The Flames have missed the Stanley Cup playoffs in back-to-back seasons and GM Jay Feaster has vowed to return to the postseason in 2012. Given the fact that the top-five goal scorers last season were over the age of 30 and goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff will turn 35 this season, Feaster has to win now or usher in a new crop of young talent to start the rebuild. Last season, Calgary rallied from a slow start to go 27-11-9 after Christmas, but ultimately fell three points short of the playoffs.
Still, Calgary’s roster has talent. Forwards Curtis Glencross and Rene Bourque both set career-highs in goals last season with 24 and 27, respectively. Even Avalanche castaway Alex Tanguay enjoyed a career resurrection playing alongside captain Jarome Iginla. Ultimately, the Flames only went where Iginla took them last year. When Iginla struggled in the beginning of the season, so did his team. If Calgary can find some secondary scoring to complement the captain, it can easily make a run at the playoffs next season.
An underlying concern for the Flames this year is its mostly-unchanged veteran roster. Does this group have what it takes to make a playoff push this year? If not, look for Calgary to be very active at the trade deadline to create some cap space and get younger as it did in late August by acquiring forward Lee Stempniak and $2.5 million in subsequent cap space from Phoenix for aging veteran Daymond Langkow and his $4.5 million cap hit. If the Flames don’t catch fire this year, the province of Alberta may be in for another cold, uneventful winter.
THE BIG GUNS
Jarome Iginla (RW): Iginla recorded 86 points (43 G, 43 A) last season, 17 more than he had strung together in 2009-10. Easily the best forward on the team, Iginla is an offensive force who provides veteran leadership and competence in all three zones. Naturally, Iginla draws the toughest defensive pairings opponents have on board, but that hasn't stopped him from averaging close to a point-per-game in his 14-year career. The captain's plus/minus rating will be a barometer on how the Flames are doing next season. If he can improve on his “Even Steven” rating from last year, then look for Calgary to sneak into the playoff picture. Fantasy owners will definitely want to be along for the ride.
Miikka Kiprusoff (G): Kiprusoff is fresh off another solid season, having recorded 37 wins and six shutouts; a 2.63 goals-against average and .906 save percentage. With a wavering supporting cast in Calgary, the Finnish backstop works hard for his victories but has been quite consistent over the years. Even though backup goaltender Henrik Karlsson is extremely talented, don't expect Kipper to concede excessive playing time to his Swedish understudy. Kiprusoff is a safe fantasy pick because he is guaranteed playing time and has a robust track record to justify picking him high on the charts.
Alex Tanguay (LW): Tanguay revitalized his career playing alongside captain Jerome Iginla last season. He found his scoring touch en route to 22 goals and 47 assists, which marked his highest point total since 2006-07. Clearly recognizing Tanguay's importance to the club, General Manager Jay Feaster re-signed the playmaker to a new five-year deal in the summer, which all but guarantees that the Quebec native will eventually retire in Alberta.
ON THE RISE
Anton Babchuk (D): Babchuk is starting to show the form that caught the eyes of the Chicago Blackhawks, who drafted the 6-foot-5 defenseman 21st overall in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft. After spending time with Omsk Avangard in Russia's KHL league (2008-09), Babchuk returned to the states and delivered 27 points (8 G, 19 A) in 65 games last season. As a big playmaking blueliner with 50-point potential, Flames GM Jay Feaster did the organization a favor by re-signing Babchuk at only $2.5 million per year this summer. He makes for a serviceable fantasy option in most formats.
Rene Bourque (LW): One might be surprised to learn that Calgary ranked seventh in the league with a team average of 2.94 goals per game last season. Bourque had a lot to do with it, as he triggered the lamp 27 times for the second consecutive season. Sometimes the undrafted winger endures long stretches without any points, but heath permitting, he's a good bet to fall in the neighborhood of 45-60 points by the time the season comes to a close.
Curtis Glencross (LW): Glencross netted 24 goals and 43 points last season, both of which were career highs. The winger is looking to pot 30 goals next year, but there are still many critics who think that is unrealistic given Calgary's defense-based system. If Glencross does in fact achieve his goal, he could help the Flames return to the postseason, while giving fantasy owners a nice return on the investment.
TWO TO AVOID
Jay Bouwmeester (D): No active player has played more regular-season games without making it to the playoffs than Bouwmeester (635), who has only played for the Panthers and Flames in eight years of service time in the NHL. Making matters worse, the workhorse defenseman has had two consecutive disappointing seasons in Calgary, failing to reach the 30-point mark in each campaign, including career-lows in goals, with three and four scores respectively, in the past two seasons. Bouwmeester has not averaged 32 points a year by fluke, but it's clear that his fantasy stock is pointing downward.
Olli Jokinen (C): Jokinen registered 54 points (17 G, 37 A) last season, but his minus-17 rating in the plus/minus column left a lot to be desired. Calgary is in desperate need of secondary goal-scoring to complement captain Jarome Iginla, and Jokinen needs be one of the guys consistently lighting lamps. Jokinen's scoring output will be a barometer on Calgary's chances of making the playoffs, but his enigmatic ways often has fantasy owners scratching their heads.
Mikael Backlund (C): Backlund, the Flames' first-round draft selection of 2007, stands out as one of the top prospects on an organization that has a shortage of noteworthy young guns. His ascension to the NHL had been an arduous process, though a neck injury to Daymond Langkow allowed Backlund to stay up with the club for the majority of the season. In 73 games of NHL action, the Swede posted 10 goals and 15 assists, though he still watched a handful of games from the press box as a healthy scratch. He will be one to watch this season, as he can score and distribute the puck just as easily.
Paul Byron (C): Byron's a young forward likely to get every opportunity to prove himself after being a part of the Robyn Regehr trade and arriving in Calgary along with Chris Butler. Byron posted two points in eight NHL contests last year while notching 26 goals and 53 points in 67 AHL games. At 22, he's a young player with offensive upside, something the Flames need. Remember his name in keeper leagues.