Every Wednesday for the next seven weeks Sportsnet.ca gets you set for a fresh NHL season with looks at players from Canadian teams who could have breakout seasons in 2012-13.
The Calgary Flames have made some questionable decisions in the past few years. From trading Dion Phaneuf to the Toronto Maple Leafs early in 2010 and not getting much in return, to giving away and then reacquiring players like Olli Jokinen, Michael Cammalleri and Alex Tanguay. Some of the decisions — even though several have worked out — have been puzzling.
The Flames have missed the playoffs in three consecutive seasons, but in each of those seasons they have been right on the cusp of sneaking into the postseason. In 2009-10 they finished tied for ninth in the Western Conference and missed out by five points. In 2010-11 they finished in 10th and missed out by three points. Last year the team came in ninth place in the conference and was just five points behind the eventual Stanley Cup-winning Los Angeles Kings.
If the Flames want to remain relevant, they need their veterans like Jarome Iginla, Miikka Kiprusoff, Cammalleri, Tanguay and newcomer Jiri Hudler to have big seasons. But if they want to remain in the playoff hunt late in the season and end this three-year drought, they need certain players to step up and have a breakout campaign.
Here are one forward and one defenceman on the Flames who could take their play to the next level in 2012-13 and become difference-makers.
While fans are curious what players like Jiri Hudler (who signed a four-year deal with the Flames as an unrestricted free agent) or youngster Sven Baertschi (who had three goals in five games with the Flames last year) can accomplish this season, don’t be surprised if Roman Cervenka has a big year.
Although he will be a rookie in the NHL, Cervenka has years of professional experience playing in his native Czech Republic as well as with Omsk Avangard in the Kontinental Hockey League.
Since 2007 the skilled forward has developed into a dangerous scorer. He has represented his country in many international tournaments, earning a bronze medal at the 2005 world junior hockey championships, playing in several IIHF world championships and being named to the 2010 Olympic team, for which he scored two points in five games on sport’s biggest stage.
In the last two years in the KHL the 26-year-old had 54 goals and 100 points in 105 games played. Arguably his best pro season was 2010-11, when he registered 31 goals in 51 playing with Jaromir Jagr.
Cervenka should get decent ice time playing in a top-six role next season, and skating alongside other talented forwards could yield big numbers in his first NHL season.
Just days before he was set to become an unrestricted free agent, the Flames acquired Dennis Wideman from the Washington Capitals and signed him to a five-year deal worth $26.25 million.
Wideman has been consistent over the last five years, but he was never the No. 1 guy with the Capitals, and before that with the Florida Panthers, Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues. With a solid first year with the Flames, however, the seven-year NHL veteran could establish himself as Calgary’s go-to blueliner.
The Flames picked up Wideman to put points up on the back end. With trade rumours surrounding Jay Bouwmeester, it’s possible that Wideman’s role on the team could become even more important than first anticipated.
The 29-year-old Kitchener, Ont., native had 46 points in 82 games last season and has had at least 30 points in his last five campaigns. Pairing Wideman up with Mark Giordano could create a lethal duo on the Flames’ blueline.