Into the Fire: Flames Faced with Questions

Across North America, in dozens of rinks, NHL players are starting anew. Some are restarting after forgetful 2009-10 seasons, some are trying to repeat a memorable season, while others are just hoping to suit up for an NHL game in 2010-11.

For the Calgary Flames, it’s another situation altogether.

While last season was forgettable, the offseason has left the upcoming campaign as an unknown. What Calgary team is going to show up in October? The reception for Flames players is cold, but it’s not because of the early snow fall in Calgary.

The reason why Calgary’s training camp is so unique is because every aspect of the team is questionable. Aside from Miikka Kiprusoff, few players and their performances can be predicted with any level of certainty.

So to kick-start the 2010-11 season, let’s examine the uncertainty that is the Calgary Flames.

Goaltending

Kiprusoff is a world class talent. Few will deny that. However, the acrobatic 33 year old has proven susceptible to his workload and style. Four straight seasons of 70-plus starts have been highlighted by three straight first round playoff exits and an early golf season last year (although he really can’t be blamed for last season).

Henrik Karlsson arrives in town as an unknown goalie with a grand total of zero NHL experience. He occupies a position with a revolving door history, few starts and unprecedented pressure from fans. Kiprusoff has spoiled Calgary’s fan base, and they expect brilliance from a back-up who starts 15 games. The learning curve will be steep for Karlsson.

Defence

A one-way contract logjam leaves the Flames with a defenceman cap hit of over $20 million and little space for prospects who deserve NHL ice time. Mark Giordano and Ian White proved to be the most dependable Flames defencemen at season’s end, and both will be unrestricted free agents at the end of this upcoming season. It can be guaranteed that one, if not both, will test the waters on July 1, which means the Flames need an insurance plan.

To prepare for 2012, the Flames need Matt Pelech and John Negrin to stay healthy and see some time in the NHL. But where does the spot come from? It was awkward enough with Adam Pardy sitting in the press box late last season, so who sits out or gets demoted this season? Daryl Sutter needs to find a solution. Training camp may provide some clarity in terms of who won’t be missed, but the big question is which of the expendable Flames on the back end has a moveable contract?

Offense

The Achilles heel of the Flames last season was goal scoring. This is well documented and widely accepted by the players, the organization and the public at large.

The strange thing about the offseason was that little progress was made from PR and, arguably, hockey standpoints. Olli Jokinen and Alex Tanguay were the most notable additions, although they have caused more déjà vu than optimism. As I’ve said in the past, the potential is definitely there, but the Flames needed certainty after last season.

Ales Kotalik’s salary cap hit situation – the result of trading the aforementioned Jokinen – has only further muddied the water for Flames prospects. The Flames need to clear cap room and roster spots, not add to them. So how does a prospect with a strong training camp make the big club if D. Sutter is occupied trying to find a spot to hide salary dollars?

Even more confusing is the potential that Kotalik proves himself worthy of a roster spot in training camp. So long as Daymond Langkow and his $4.5 million cap hit are on the long term injury list, there is no problem. However, every indication is that Langkow will return sooner rather than later, which is to be expected from a player like him.

Do Jarome Iginla, Jay Bouwmeester, David Moss, Robyn Regehr, Matt Stajan and Niklas Hagman have simultaneous bounce back seasons? Can Rene Bourque stave off injury to prove worthy of his contract extension? Were Jokinen and Tanguay the missing pieces? The reality is that training camp won’t answer any of these questions.

The Flames roster is essentially set before training camp begins because of the number and nature of player’s salaries. If there is uncertainty now and little chance of training camp making an impact, then how is the picture going to become clearer before the first puck drop of the regular season on October 7?

Unfortunately for Flames fans, there are more questions than answers right now. It’s just the result of a team with so much potential and yet so little delivery.

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One Response to “Into the Fire: Flames Faced with Questions”

  1. Der alte Kraut
    September 19, 2010 at 10:17 pm #

    You want certainty? Be a Leaf fan. You’re certain they’ll be terrible, the only question is how bad.