CALGARY – The Calgary Flames hope beefing up their supporting cast will extend their post-season run all the way the Stanley Cup.
Captain Jarome Iginla, goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff and defencemen Dion Phaneuf and Robyn Regehr are among the best in the business at their positions, but depth is required to win the ultra-competitive Northwest Division.
The acquisition of fleet-footed forward Mike Cammalleri and controversial addition of powerful winger Todd Bertuzzi was designed to put more flesh on the bones of what has been an inconsistent team.
The Flames open the 2008-09 season next Thursday on the road against the Vancouver Canucks.
Forwards Rene Bourque, 26, and Curtis Glencross, 25, are the other newcomers up front, as is enforcer Andre Roy to replace the muscle of departed Eric Godard.
More production is expected this season from speed centre Matthew Lombardi and winger David Moss. Moss and 22-year-old forward Dustin Boyd were the Flames’ scoring leaders in the pre-season.
The Flames made veteran defencemen Rhett Warrener and Anders Eriksson battle youngsters for their jobs during training camp in order to make their blue-line deeper from their first to their seventh defencemen.
“This is the most depth I’ve played with since I’ve been here for sure,” Iginla said.
The Bertuzzi watch is on in Calgary. If the 33-year-old can recapture the form that once made him a premiere power forward while playing on the opposite wing of Iginla, he’ll be worth the $1.95-million, one-year contract he signed in July.
He brings with him the baggage of his sucker punch to Steve Moore in 2004 when Bertuzzi played for the Canucks. The scrutiny on him will be higher in a Canadian market than it was in Anaheim, Detroit and Florida, where he spent his last two seasons.
But Flames fans seemed ready to embrace Bertuzzi given the ovation he received in his first pre-season appearance at the Pengrowth Saddledome. He has the size and power to protect the puck and the gifted hands to thread it through traffic and beat the goaltender
“It’s been a real eye-opener for sure,” Bertuzzi said. “You never know coming into a situation what to expect and what it’s going to be like, especially coming into another Canadian city after being in Vancouver for nine years.
“It’s been tremendous so far.”
The Bertuzzi and Cammalleri moves were to upgrade the secondary scoring following the departure of Kristian Huselius and Alex Tanguay.
Centre Daymond Langkow has been a reliable 20-to-30 goal man for the Flames and played centre for Bertuzzi and Iginla in the pre-season..
Cammalleri, acquired from Los Angeles, would inject speed into Calgary’s second line. After four seasons of missing the post-season with the Kings, the 26-year-old from Richmond Hill, Ont., is excited about the Flames’ potential.
“I think the sky is the limit for this team,” Cammalleri said. “I’m not going to sit here and put a name to that right now, but let your imagination take you where it may.”
Mike Keenan is in his second year behind the Flames’ bench and that continuity – Calgary had new head coaches the last two seasons – should make for a more cohesive team, Iginla said.
“When there’s a new coach, you don’t really know what to expect and it takes awhile to understand each other and what’s expected,” the captain explained. “It feels more that we are continuing the climb from last year as opposed to starting over when everyone is a bit nervous and on edge.”
The Big Four – Iginla, Kiprusoff, Regehr and Phaneuf – are under contract as a unit until the end of 2012-13.
Iginla, the heart and soul of the Flames, finished third in the NHL’s scoring race last season with 50 goals and 48 assists.
Phaneuf, a Norris Trophy nominee last season, gives the Flames offensive punch from the blue-line and his ferocious body checks are the stuff of highlight reels. General manager Darryl Sutter wants the 23-year-old to be more airtight in his own end however.
Regehr is the team’s shutdown defenceman who will be up against opposing team’s top lines.
Kiprusoff may have had a 39-win season, but his goals-against average of 2.69 and save percentage of .906 were not up to his standards in a Flames uniform.
“Of course you always want to have more wins and better numbers, but I think the main thing is to go farther than the first round of playoffs,” Kiprusoff said. “That’s what we all want here.”
Keenan pulled the Vezina Trophy winner twice in Calgary’s seven-game playoff series against the San Jose Sharks and the second time in Game 7. But Kiprusoff says his relationship with Keenan is fine.
“There’s no problems there,” Kiprusoff said.
Expectations in Calgary have been high since the Flames made it to the Stanley Cup final in 2004 before the locked-out season, but it’s been three successive first-round exits since then.
Keenan targets three areas he wants improved this season: goals-against average, power play and penalty kill.
“I think if we accomplish those three things . . . then we can make that jump because you’re going to move into the 100-plus point range and that would put you in the upper level of the league,” Keenan said.
He categorizes teams in the NHL as underdogs, contenders and favourites and puts his own team in the second class.
“We do expect our team to be better than they were a year ago. They were a playoff team and we expect this group is more competitive and we want to see those types of results. And if we do, we want to move into the next tier of competition in this league,” he said. “We’d like to move into a position of being a favourite.”