I have not completely lost faith in the Calgary Flames, but I no longer view them as the same threat to win the Western Conference championship as I did a year ago.
In my books they have gone from sure-bets to make the conference championship, to a team that could potentially miss the playoffs.
So what made me change my mind?
Well, for starters, I’m not as sold on the Flames’ defense as I was the past few years. I thought Dion Phaneuf and Robyn Regehr would form the basis of what was a solid one-through-six blueline that would make it nearly impossible for the opposition to score.
That has not been the case.
Adrian Aucoin and Cory Sarich have dropped off significantly and it’s hard to imagine Anders Eriksson and Rhett Warrener have much left in the tank.
I am convinced Phaneuf can still take his game to another level, which is good news. He’ll have to do just that if the Flames are to meet success and if he is to have a shot at winning the Norris Trophy, as many have suggested he one day will.
The Flames have the potential to ice a terrific No. 1 line with Jarome Iginla, Daymond Langkow and newcomer Mike Cammalleri. But after that line there is a huge drop off with too many question marks to feel comfortable about endorsing this squad.
The Flames’ depth chart has Rene Bourque, Matthew Lombardi and Todd Bertuzzi listed as the potential second line. Hmm, not much to like about that line, really.
Lombardi is among the fastest players in the league, but slipped from 20 goals two years ago to 14 in 2007-08. We all know about Bertuzzi’s troubles, both legal and physical. Who knows, moving to a team where he blends in just might be the answer to getting his career back on track. He wasn’t terrible in Anaheim, but he wasn’t great, either.
Finally, can Miikka Kiprusoff steal games the way he did the year before the lockout when he carried the Flames to the Stanley Cup final? His inconsistency has to be of great concern to Flames management.
All in all, I think the Flames have fallen to the show-me stage and it will be interesting to see if this is a team on the rise or the decline.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.