With last season’s departure of Jarome Iginla and the recent retirement of Miikka Kiprusoff, the Calgary Flames are a team in search of a new identity. With a roster that will see some major changes for the 2013–14 National Hockey League season, this year has the potential to be an interesting one.
With the Flames in a complete rebuild mode, new president of hockey operations Brian Burke is the right man to help redefine the team. Burke has been in the NHL for a long time and has earned the respect of players and management personnel around the league. He is not afraid to pull the trigger on some blockbuster deals, so Flames fans can expect to see a lot of shuffling take place on the squad in the coming season if Burke gets his way.
Burke and returning general manager Jay Feaster have already made a decent trade, acquiring young centre Joe Colborne for a conditional fourth-round draft pick in 2014 — a low price for some depth at the centre position that the Flames so sorely need. While the six-foot-five, 213-pound Colborne will provide size to the Flames’s roster, he won’t provide them with much physical play. However Burke, who already traded for Colborne once as the GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs, has publicly stated that if Colborne were to incorporate more aggression into his game, he could have a long and prosperous NHL career.
Another big question is the fate of Michael Cammalleri. The former 30-goal scorer injured his hand in the preseason, and will start the regular season on the injured reserve. With all the trade rumours surrounding Cammalleri, Flames fans should hope that he stays healthy this year or else his trade value could diminish. Cammalleri is in the final year of his five-year $30-million contract, but has openly said that he would consider signing an extension with the Flames. However, because he is an impact player who is in the final year of his contract, Cammalleri is an attractive trading piece to any team that is making an attempt at a championship run. Since the Flames are in a complete rebuild mode, Cammalleri will likely be traded this season.
The Flames do have some young talent that they hope will pan out this season. Left winger Sven Baertschi made the 23-man roster and is one of the Flames’s top prospects this season. Baertschi scored at almost a point per game pace in the American Hockey League last season, and in the last 10 games of the NHL season he put up nine points. Baertschi will start the year on the third line with new winger David Jones and the young but talented Sean Monahan, and needs to use this opportunity to prove that he can run with the best in the NHL.
Monahan is another new addition to the team. The Flames’s most recent first-round draft pick impressed management with his high hockey IQ and his workhorse-like desire to be better. However, the 18-year-old Monahan’s place on the team is not guaranteed. NHL teams are allowed to audition junior-aged players for nine games during the season before a year of their entry-level contract is used up, giving teams time to decide whether they will keep them on the roster. Feaster has publicly said that Monahan has earned his audition due to his play in the preseason, but will have to continue to prove his worth if he wants to remain on the team for the entire regular season.
The departure of beloved goalie Miikka Kiprusoff leaves a big question mark between the pipes. As of now, it looks as though newly-acquired Finnish star Karri Ramo and NHL journeyman Joey MacDonald will be the two goalies set to start the season, with Swiss goaltender Reto Berra being sent down to the minors.
Ramo is definitely the Flames’s top goalie prospect position this season. In the past four years with Avangard Omsk of the Russian Kontinental Hockey League, Ramo has played outstanding, posting a save percentage of 92.3 per cent.
However, NHL players get their shots off much quicker and with much more force, and the angles are different on the smaller North American-sized rinks. The 27-year-old Ramo does have some North American hockey experience though — he played 52 games with the Tampa Bay Lightning in his early 20s, and posted a save percentage of 89.5 per cent.
Coach Bob Hartley is giving Ramo an early test, as he is slated to start the season against Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals. If Ramo flounders, Hartley will look to MacDonald to take over the starting position. However, one must keep in mind though that a goaltender’s success often hinges on factors outside of his control such as the quality of the defence, so Flames fans can expect to see all three goalies get their opportunity to audition for the starting job throughout the year.
Hartley has said that the Flames’s top line to start the season will consist of wingers Curtis Glencross and Lee Stempniak, centred by pivot Matt Stajan. They will line up in front of a top defensive pairing of Dennis Wideman and Mark Giordano. Giordano, who joined the squad back in 2008, was named the 19th captain of the Flames on Sept. 20. On a squad that is looking to get increasingly younger, Hartley will rely heavily on the leadership of Giordano to keep the team focused.
The Flames have not made the playoffs since the 2008–09 season, and Flames fans should not expect them to crack the top-16 this year. Overall, it is hard to expect the team’s fluctuating roster to prosper this season in an incredibly competitive Western Conference. The upside for fans in university is that if the Flames start off poorly this season, tickets to home games are going to be cheap on the second-hand market.
The Flames open their season on the road against the Washington Capitals on Oct. 3 at 5 p.m. MST, and the home opener is on Oct. 6 against the Vancouver Canucks at 6 p.m. MST.