Friday, August 30, 2013

Will the 2013-14 Flames supplant the 1997-98 team as the worst in franchise history?



The writing is on the wall alright, like a vibrant three-storey mural on the side of a building in Kensington. This year's edition of the Calgary Flames -- less Jarome Iginla, Miikka Kiprusoff and Jay Bouwmeester, should be plain old awful.

Oh, there will be a Gary Coleman-like cuteness to the team for a while with all the new faces and influx of youth. For the first couple months, invigorated fans will want to grab the players by the cheeks and give them a kiss.

But what's adorable in October may be deplorable by March as losses mount and the grind of playing in the rugged new Pacific Division takes its toll. By the trade deadline, fans may want to give the team a shake instead.

When the season wraps up April 13 with one last merciful visit to the Pacific Time zone and a date with Vancouver at Rogers Arena, will this year's Calgary Flames be putting an exclamation mark on the worst season in franchise history? That's what I'm here to debate.

The score to beat is 67 points amassed by the 1997-98 edition of the Calgary Flames, who went 26-41-15 under the guidance of newly hired head coach Brian Sutter. Last year's club, if you're curious, was on pace for 71 points over a full season if you do the math. Close, but not quite -- even if you subtract the bonus points. The expansion Atlanta Flames in 1972-73 hold the franchise record for lowest point total of 65, but that was achieved over a relatively short 78-game schedule so averaged out, even that outfit ranks ahead of the 1997-98 Flames.

Tale of the Tape - 1997-98 vs. 2013-14

Forwards

The 2013-14 Flames... For the first time in a long time, they don't have that de facto go-to guy. Not overly relying on one player can be a good thing but it can also be a sign of thin resources. I recently wrote how 11 different players have a legitimate shot to lead Calgary in scoring this year. The most talented of the bunch is left-winger Sven Baertschi, but he's a month away from turning 21 and putting the team on his shoulders at this stage in his career is a lot to ask. There's a solid supporting cast that are back in sharp-shooting Curtis Glencross, Mike Cammalleri, Jiri Hudler, Lee Stempniak and Matt Stajan who bounced back nicely last season with a very consistent year. However, centre is a weakness where Mikael Backlund gets the top rung by acclamation and untested, fresh-out-of-college Corban Knight may even jump straight into the line-up. Sixth overall pick Sean Monahan is a possibility too, but is likely headed back to junior. Roman Horak figures into the forward mix also while David Jones and TJ Galiardi are new acquisitions with experience, who are looking for a fresh start. Grit comes in the form of Tim Jackman and Brian McGrattan.

The 1997-98 Flames... Comparably, they were a younger group. Gone were veterans Dave Gagner, who left in the summer as a free agent, and Gary Roberts -- recovering from a neck injury that led to his temporary retirement and the missing of the 1996-97 season, who unretired and was traded to Carolina. That left only one regular up front who had celebrated a 30th birthday and that was 32-year-old German Titov. Theoren Fleury, 29, was the offensive catalyst and pretty much a one-man show. Fleury lead the team in goals (27), assists (51) and even penalty minutes (197). His 78 points were 29 better than next-best Cory Stillman. Joining Titov up the middle were Andrew Cassels, Michael Nylander and dependable Jim Dowd, who tied for the team lead at plus-10. Other key players up front included Jarome Iginla, who fell to 13 goals in his sophomore year after firing 21 as a rookie, Marty McInnis, Hnat Domenichelli, Jonas Hoglund -- before being dealt to Montreal in February for Valeri Bure, Sandy McCarthy -- before being dealt to Tampa Bay in March for Jason Wiemer, and Chris Dingman.

> Edge - 2013-14 Flames will be slightly worse.

There is no clutch go-to guy like Fleury and in tight, low-scoring games, that will mean the difference between picking up 1 or 2 points versus suffering a regulation loss. Baertschi may become that guy eventually but he's not there yet. Cammalleri, Stempniak and Stajan are solid players but both are pending UFAs and could very likely be traded away. That will leave the team with voids and while Calgary has begun to assemble some nice, young talent in the pipeline, they're not ready to step-in and make an impact at the NHL level yet.

Defence

The 2013-14 Flames... The four main pieces are comprised of veterans Mark Giordano, Dennis Wideman and Shane O'Brien -- who are all born within eight months of each other and will all be 30 by the start of the season, along with rising star TJ Brodie, who is just 23. They're complemented by an assortment of pieces in Kris Russell, Chris Butler, Derek Smith and Mark Cundari. The future is bright with Patrick Sieloff and Tyler Wotherspoon on the way but it's doubtful either will be a factor this season.

The 1997-98 Flames... In a blend of experience and youth, elder statesmen James Patrick, 34,  and Tommy Albelin, 33, were surrounded by a bunch of prospects under the age of 25. Nineteen-year-old Derek Morris was the youngest of the lot, which also featured captain Todd Simpson, Cale Hulse, Joel Bouchard and Jamie Allison.

> Edge - 1997-98 Flames were worse.

Brodie, who is older and more experienced, gets the edge on Morris as the token prize prospect. While veterans Patrick and Albelin may have brought a bit more to the dressing room, there's also some good character in the younger trio of Giordano, Wideman, and O'Brien and the latter are more dynamic on the ice. While Hulse and Simpson would have the edge over Russell and Butler, it's not significant and Cundari is a dark horse who could really be a pleasent surprise this year.

Goaltending

The 2013-14 Flames... With much optimism, Calgary turns to North American newcomers Karri Ramo and Reto Berra to replace Kiprusoff, who was the single most important cog on this team the past decade. As I chronicled here in a recent article, Ramo's been on this side of the Atlantic before although it was a long time ago and the results were mixed. Like a favourite pair of sneakers you can't throw away, Joey MacDonald is still with the team to provide comfort if things fall apart but be under no illusion, it's about the 27-year-old Finn and 26-year-old from Switzerland. Can one or both of them show that indeed, last year they were the best goaltenders not in the NHL.

The 1997-98 Flames... With Trevor Kidd shipped out the previous summer as part of the Roberts trade, Calgary deployed a goaltending tandem of Dwayne Roloson and Rick Tabaracci. While both were 28 years old, Roloson was playing just his second NHL season. The more-seasoned Tabaracci, who had played for the Flames the previous year, was traded to Tampa Bay and then re-acquired in the summer, had played in parts of eight NHL seasons previously. The team goals-against-average of 3.07 that year ranked 22nd out of the league's 26 teams.

> Edge - 1997-98 Flames were worse. Maybe.

Calgary's goaltending this year really is the great unknown. It would be easy to look at factors like the inevitable adjustment that comes with playing on the small NHL ice in North America and ask how could these two unproven guys possibly be better.

Firstly, you're only measuring them up against Tabaracci and Roloson. The knock on Roloson was he never won the team a game. He was good, but never spectacular. Tabaracci was no threat to win the Vezina either. Time will tell but Ramo and Berra, on the other hand, may possess the ability to steal a game -- Berra with his size, Ramo with his acrobatic style, although there will be some duds along the way.

While Berra's track record statistically offers no assurances, those that watched him play regularly in the Swiss league say he's an excellent goalie. As documented in my 12 Neat Things About Reto Berra, he also had a great 2013 World Championships.

Conclusion

It all comes down to goaltending. If this year's Flames get an excellent year out of Ramo and/or Berra, I would rank this team as marginally better than the 1997-98 team. However, Calgary finds itself in a tough division this year so while potentially being better on paper, I'd expect a point total in or around the same 67 point mark from 16 years ago. However, remember that this is not an apples-to-apples comparison given the prevalence of the three-point game now. So, 67 points today with the bonus points added in would be equivalent to a 62-63 point season by 1997-98 standards.

More importantly than all that, what will the Flames do at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, which will surely be their first top five pick in history?

At the 1998 draft after finishing 22nd out of the 26th teams, the Flames got sixth pick. It would have been a top five pick except the expansion Nashville Predators, beginning play the next season, were awarded the third overall pick, bumping Calgary's draft slot down to sixth. Russian defenseman Vitali Vishnevski was the guy who went No. 5. The Flames selected Rico Fata at No. 6 and we all know how well that panned out. High draft picks to poor teams are how those teams are supposed to get back to being competitive. Instead, the Flames blew that pivotal rebuilding piece and by no coincidence, what followed was the Flames missing the playoffs for five additional seasons.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Summer 'Best Of' - Round-up of Relevant Calgary Flames Reading for 2013-14

As is the nature of Twitter and how it's used, a majority of followers will often miss your Tweets if they're not on Twitter at that precise moment you Tweet something out. Sure, some may scroll back on their timeline a little bit to see what they missed overnight or earlier in the day but at that point as they quickly scroll through 'old' Tweets, it's like channel surfing with the volume muted -- most Tweets will end up discarded.

It's for this reason -- your benefit, that when I want to share a link to a newly written Canadian Press story that's on the wire, or when I have cobbled together a new blog post, I will usually Tweet it multiple times, at varying times of the day, and over a couple day span. It's not to spam your timeline and annoy you but is intended merely as a courtesy to those non hard-core Twitter users who otherwise may not know I've written a new Calgary Flames story that you may be interested to read.

Because during the summer, the likeliness of missing stories only increases further due to vacation, I'm taking this opportunity -- with 2013-14 training camp nearly upon us, to pull together in one spot, a tidy recap of all the best and still relevant Flames posts from the past few months in cased you missed any of them. This will get you fired up for the upcoming season which gets underway for Calgary officially on Oct. 3 when they open the season in Washington against Mikhail Grabovski and the Capitals.

Thanks for reading and be sure to follow me at @DarrenHaynes_CP so you'll be the first to know whenever new stories are posted.

12 Calgary Flames Articles You May Have Missed



  • TJ Brodie Signing is a Win-Win for Everyone - Even if two years from now, Brodie signs for seven years and $38-million, the Flames are still further ahead than paying him $28-million over seven years today. I demonstrate why there's (nearly) no chance not signing Brodie long term will come back to haunt Calgary. Read it now.

  • Calgary Flames All-Time Best Player Names - In honour of Pekka Rautakallio's 60th birthday, I had a little fun by going back over the years and coming up with a 23-man roster consisting only of the most interesting and unusual player names that have played for Calgary. It included a player who has more letters in his last name than minutes played in his three-game stint with the Flames. Read it now.

  • Opportunity Knocks for Roman Horak - He began last year the hottest player on the planet notching 10 goals in his first nine games. This year he's ditched No. 51 for a new "more mature" jersey number. Horak says he wants to be a top six forward some day and as he looks ahead to 2013-14 -- and considering he's a centre, he may not get a better opportunity. Read it now.



  • Gaudreau Excited About his Future and the Flames Future Too - He played on a line with Sean Monahan, he posed for pictures with young fans. As crafty Johnny Gaudreau soaked up his experience at Flames development camp, he explained to me why he's going back to school, he talked about where he's at size-wise and where he wants to get, and he hinted at possibly joining the Flames by the end of the 2013-14 season. Read it now.

  • Brossoit Shows He Has Plenty of Game - His WHL career began at age 15, now he's 20. Laurent Brossoit says he's ready for the next level and he showed that with two outstanding outings at the Flames development camp. As a sixth round pick, this draft day steal talked about Calgary's goaltending situation and the amazing opportunity lying ahead with Miikka Kiprusoff likely retired. Read it now.

  • Dozen Thoughts From Flames Development Camp Scrimmage No. 1 - It was high intensity, heavy hitting, and the best collection of talent the Flames have ever assembled for a development camp scrimmage. Played before a packed house at WinSport, my look at the prospects that stood out along with other musings from that first scrimmage back in July. Read it now.

  • The Flames Roller-Coaster 2013 Draft - What a super fun afternoon that Sunday was in New Jersey as the biggest draft day in Calgary Flames history played itself out. Included were moments of elation, heartbreak, and confusion as fans hung on and enjoyed what was an absolutely wild, exhilarating and fascinating ride. Read it now.

  • Ten Biggest Days in Franchise History - So where does the 2013 NHL Entry Draft rank in terms of the most significant days in Calgary Flames history?  For now, I've got it at No. 5 but that will inevitably change depending on how it ultimately turns out. Can you name the four days I ranked above this past draft as even bigger moments?  Give it a thought then check out the answer -- according to me, anyway. Read it now.

Friday, August 23, 2013

North America, Take One – Recounting Karri Ramo’s First Attempt at the NHL

Having spent the past four years in Russia, many forget that Calgary Flames goaltending prospect Karri Ramo has been in the NHL before.

Without much fanfare, Ramo’s adventurous initial stint in North America began in 2006 as a 20-year-old and over the duration of his three-year entry level contract, the Finn’s time on this side of the Atlantic included 18 trips back and forth between Tampa Bay and its American Hockey League affiliate – along with a fighting major, a couple game misconducts and a six-game suspension. He may hail from the same country as Miikka Kiprusoff, but if history is any indication, he apparently has a little more Ville Nieminen in him.

Looking Beyond the Numbers

Upon first glance at the mediocre numbers Ramo compiled during his three years, there’s really nothing that jumps out at you:
  • NHL:  48 games, 11-21-10 record, 0 shutouts, 3.35 GAA, .883 SV%
  • AHL:  77 games, 24-42-5 record, 1 shutout, 3.38 GAA, .886 SV%
However, I decided to scratch below the surface of those innocuous-looking stat lines and explore the story behind how those first three years unfolded and in particular, how he racked up 49 penalty minutes in his relatively short body of work.

Setting the Scene

Less than three weeks after defeating the Flames in seven games to win the Stanley Cup in 2004, Tampa Bay selected Ramo in the sixth round, 191st overall, at the NHL Entry Draft in Raleigh, North Carolina.

The NHL lock-out resulted in the cancellation of the 2004-05 season so when the Lightning finally took the ice as the defending champions in 2005-06, they ended up nearly missing the playoffs, finishing 8th in the East (43-33-6) with 92 points. After losing in five games in the opening round to top-seeded Ottawa, Lightning head coach John Tortorella expressed his unhappiness with the play of his club’s goaltending tandem of Sean Burke and John Grahame, who combined for a paltry 4.44 goals-against average (GAA) and .858 save percentage (SV%) in the series. It resulted in a series of goaltending-related moves by the organization that following summer:
  • May 31 - Ramo, who had been playing in Finland, signed a pro contract with the Lightning.
  • June 1 - Tampa Bay signed goaltender Johan Holmqvist, 28, who had played the previous two seasons in Sweden.
  • June 30 - Goaltender Marc Denis, 29, was acquired in a trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
  • July 1 - Grahame left the team as an unrestricted free agent, signing with the Carolina Hurricanes.
Meanwhile, still in the mix was Burke, who had one year remaining on his contract.

>> 2006-07 – Year One

With Denis and Holmqvist emerging as the new goaltending tandem in Tampa Bay, Burke and Ramo were both assigned to Springfield in the American Hockey League where they formed one of the more unusual goaltending duos. You will remember Danny Devito and Arnold Schwarzenegger as twins in that classic Ivan Reitman movie from 1988. Well, this combination was just as big of a contrast.

There was Ramo, a 20-year-old kid from Finland, playing in North America for the first time. Then there’s the other guy, grizzled veteran Burke, 39, who at the time had 797 NHL games and 318 NHL victories on his resume. 

In fact, Burke was drafted in 1985, over a year before Ramo was born. 

A Feisty First Weekend

After Burke drew the start in Springfield’s season-opener, it was Ramo’s turn in the Falcons second game on Friday, Oct. 13. Ramo’s North America debut didn’t go that well, getting lit up for six goals on 34 shots by Norfolk, who won the game 6-3. Two of the goals and 10 of the shots came off the stick of Dustin Byfuglien. The winning goaltender for the Chicago Blackhawks affiliate, with 26 stops, was Corey Crawford.

The next night, back in the same barn in Virginia, things got interesting. Burke got the start but didn’t make it through the first period, yanked after surrendering four goals in the opening 12 minutes. Things got out of control at 6:23 of the third period with Springfield down 7-1 when tough guy Mitch Fritz attacked Byfuglien. While this unfolded, Ramo shocked everyone in attendance by skating the length of the ice to drop the blocker and mitt with Norfolk goaltender Sebastien Caron. Was Ramo jumping to the defence of his teammate Fritz? It wouldn't seem that way considering Fritz received 27 minutes in penalties in the exchange while Byfuglien was not penalized at all. Instead, in his second pro game in North America, Ramo turned into one of the Hanson brothers and was tossed from the game and tagged with 19 penalty minutes in the process -- leaving the crease, instigator, fighting, and a misconduct.

Before long -- and because of his acrobatic goaltending ability and not because of his pugilistic talents, Ramo took the Springfield starting job away from Burke, who in January would be picked up by Los Angeles off waivers after a slew of injuries left the Kings in desperate need of an experienced NHL goaltender.

Ramo's NHL Debut

On Dec. 1, 2006, Tampa Bay Executive Vice President and General Manager Jay Feaster announced that Ramo has been recalled because the Lightning were travelling to Ottawa and Denis was not able to accompany the team on its one-game road trip to Canada because his working visa had still not been approved and there was a risk he wouldn’t be allowed back into the U.S.

Ramo’s NHL debut came that next night in Ottawa, entering the game after Holmqvist gave up three goals on 7 shots in the first 8:06. Ramo started off with saves against Chris Neil and Jason Spezza before a second shot by Spezza, a 15-foot snapper, beat him. Ramo played the rest of the game, stopping 16 of 18 shots, the other goal scored by Antoine Vermette. Final score was 5-2 for Ray Emery and the Senators. Ramo returned to the minors the next day.

Riding the AHL Roller Coaster

Back in Springfield, Ramo promptly lost his next four starts – getting pulled in the first two games, and posting a shoddy .851 SV% and 4.31 GAA over that span. 

Despite that rough patch, Ramo was named to the AHL Eastern Conference All-Star team and won the Best Goaltender Award at the AHL skills competition.
 
March went much better -- .922 SV% and 2.72 GAA in four games and that earned Ramo a recall on March 18, the night Washington had routed the Lightning 7-1 with Denis beaten three times on five shots.

With three healthy goalies now on the Lightning roster, Ramo dressed as the back-up on Mar. 22 and again on Mar. 24 when he replaced Denis 2:12 into the third period. In his second NHL appearance, once again in relief and once again versus the Senators, Ramo gave up 2 goals on 5 shots in the final 17:48 with ex-Flame Dean McAmmond and Dany Heatley beating him.

Despite Denis’ continued struggles, it still raised eyebrows when Tortorella declared Ramo as Holmqvist's back-up for the 2007 Eastern Conference quarter-final. Ramo did not see any action but was on the bench for all six games as Tampa Bay, the 7th seed, was eliminated 4-2 by the 2nd seeded New Jersey Devils.

>> 2007-08 – Year Two

Despite winning his one pre-season game, a 4-3 victory over Detroit, Ramo was again sent to the AHL and the Lightning’s new affiliate in Norfolk to start the season as Tampa Bay began with the same tandem as a year ago with Denis and Holmqvist.

In his first AHL game, Ramo suffered a high ankle sprain and missed nearly two months before returning to the line-up in December.

Meanwhile, his goaltending was again causing Tortella all sorts of grief. On Dec. 13, head coach Mike Keenan and the Calgary Flames strutted into Tampa Bay and scored four times on their first six shots against Holmqvist and went on to win 9-6. Jarome Iginla and Kristian Huselius had three goals each – all of Iginla’s goals coming in the third period, breaking a 5-5 tie.  Two notes from that game is it was one of only three career wins for Kiprusoff (3-15-2) when he gave up six or more goals. In a losing cause, current Flames defenceman Shane O’Brien had his only career three-assist game.

That game was the start of an ugly three-game losing skid, which saw Tampa Bay surrender 18 goals, dropping its team save percentage (.879) to dead last in the league. 

On Dec. 19, the Lightning placed Denis on waivers and recalled Ramo, who had just returned to action after missing 21 games with his sprained ankle. Ramo made his NHL starting debut against Toronto on Dec. 20 -- just over a year after his first NHL relief appearance.

(Note: After going unclaimed, Denis played the rest of the year in the minors, then had the remainder of his contract bought out by the Lightning. The one-time top prospect played just one more NHL period the rest of his career – a relief appearance for Montreal in January 2009.)

A Sizzling NHL Debut as a Starter

Matched up against the Maple Leafs – a third straight appearance against a team from Ontario, Ramo was outstanding stopping 31 of 32 shots as the Lightning beat Toronto 2-1. Only Matt Stajan scored.

Ramo started the next two games as well and despite taking the loss both nights, he had solid games stopping 33 of 35 shots against Carolina and 29 of 32 shots versus Washington.

Ramo remained with Tampa Bay the rest of the year, finishing 7-11-3 with a 3.03 GAA and .899 SV%. He did see his playing time decrease significantly when the Lightning traded Holmqvist to Dallas on Feb. 26 in a multi-player trade that saw the Lightning acquire goaltender Mike Smith.

The Lightning failed to make the playoffs.

>> 2008-09 – Year Three

It was a tumultuous off-season for the Lightning, who underwent an ownership change. The most controversial move was the trading away of star defenceman Dan Boyle to the San Jose Sharks.

Among the changes off the ice was Tortorella stepping down and being replaced by Barry Melrose. Feaster, with three years left on his contract, also resigned.

In goal, veteran Olaf Kolzig was signed as a free agent to back-up Smith.  The organization’s plan was to have Ramo, still only 22, spend the full season at Norfolk to work on his overall game.

Lightning Struck by Injuries

For the third season in a row, Ramo started the season in the minors but for the third season in a row, he finished the year with the NHL club. This time it was due to injuries to Kolzig and Smith.

Ramo’s first NHL appearance this year was in relief of Kolzig on Nov. 23 while Smith was temporarily on injured reserve.

On Dec. 17, Kolzig suffered what would turn out to be a career-ending injury when he tore a tendon in his bicep during practice. While shuttling up and down from the minors, Ramo made the occasional start while operating as Smith’s primary back up. 

In February, Smith ended up sidelined with a concussion that left Ramo as the primary starter for the final two months with emergency free agent signee Mike McKenna and young prospect Riku Helenius also seeing the occasional playing time.

Punching out in Style

As it turns out, Ramo’s time in the AHL would end much like it began -- in hot water.

In what would end up being his final start for Norfolk on Jan. 23 vs Lake Erie, Ramo was pulled for an extra attacker in the game’s final minute as the Admirals pressed for the tying goal in the 3-2 game. At the end of the game, a small brawl broke out on the ice with Steve Downie in the middle of it. Ramo, along with a Lake Erie player, both came off the bench to get involved in the melee and for that, they each received a six-game suspension. That would turn out to be Ramo’s last stand in the AHL.

On June 23, 2009, Ramo signed a contract with Avangard Omsk of the KHL, where he would remain before officially signing with the Flames on July 5, 2013.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

11 Candidates To Lead the Flames In Scoring

One of the better discussions being had over cold beverages these days is who will lead the Calgary Flames in scoring in the 2013-14 season. It's an intriguing topic for a couple of reasons.

For one, it's such a new and fresh debate. Gone is perennial champion Jarome Iginla, who held that distinction for 11 straight seasons after finishing runner-up to Valeri Bure in 1999-00. Last year, it was only thanks to Iginla's departure to Pittsburgh that he didn't make it an even dozen. Instead, Mike Cammalleri and Lee Stempniak shared the honours with 32 points. (Iginla finished with 33 points but 11 came during that failed 73-day experiment with the Penguins.)

The other fascinating angle is how unbelievably wide open the race is. By my estimation, there are 11 players who you could make the argument have a legitimate shot at leading the Flames in points next season. The expression 'a roll of the dice' has never been more true.

On Sportsnet960 radio the other day, I joined morning host Andrew Walker to discuss this topic and case in point, we only had two common names between our respective lists of the five most likely candidates to finish the year with the most points.

As there were way more talking points then I had time to get into on the air, here's the print version of my side of the conversation. Do you agree or disagree? Who would be your choice?

One Player Who Will Lead the Flames in Scoring

LW Sven Baertschi

The one guy that I see rising above all the others is Baertschi. Now I'm not expecting a large point total from him, mid-to-high 50s is where he'll likely end up but that may be all it takes to be the best on this crew this particular year. It won't be a runaway, there will be a peloton of players not far behind, but the title should belong to the young Swiss star, who will turn 21 the first week of October. It may just be the first of several in a row for Baertschi too, who is still a rookie by the NHL's definition and thus eligible this year for the Calder Trophy.

Why He Will Win It?
  • On the current roster (i.e. Not including Johnny Gaudreau), Baertschi is the Flames most skilled offensive player.
  • He's not bound for the third line. His role on this club for Calgary to have any hope of succeeding in the future will be as an offensive catalyst and play-maker. You can bet he will be given every opportunity to establish himself in this role this season, including a ton of power-play ice time.
  • While his confidence wavered early last year, that's not unusual for a young player. I see 2013-14 playing out more like how Baertschi's season ended (nine points in his last seven games, finished with a 7-game scoring streak) rather than how it began (1 point in first 13 games). 
  • While it's a huge stretch to say the Flames as a team will carry the slightest bit of momentum into this season based on the wins they picked up last April, the same cannot be said for Baertschi. I wouldn't underestimate the importance his individual success over those final four weeks will have on his psyche entering this season. 
  • He's motivated to succeed. Remember after Iginla was traded? Baertschi wasn't shy about stating his desire to become the new face of the franchise.
  • I don't envision him matching up against opposition's top lines. There are veterans on this club who are better suited for that and more likely to draw those difficult assignments.
  • This year the pressure is off. The team is going nowhere, everybody realizes that. This isn't a club that will be moving players up and down the lines and in and out of roles haphazardly in a desperate bid to win now. They're building for the future with Baertschi one of the most pivotal building blocks.

Five Others Who Could Lead the Flames in Scoring

LW Jiri Hudler
  • Why He Could... After piling up 96 points for Grand Rapids (AHL) as a 21-year-old in 2006, he played in the shadows of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg in Detroit. Four years ago when he returned to the KHL, he had 54 points in 54 games to finish in the top 10. After last year playing second fiddle to Iginla. now he's got a chance to be the difference maker. He'll play top six, will see plenty of time on the PP. He's also very durable having missed less than 20 games to injury in six NHL seasons. A full training camp will also be beneficial after the difficulties Hudler faced last year with the passing of his father at the start of the season.
  • Why He Won't... It won't be because he'll be traded. With three years to go on his 4-year/$16-million deal, I don't see him going anywhere just yet although next summer, especially if he has a good year, expect to hear his name bandied about. The biggest reason I don't see him winning the scoring race is because I see Baertschi edging him out, it's that simple. That and Hudler's propensity to go through extended cold stretches offensively.

LW Curtis Glencross
  • Why He Could... He can flat out score goals, no question. Am I surprised? I was admittedly skeptical after his first season, and not yet convinced after his second year. But tip of the cowboy hat to him, he's sure proven he's an accurate shooter. With 80 goals the last four seasons, he has developed into a steady, reliable offensive weapon, not bad for a guy who was never drafted. Power play, short handed, late in the game, he'll be playing in all key situations this year.
  • Why He Won't... While he may very well lead the team in goals, he's not enough of a play maker to top the team in points. Think of it like this, Glencross has always played on other people's lines but has anyone ever played on his line? Also, there's much more to his value to this team than just the one end of the ice and this will include tough checking assignments when matched up against the opposition's top line.


D TJ Brodie
  • Why He Could... He's going to play a lot, much like he did the final month last year when he logged over 23 minutes per night. Included will be a lot of power play time because Brodie is the future quarterback and is already splitting those duties with Dennis Wideman. The last 10 games of last year, Brodie's six points was tied for second on the team behind Baertschi. His confidence and assertiveness skating with the puck seemed to grow with every shift last season. Beginning a two-year bridge contract, a stand-out season this year and you never know, that could ignite long-term extension talks by next summer.
  • Why He Won't... History. A defenceman has never led the Flames in scoring and there have been a couple great ones as you'll recall in Al MacInnis and Gary Suter. Closest was MacInnis in 1990-91, whose 103 points was one behind Theoren Fleury. MacInnis finished five points back of Joe Nieuwendyk the year before that. Even if the power play is the source of much of the team's offence, it will be very difficult for Brodie to get enough points to finish on top. Plus, he'll lose some points to Wideman.

C Matt Stajan
  • Why He Could... Did you know Stajan led Calgary with 23 even-strength points last season? After two seasons as every Flames fan's favourite whipping boy, Stajan staged a remarkable turnaround last year. He found his confidence, he was smiling again, and with his tireless work ethic he was the Flames most consistent forward over the 48 games. Hook him up with a couple skilled wingers, give him some time with the extra man (which was non-existent last year) and he could approach the 55 points he recorded with Toronto in 2008-09. Stajan is a pending UFA at season's end but he's the one guy I wouldn't be surprised to see Calgary sign to an extension if the trade market is weak and the team values him as a veteran centre who could help mentor all the young forwards on the way.
  • Why He Won't... While he's got decent offensive skills when he's playing with confidence, the most redeeming assets of Stajan's game are his defensive qualities. He's re-invented himself as a steady, reliable, responsible guy who is the consummate third line centre in my book. While he will see more power play time, it won't be substantial as the Flames have younger options they'll deploy ahead of him and without 5-on-4 time, his upside offensively will be limited .

C Sean Monahan
  • Why He Could... He led a bad Ottawa 67's team in scoring last year by a whopping 38 points, which slotted him in the top 15 in the OHL and he missed 10 games due to a suspension. He's shown offensive flashes every chance he's had since GM Jay Feaster called his name sixth overall in June  -- first at Flames development camp, then at Canada's World Junior evaluation camp. He's got a good shot and clearly has an above average offensive skill set. He also plays a position where opportunity to stick with Calgary the entire year is possible and his serious, determined approach to things so far shows he's not someone who is going to be sent down without a fight.
  • Why He Won't... Because there just isn't enough to be gained by the Flames to keep an 18-year-old hanging around a bottom-three team while also burning the first year of his entry level contract. He'll get a taste, it might be 4 or 5 games or it might be the maximum  nine, but then he'll return to the OHL where his season will consist of the World Juniors at Christmas and possibly some OHL playoffs if the 67's deal him to a contender. Monahan may think he's ready for the rigours of the NHL but doesn't every kid at age 18?  The grind of battling against all those big, rugged Pacific Division teams over six long months is not something he's come close to experiencing yet and there's no need to rush him. Plus, delaying by a year the onset of his next 'big' contract could also be a huge factor in a few years once the rebuild has turned the corner and the Flames become a cap team again.   

Five Others Who Won't Lead the Flames In Scoring

LW Mike Cammalleri
  • Why He's in the Conversation... With seasons of 80 and 82 points on his resume, he's the team's most accomplished offensive player on paper. Having just turned 31, he's on the other side of the so-called hill but he's tip-toeing down and there's still plenty of game left in him. You know he'll see a lot of time with the extra man where he racked up 15 of his 32 points last year. 
  • Why He Won't... He won't finish the season with the Flames, plain and simple. In the final season of a deal that carries a $6-million cap hit (and pays him $7-million in salary this year), I would be stunned if this pending UFA is still with Calgary come March. While he's being showcased in hopes the Flames can get a second round pick for him, he'll get his points and he may even be leading the team in scoring when he packs up his suitcase. However, it won't be a sizable-enough lead to last.

RW Lee Stempniak
  • Why He's in the Conversation... Stempniak was tied for the team lead in points last year and he's been a fairly consistent performer year-over-year (albeit agonizingly streaky within the confines of each season.) In 2006-07, his career-high 52 points placed him second behind Doug Weight for the St. Louis Blues scoring lead. He's also another guy that stays healthy. Going back a dozen years to the start of his U.S. college career, the only serious injury he's had was an ankle injury two years ago.
  • Why He Won't... For one, the 2006-07 season was seven years ago. Secondly, Stempniak is also a pending UFA and a very affordable one at $2.5-million. Stempniak does not have Calgary ties, he's not a Western Canadian kid, he's from New York and he's been dealt three times already in his NHL career. This season will be his fourth. 

D Dennis Wideman
  • Why He's in the Conversation... With his heavy shot, Wideman will be playing a bunch on the power play and as previously referenced with Brodie, that's where a lot of this team's goals will be scored. Wideman also has a 50-point season to his credit and that number isn't far off what the top point total will probably be for the Flames when this season ends.
  • Why He Won't... When he had that 50-point year with Boston, it was a high-scoring team and there were five other Bruins with the same or more points. Another roadblock is Brodie, who is seven years younger. Wideman will get a lot of points this year, I envision him and Brodie both being near the top of the team's scoring race, but they will end up cannibalizing each others point totals and in the end, neither will have enough to top Baertschi... or Hudler for that matter. For what it's worth, my money's on Brodie to edge Wideman by a couple points.

C Mikael Backlund
  • Why He's in the Conversation... He keeps getting better and is just now starting to play like the first round pick the Flames used to draft him 24th overall in 2007. Last year was his best year yet and this year he's in line for Calgary's No. 1 centre job which will give him two nice options for wingers. In short, there are a lot of things to like. Even his numbers in Sweden both before coming to Calgary as well as during the NHL lockout indicate there is still plenty of untapped offensive potential. 
  • Why He Won't... He's not your prototypical pure scorer. He'll see a lot of the opposition's top defence pairing which won't make for much real estate out there. He'll also find himself trying to fend off the opposition's top checking line a lot. Backlund is developing into a nice all-round player and while that increases his value to the team, it won't necessarily correlate to a massive increase in his point total. His goals and assists this season will certainly rise some as should be expected from a player that's 24 years old but it won't be enough to catch Baertschi. Although it wouldn't shock me if he comes pretty close and finishes top four. 

RW David Jones
  • Why He's in the Conversation... He's got more offensive skill than Flames fans realize and they will be pleasantly surprised. Last year's three goals in 33 games was the anomaly. With a top six role certainly possible, a 25-goal season isn't out of the question. In the three seasons prior to that, he rang up 57 goals in 172 games, a pace of over 27 goals per 82 games. 
  • Why He Won't... He's built out of a similar mould to Glencross in that he's a more of a shooter than a passer. Secondly, he's had an injury-riddled career and there's nothing to suggest this year will be anything different. While he was notching those 57 goals, he had just 41 helpers. He finishes plays, doesn't necessarily begin them, and while that's a useful attribute, it's not conducive to piling up many assists and being a legitimate threat for the team's scoring title.