2008-09: 46-30-6 (5th in the West – Eliminated in Conf. QF by Blackhawks)
Pre-season TSN Power Ranking: 17
General Manager: Darryl Sutter (5th Season)
Head Coach: Brent Sutter (1st Season)
What They Did in the off-season:
It was a very busy summer in Calgary despite Darryl Sutter's insistence in May that the Flames would not make major changes in the off-season. That promise apparently had an expiry date as Mike Keenan was fired by the team as the month drew to a close. Sutter decided to keep it in the family by replacing ‘Iron Mike' with sibling Brent.
The Flames were incredibly pro-active prior to the opening of the free agency period on July 1st. The team shipped soon-to-be-free-agent Jordan Leopold and a third round pick to the Panthers for the rights to Jay Bouwmeester. They then utilized their window to sign the towering blueliner by inking him to a five-year contract, giving the Flames a modern day 'Big-Three' on defence featuring Bouwmeester, Dion Phaneuf and Robyn Regehr. To make room, Jim Vandermeer was sent to Phoenix for Brandon Prust.
Veterans Mike Cammalleri, Todd Bertuzzi, Adrian Aucoin, and Andre Roy all found employment elsewhere while Fredrik Sjostrom and Brian McGrattan were added for depth. The Flames snagged Nigel Dawes off the waiver wire from the Coyotes and were able to acquire Anton Stralman for spare part Wayne Primeau.
Biggest Issue facing the team:
When Brent Sutter resigned as head coach of the New Jersey Devils despite the team coming off an Atlantic division title in June, a few eyebrows were raised. At the time Sutter said that he was leaving for the Swamp for personal reasons, stating that he wanted to spend time closer to his family, which remained in Western Canada where Sutter cut his teeth in the coaching ranks with the Red Deer Rebels. Conveniently, there just happened to be a coaching opening in Calgary and the Flames just happened to be run by Sutter's brother Darryl.
While Calgary took all the necessary precautions to keep the hiring transparent, most believe that the move to bring Sutter into the fold in Calgary was predestined. It might not be considered tampering, but with one season remaining on a contract that was signed in good faith, some may have felt it wasn't too far off. This additional scrutiny means that all the pressure is going to be on the Sutter brothers to deliver big things in their initial season together in Cow Town. General Manager Darryl now has the coach that he believes can push the Flames to the next level; a coach that has won wherever he has gone.
The younger Sutter inherits a very solid roster that fell just two points short of a Northwest division title. The Flames have the rare benefit that their top player is also one of the team's hardest workers. Jarome Iginla's combination of power, speed and leadership is a very unique quality in the NHL and a return to the 40-goal plateau should be a given with a full season of Olli Jokinen feeding him the puck.
The team's defensive unit should be the envy of most teams across the league thanks to the addition of smooth skating Jay Bouwmeester. He appears to be the ideal complement to Robyn Regehr's defensive instincts and Dion Phaneuf's offensive flair. When all else fails, the team can fall back on goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff, whose statistics during the regular season placed him in the conversation of elite level keepers.
Despite all the talent, the Flames came up short in the playoffs as the team took undisciplined penalties against an inexperienced Blackhawks club. After a regular season that saw him play in 76 games, Kiprusoff looked tired once the post-season arrived and he was shelled by the ‘Hawks young snipers. Sutter will have to do a much better job than Keenan did at managing his ‘keeper's minutes to keep him fresh for when the games really count. This may prove difficult as the team did not bring in a backup goaltender to spell Kipper occasionally, choosing to re-sign Curtis McElhinney.
In short, the Flames are running out of excuses. They did lose a lot of goals when Cammalleri and Bertuzzi left town, but if Jokinen can prove his worth, the Flames might have plenty of the pieces in place required for another run at the Stanley Cup. That might be a big if, but for Flames fans, anything short of a deep playoff sojourn will be considered a disappointment.
Player to watch:
A lot of the Flames' fortunes rest on the shoulders of Olli Jokinen. The Flames paid a high price for the Finn's services and are looking for a return on their investment. Fortunately for Jokinen he will be given every opportunity to succeed by being placed on a line with Iginla. However with Mike Cammalleri moving on to the Canadians, Jokinen will be depended upon to provide a bigger scoring punch in his first full season in Calgary.
Jokinen has shown in the past that he is capable of being a point-per-game type scorer, which should be the minimum expectation. After saving him from the playoff-less purgatory of the Phoenix Coyotes, Jokinen owes it to both himself and his team to produce an All-Star type season to erase any doubts that he can only produce statistics when he is on a losing team.
Scott Cullen's Fantasy Take:
Losing a point-per-game scorer won't be easy for the Calgary Flames to overcome, but there will be opportunities available for other forwards to produce. The good news is that the blueline gets a serious upgrade with the signing of Jay Bouwmeester.
Jarome Iginla remains a first-rate fantasy winger, tallying 35 goals or more for seven straight seasons and he's topped 80 points in each of the last three seasons. For fantasy purposes, though, it's also worth noting that Iggy only had 37 penalty minutes last year, which hinders his value (if ever-so-slightly) when compared to his 80-penalty minute seasons.