THN’s PRE-SEASON PREDICTION: No. 7 in Pacific Division
2013: 19-25-4. 13th in West.
THN’s TOP PROJECTED SCORERS: Curtis Glencross (48), Mike Cammalleri (47), Sven Baertschi (43).
KEY DEPARTURES: Cory Sarich, Alex Tanguay, Anton Babchuk, Roman Cervenka, Miikka Kiprusoff.
KEY ADDITIONS: David Jones, T.J. Galiardi, Corban Knight, Sean Monahan, Kris Russell, Shane O’Brien, Karri Ramo.
THE PROS: Despite clearly making the move to go all-in for a rebuild, Calgary still has a decent collection of veteran wingers up front. Curtis Glencross, Lee Stempniak, Jiri Hudler and Mike Cammalleri were large reasons why Calgary’s power play ranked a surprising ninth in the league last season (20 percent), despite the fact the team was one of the worst in the league. Dennis Wideman wouldn’t be a No. 1 defenseman on a contending team, but he’s still a puck-moving blueliner who creates offense. Most of the spotlight will be focused on how the young players play and improve, as they are the real key cogs of the new era. Baertschi will take most of the attention, but Mikael Backlund has much proving and improving to do. Sean Monahan, who was just picked sixth overall by the Flames in June, will be given an opportunity to make the team, which would allow Flames fans to peer a little further into the future.
THE CONS: Glory days, well they’ll pass you by, glory days. Even if Baertschi and Backlund improve and Monahan makes the cut, it’s not like these guys are going to emerge as world-beaters this season and lead the Flames on some miracle run to the playoffs. This year, and probably the next few, is all about gradual gains. And though the collection of top-line wingers isn’t awful, the center position leaves a lot to be desired. Stajan hasn’t scored double-digit goal totals in a full season with the Flames yet and Roman Horak is in the same boat as Backlund, hoping for improvement, not expecting dominance. Also – the defense is putrid. For as much heat as Jay Bouwmeester took in Calgary, it will become immediately noticeable how much they miss him. The team allowed the 17th-most shots against last season and the 28th-most goals against – and that was with Miikka Kiprusoff between the pipes. Karri Ramo, though he has played exceptionally well in the Kontinental League the past three seasons, failed miserably in his first NHL go-around with a pretty bad Tampa Bay team. Here’s hoping he’s able to deal with being on a bad team this time around, because 2013-14 Calgary is about on par with the Lightning teams he was associated with. If Ramo proves incapable, Reto Berra, World Championship star for the Swiss, or Joey MacDonald, career backup, would step in. Yikes. Yikes indeed.
X-FACTOR: No one is expecting Calgary to make the playoffs, even if everything goes better than anticipated. All the Flames and their fans can hope for is improvement from the young players already on the roster and promising performances from the rookies who may make the team for the first time. Baertschi will lead the way and Backlund and Horak will be expected to have at least marginal improvements, but the arrival of Monahan and/or Max Reinhart would tingle fan sensations. Sure, it’s possible Ramo could blow us all away and lead the team to a playoff berth, but we’ll stay in the non-fiction section.
PERIPHERAL PREDICTION: Mike Cammalleri will be traded by the deadline, as will Lee Stempniak, who will promptly score 14 goals in the final 18 games for his new team.
PACIFIC NO. 7: CALGARY FLAMES