Expectations more restrained Calgary Flames looks for return to playoffs

CALGARY – The Calgary Flames have been picked to contend for the division title every season since reaching the Stanley Cup in 2004 but expectations are noticeably different for 2010-11.

The veteran club with a high payroll missed the playoffs last season and produced a league-low 204 goals.

The remedy for the upcoming campaign is simple—individual players have to play to their potential if there’s going to be a return to glory.

Jarome Iginla must get back to his 50-goal seasons of 2002 and 2004, while Olli Jokinen, Alex Tanguay and a host of others have to put up the numbers they have in the past.

If the Flames can do that and retain the strong defence and solid goaltending they got from Miikka Kiprusoff last season, the club can contend for a Northwest title.

Trouble is, with Calgary’s scorers coming off sub-par campaigns, there’s no guarantee that will happen. The new Flames, who aren’t really new, are coming in a few years removed from their best seasons.

Tanguay, 30, had just 10 goals and 27 assists with Tampa Bay last season. Jokinen, 31, had 50 points in the 75 games he played for the Flames over part of two seasons, before heading to the New York Rangers in a trade Feb. 1.

“Last year was probably one of the worst years I played,” Jokinen said Friday. “Once you’ve been over a point-per-game player in this league you want to be back in that category. If I’m able to do that, get any where near the pace I was in Florida, I think I’m going to help the team a lot more than I did last year.

“I want to prove to myself I can still be a top player in this league.”

Calgary GM Darryl Sutter re-acquired the big Finnish centre, along with Tanguay, when unrestricted free agency opened July 1. The reaction to those moves raised eyebrows but also led some to believe Sutter was onto something by bringing back known commodities for less money.

Jokinen’s contract is US$6-million over two years, down from the $5.25 million he made last season. Tanguay’s is a $1.7-million, one-year deal.

Several Flames who reported for fitness testing Friday at the Pengrowth Saddledome are looking for bounce-back seasons and Calgary’s success depends upon it.

Jokinen and Tanguay are this year’s answers to the perennial question: Who can play on a line with Iginla? Tanguay is to be the playmaking foil to Iginla’s finish on the right, with Jokinen in the middle.

“I’m not a shooter-first mentality. I’m a passer-first mentality,” Tanguay said. “When you look at guys like Jarome, Olli, Rene Bourque and Daymond Langkow, there’s a lot of guys who can put the puck in the back of the net. I’ll try to be myself and give them the puck at the right opportunities and hopefully the puck will go in for us.”

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Langkow suffered a neck injury March 21 when teammate Ian White’s shot struck him. He has not been medically cleared to take contact and began skating just two weeks ago.

“This is the first time I haven’t been able to start training camp, so it’s a different feeling,” Langkow said. “A couple weeks ago I think I said I was close to 100 per cent, but was not as close as I thought.”

The 33-year-old centre doesn’t have a timeline for his return. That could create an early-season battle for second-line centre between Matt Stajan, acquired from Toronto last season the Dion Phaneuf trade, and Mikael Backlund, a first-round draft pick in 2007.

Head coach Brent Sutter said his team needs to create more offence this season “but it can’t be at the expense of being a sloppy team. We want to continue to be good when we don’t have the puck.”

He pointed to the Flames’ anaemic power play as an area requiring the most improvement.

“When your power play is 16 per cent, that’s not good enough,” Sutter said.”Our top players play on it.”

The Flames open training camp almost $2.4 million over the salary cap of $59.4 million. Eight defenceman have one-way contracts, which has fuelled a summer of trade rumours.

Shut-down defender Robyn Regehr and his $4-million price tag have been the subject of many of them, but the 30-year-old would have to waive his no-movement clause first.

“It’s nice that you do know as a player that ultimately you have the final say if you are approached, but I don’t think you can think about that kind of stuff at all,” Regehr said. “For me, I need to think about things I want to do this season and need to do for the team.”

Ales Kotalik is another situation to monitor during training camp. The 31-year-old Czech forward had five points in 26 games with the Flames afterhe was acquired from the Rangers in the Jokinen deal.

When the Flames placed him and his $3 million salary on waivers this summer, he appeared on his way out the door. Kotalik is at camp, however, trying to get back in Calgary’s good graces.

Iginla, whose 32 goals and 37 assists last season was his lowest total since 2006, believes the Flames have the personnel to return to the post-season.

“I think it’s going to be a great year, I really do,” the captain said. “I think I can be better than I was last year. I think we’re going to be a lot better team than we were last year.”