Until recently, the Calgary Flames’ need for fundamental change was so great it’s a wonder they didn’t get a call from the producers of Intervention. The Flames haven’t made the playoffs in four years, but until last season, always came close enough to keep themselves out of prime draft positions. Calgary seemed in a constant state of denial about the status of its team until GM Jay Feaster finally reversed course and shipped out captain Jarome Iginla and defenceman Jay Bouwmeester prior to last year’s trade deadline. Admitting you have a problem is a crucial first step, and while Calgary’s road to recovery will be a long one, there are, at last, some reasons for Flames fans to embrace the team’s trajectory. Here are five of them:
1. It’s a lot easier to watch a loser when you’re cheering for losses There’s no golden template when it comes to constructing a championship team, but drafting at the top of the board definitely helps. Just ask the Blackhawks, Kings and Penguins, three teams that have won Cups in the past five years with guys tabbed in the first three selections playing huge roles.
2. Movin’ on out Mike Cammalleri, Matt Stajan and Lee Stempniak are three veterans in the final year of their contracts who can help someone, somewhere. Cammalleri has 29 points in his past 26 playoff games, so Feaster can expect a call from a contender that needs goals. Centre Stajan can buoy a third line on a good team and Stempniak scored at a 55-point pace on an awful Flames team last year. Calgary should be beating a path to the draft podium the next couple of summers, and moving these pieces will help lay the groundwork.
3. Kids deserve a chance Don’t expect a ton of youth on Calgary’s opening night roster, but there are definitely points of intrigue. At centre, 24-year-old Mikael Backlund will get every opportunity to prove he’s a top-six guy, as will Sven Baertschi, a left winger who can snipe and set up. On the back end, 23-year-old T.J. Brodie will never anchor a blueline, but he’s becoming one of those dependable D-men that teams covet. The Flames have only just begun restocking the prospect pipeline and though crown jewel Sean Monahan may not be ready for a full season of NHL action after being drafted sixth overall in June, he’s the guy to keep your eye on long-term.
4. Life with Brian Is the appointment of Brian Burke to president of hockey operations the most exciting thing to happen in Calgary since Iggy went at it with Vincent Lecavalier in the ’04 Cup final? Whatever you choose to believe about Calgary’s management structure, we know Burke’s presence means there won’t be any more dithering when it comes to making bold moves. He will try to make the team bigger and meaner, which we suspect will play just fine in southern Alberta.
5. Crease comparison Here’s a fun bit of symmetry: When Finn Miikka Kiprusoff made his Flames debut in November 2003, he was a relatively unknown 27-year-old with 47 games worth of NHL experience. When relatively unknown Finn Karri Ramo mans Calgary’s crease for the first time, he’ll be 27 with 48 NHL contests under his belt. Ramo is not the next Kipper, but he’s an athletic goalie who, for what it’s worth, has been outstanding in the KHL the past four years. His first NHL tour with the Lightning from 2007-09 was rough, but Tampa Bay plays as much defence as a designated hitter. Though he won’t be getting a ton of support in Calgary, either, it’s not inconceivable Ramo could be a decent, late-blooming NHL stopper.
There, feel better?