(Ed. Note: It’s an Olympic year in the NHL. So, naturally, we decided to use the trappings of the Winter Games to preview all 30 teams for the 2013-14 NHL season. Who takes the gold? Who falls on their triple-axel? Read on and find out!)
The Calgary Flames closed out the 2012-13 campaign much the same way they closed out the three that preceded it. By playing their last game of the regular season, then cleaning out their lockers and going their separate ways for the summer, having failed to unlock any of the extra levels.
Yes, it's been four years of postseason-free hockey, although there is cause to be at least somewhat uplifted if you're a Calgary fan: this time around, the Flames decided to do something about it, moving Jay Bouwmeester, and more importantly, Jarome Iginla, finally, belatedly, signifying the Flames' intention to rebuild rather than bless this mess.
Will the Flames be better this season? More than likely not -- not when your best players were traded and/or not replaced, albeit for the greater good. Not when Matt Stajan looks to be your top-line centre. But that doesn't mean this will be another disappointing season for Calgary, because circumstances have changed.
Rather than sitting back, head in hands, and blindly hoping that management's belligerence regarding a rebuild will pay off, then succumbing to despair after realizing it won't, this year's Calgary hockey fan gets to start the year in despair and watch it slowly but surely begin to dissipate. From that perspective, while the Flames are likely going to be a tire fire, but there's a good chance that for the first time in half a decade, they could finish the season on a positive note.
Apart from when the season mercifully ended, it's slim pickings for highlight of the year. But we'll go with this slick scoring play versus the Nashville Predators from young, promising defenceman T.J. Brodie.
As mentioned, the big departures happened at last year's trade deadline, as the Flames big adieu to Bouwmeester and long-time superstar captain Iginla, attempting to cobble together one decent package by trading him to both Boston and Pittsburgh at the same time. (It didn't really work out, as the club soon discovered you can't do that. Thus, after some confusion, Iginla went to Pittsburgh only, but then made it up to Boston by going there in the offseason.)
Not much else went on in Calgary this summer. Blake Comeau was traded to Columbus, T.J. Galiardi was acquired from the Sharks, and the big offseason move was a trade that saw Alex Tanguay and Cory Sarich head to Colorado for David Jones and Shane O'Brien. Jones is no Iginla-in-his-prime, but he should help to assuage the loss of Iginla's strength on the wing.
In goal, the Flames added Joey MacDonald and Karri Ramo, who could split time, considering goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff may or may not have retired. No one really knows. Whatever. He did his part last season, playing poorly enough in goal to finally necessitate the rebuild he'd helped the Flames avoid in seasons prior by playing well. Give him a statue, I say.
Forward: The first thing you need to know about this group of Flames: they are not strong down the middle. We'll let Flames Nation explain just how dire things are:
The current depth chart for the Flames at center, according to capgeek, begins with Matt Stajan, moves on to Mikael Backlund, and then progresses (regresses?) to Blair Jones. Corban Knight appears set to take over as a 3rd or 4th line center, but he has never played an NHL game and with Sean Monahan coming in this year (a prospect whom I was hopeful the Oilers could select) this could result in the Flames dressing two rookies at center along with a developing 2nd line center in Backlund and perennial whipping boy Matt Stajan.
I shouldn't have to tell you that that is not a good thing.
When you're leaning on Matt Stajan, well, you're probably falling over.
As they have been for years now, Calgary's far, far better on the wing, where Jones, Michael Cammalleri, Curtis Glencross, and Lee Stempniak give them a full core of bona fide top-six, veteran wingers. In addition, Sven Baertschi looks poised for a breakout campaign, and Galiardi will likely get plenty of opportunity to be a top-six guy.
But, again, considering the thin crop of guys between these wingers, it seems hard to believe this decent wing group will be able to do much damage.
Defense: It's not much more formidable on the back-end for Calgary. Mark Giordano and Dennis Wideman are capable, two-way defencemen that will likely be called on to create a lot of offence in addition to preventing the opposition from doing the same. In order for the Flames to be competitive, Giordano especially is going to have to have an All-Star season. With Bouwmeester off the books and little else behind him, this is his blueline for the time being (although one could argue it has been for awhile).
Kris Russell and T.J. Brodie, perhaps the brightest spot in a dark 2013 season, round out the top-four.
Goalies: In past years, the Flames have been a poorly-constructed team that remained in contention thanks in large part to the play of Miikka Kiprusoff. But that finally ended last year, when Kiprusoff fell of completely, exposing the rest of the team. As mentioned, it remains to be seen which Kiprusoff we'll see or if we'll even see him at all.
No Kipper means the Flames will run a one-two punch, if you can call it that, of Joey Macdonald and Karri Ramo. Stop snickering. I SAID STOP IT.
Bob Hartley returns for his second season behind the bench in Calgary. When he arrived, he was taking over a team that had just loaded up for another run. Now he's running a rebuild. That changes his job a little -- it will be interesting to see if he's allowed to keep at this all year or whether Jay Feaster gets frustrated with the inevitable losing to come and makes a chance.
Yes, that would be a hasty and short-sighted thing to do, but I don't have a lot of faith in Feaster, the Flames' GM. After all, look at the team he has now.
It will never not be "Red Hot Flames", which I'm pretty sure actually is a montage song.
T.J. Brodie. Brodie is fun to watch, and on a team with nothing to lose except most of their games, he should be allowed a little more creativity this year. Bob Hartley loves him, calling him the most pleasant surprise of last season, and if anybody in Calgary is poised for a breakout campaign, it'll be him.
Iginless. This is the first time in a generation that the Flames will play a full season without Jarome Iginla. Watching them adjust to his absence -- seeing who fills the leadership void, and who gets anointed as the next one -- is going to be fascinating.
They will lose often. But it's seasons like this where young players get opportunities to grow and to shine. By the end of the year, it's likely the Flames will have identified their bright spots and some of their future stars, and there will be a glimmer of optimism for the future.