindthenet.ca) so even though he wasn't scoring a great deal, there was some evidence that Backlund was growing as a player. The next step will be to hold up in a significant role for an entire season and even if he's not likely to be a scorer, Backlund can be an effective complementary player.
It was worthwhile for the Flames to pick up Blake Comeau on waivers from the Islanders, considering he scored 24 goals in 2010-2011, but after a five-goal season, it seems unlikely that he would receive a qualifying offer as a restricted free agent.
25-year-old Blair Jones is still finding his way in the NHL, but was taking on a more significant role with the Flames, after he was acquired from Tampa Bay, playing 14:25 per game, before breaking his ankle.
Even with the addition of Cervenka, there will be holes to fill up front. Rookie Sven Baertschi, who scored three goals in five games with the Flames last season, might be good for one spot, but improved depth is necessary for the Flames gto be a playoff team. A couple of free agents from the likes of Ruslan Fedotenko, Tanner Glass, Travis Moen, Jordin Tootoo or Joey Crabb may not be glamourous, but would improve the bottom six.
Free Agent Defence
||'11-'12 Cap Hit
Mark Giordano missed 21 games with a ruptured tendon in his leg, yet remained a productive all-purpose defenceman when he was in the lineup, averaging more than 23 minutes per game and playing against tough matchups, according to www.behindthenet.ca. More of the same with good health would be just fine for the Flames.
Coming off back-to-back 35-point seasons, Anton Babchuk couldn't secure regular playing time for the Flames last season, which isn't the ideal use of his skills. He has flaws, especially in his play without the puck, but he has been deployed effectively before and the 28-year-old should be able to find a role on the third pair with power play time.
As durable as they come, Jay Bouwmeester hasn't missed a game in seven seasons, while playing more than 25 minutes per game, but just showing up for work isn't enough to justify his price tag. Before he signed with the Flames, Bouwmeester contributed more offensively, scoring 42 goals in his last three years with Florida and just 12 goals in his first three years with Calgary.
Even though his ice time decreased in the second half of the season, T.J. Brodie showed promise in his rookie year. He needs to get stronger, but he makes good decisions and can handle the puck efficiently.
A career minor-leaguer prior to last season, Derek Smith provided steady minutes on the third pair, flourishing on occasion when givven more responsibility, scoring seven points in a nine-game span in December. Smith earned a new contract and should be able to play a regular role for the Flames, provided he can stay healthy.
Playing a career-high 21:36 per game, Chris Butler was handed a lot of responsibility with the Flames. He might be more effective as a number five, but the 25-year-old is likely going to fit in the top four unless the Flames make multiple blueline acquisitions.
There are moves to make, since veteran defensive defencemen Scott Hannan and Cory Sarich are free agents and the Flames don't have great defence prospects knocking on the door, so trades or free agent signings figure to be part of the plans.
Barring a home run addition like Ryan Suter, then perhaps Pavel Kubina who, like Ruslan Fedotenko, had success playing for Feaster in Tampa Bay, might be a reasonably-priced option. Barret Jackman, Brad Stuart and Bryan Allen are others that might lend a steady veteran hand.
Miikka Kiprusoff has played at least 70 games in seven straight seasons and, while his numbers have fluctuated in recent seasons, the 35-year-old had a .921 save percentage last season, his best since 2005-2006. Is it reasonable to expect him to duplicate that performance?
A knee injury cut into Henrik Karlsson's already limited playing time in his second NHL season and his numbers weren't as strong as during his rookie year, but if he's healthy, he should have the inside track on the backup job. If he falters, Leland Irving was adequate when given a chance in that role last season.
||33-61-94, +15, 47 GP
||28-50-78, +19, 61 GP
||Boston College (HE)
||21-23-44, +20, 44 GP
||22-13-2, 2.67 GAA, .902 SV%, 39 GP
||HIFK Helsinki (SML)
||15-19-34, +19, 47 GP
||13-16-29, +5, 51 GP
||1-6-7, +3, 70 GP
||6-3-9, -8, 39 GP
||47-49-96, +17, 68 GP
||3-3-6, -9, 31 GP
The 13th overall pick last summer, Sven Baertschi went back to a powerhouse Portland team and scored two points per game. When given a chance with Calgary, as an emergency recall, he didn't look out of place, scoring three goals in five games in limited ice time. He should have a good shot at making the team next season.
A centre with good size and skill, Max Reinhart has improved nicely in two seasons since he was drafted in the third round by Calgary. He can use further development in the AHL, but he has a chance to be a solid NHLer.
Tiny winger John Gaudreau may be a concern because he's 5-foot-6, and there aren't that many NHL wingers that size, but a player capable of scoring a point-per-game as a freshman for the national champions is the kind of talent worth nurturing.
A first-round pick in 2006, Leland Irving has been biding his time in the minors, playing 182 AHL games over the last four seasons, but he got his first taste of NHL action last season and was generally okay (aside from an early-January fiasco in Boston in which he allowed six goals in 24 minutes). 24-year-old Irving could be ready for a backup job in the NHL, but could be hard-pressed to open next season ahead of Henrik Karlsson.
A second-round pick in 2011, Markus Granlund isn't considered the same elite talent as his brother, Mikael Granlund, a Minnesota Wild prospect, but the younger Granlund impressed both in Finnish league play and international play with the national junior team, to the point that the 19-year-old could turn out to be a nice long-term asset.
Greg Nemisz is a forward with good size, but he'll need to upgrade his skating if he's going to establish himself as a regular in the NHL. In 15 NHL games over his first couple pro seasons, Nemisz has no goals and one assist.
They may need to plan balloons and confetti celebrations when 6-foot-7 defenceman Christopher Breen scores (he has 19 points in 144 AHL games), but that kind of size will get him a long look in the hopes that he can once day be a shutdown defensive presence.
After scoring 98 goals in his last two junior campaigns, Ryan Howse would probably like a do-over on his first year of pro hockey, scoring nine points in 39 games. He's 20-years-old, so there is time, but next season will be important for Howse to re-establish his credentials as a prospect.
Power forward Michael Ferland may not have high-end skills, but a productive year in the WHL suggests that he might be able to contribute in the NHL after some time to develop in the minors.
Lance Bouma has played a minimal role in 43 games with the Flames over the last couple seasons and while his game can improve, he's not going to rise beyond the role of checker, considering his offensive production to this point in his career.
14th - Matt Finn, Olli Maata, Pontus Aberg, Sebastian Collberg
According to www.capgeek.com, the Flames have approximately $54.2M committed to the 2012-2013 salary cap for 17 players. Check out my potential 2012-2013 Flames roster on Cap Geek here.
Needs: Two top nine forwards, one top four defenceman, another defenceman.
What I said the Flames needed last year: One top nine forward, depth forwards, three defencemen, backup goaltender.
They added: Lee Stempniak, Roman Horak, Scott Hannan, Chris Butler, Derek Smith.
TRADE MARKET Mikael Backlund, prospects, Jarome Iginla, Miikka Kiprusoff.
Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.