After the Calgary Flames missed the playoffs for the third consecutive season, there was considerable anticipation GM Jay Feaster would shake up his ageing roster in the off-season.
Early spring suggestions of shopping captain Jarome Iginla or starting goalie Miikka Kiprusoff soon fell by the wayside, but top defenseman Jay Bouwmeester was a fixture in this summer's rumor mill, linked to the Detroit Red Wings, St. Louis Blues, Anaheim Ducks, Dallas Stars and even the Flames long-time rivals, the Edmonton Oilers.
As the September 15 expiry date of the collective bargaining agreement passed, however, Bouwmeester was still a Flame, which suggests reluctance on Feaster's part to shake up his core.
Rather than commence the significant rebuilding process many observers anticipated, the Flames GM spent the off-season bolstering his roster with veteran talent.
In late June, Feaster acquired impending UFA blueliner Dennis Wideman from the Washington Capitals, then signed him to a five-year, $26.3-million deal. On July 2, he inked UFA center Jiri Hudler to a four-year, $16-million contract.
Feaster re-signed right winger Lee Stempniak (two years, $5 million) and defenseman Cory Sarich (two years, $4 million).
He also signed former KHL center Roman Cervenka to a one-year deal in May, a move that was justified when center Olli Jokinen signed with Winnipeg in July.
The most significant change occurred behind the bench, where Bob Hartley was hired as the new coach.
Feaster wants to give this roster one last chance to prove it’s a playoff club, but the move is a gamble.
One reason for the decision to push forward could be to convince Iginla to re-sign before he becomes eligible for UFA status next summer.
Iginla has spent his entire NHL career with the Flames, but at 35 his window for winning a Stanley Cup in Calgary is closing. Indeed, it can be easily argued that window slammed shut several years ago.
A strong team performance followed by a good showing in the post-season could convince ‘Iggy’ to finish his career as a Flame.
However, if it appears by mid-season the Flames' playoff hopes are flickering, Iginla will face the choice of accepting a trade to a Cup contender near the trade deadline or playing out the season in Calgary and testing next summer's free agent market.
It's also possible Iginla has already played his final game with the Flames. If the current lockout kills the entire season, he'd become eligible for UFA status next July and would have the opportunity to sign with another team whenever a new CBA is implemented.
Kiprusoff and Bouwmeester would also become subjects of mid-season trade talk if the Flames playoff hopes have dimmed by the New Year.
After this season, both have one year remaining on their contracts and while they come with expensive cap hits ($6.7 million per season for Bouwmeester, more than $5.8 million for Kiprusoff), both would attract considerable interest from playoff-bound clubs near the trade deadline.
Iginla (no-movement clause) and Bouwmeester (no-trade) would control where they’re dealt, but Kiprusoff's movement clause has expired, which opens up more trade options for Feaster.
Other Flames could become trade bait, but Iginla, Kiprusoff and Bouwmeester would fetch the best returns in young talent and draft picks needed for a major rebuild.
How long the trio remain in Calgary depends on the club's performance in 2012-13. Rest assured, rival GMs with interest in those three will keep an eye on the Flames.
Rumor Roundup appears Monday-Friday only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News, Kukla's Korner and The Guardian, Charlottetown.