Calgary Flames Season Preview

The Calgary Flames look to improve on last season. Picture from Getty Images.

By Ryan Holmer (@RyanHolmerNHL)

With the players having ratified the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, and the memorandum of understanding being close to signed, it is time to turn our attention to more pressing matters –  the upcoming NHL season.

The Calgary Flames are coming into this season with a slightly different look. New head coach Bob Hartley brings an offensive dynamic that Flames fans haven’t seen in years, and ex-Flame, Martin Gelinas was brought in to help with the stagnant power play .

Along with the coaching changes, the Flames made some moves during the summer, to bring some new faces into the locker room.

Attempting to solve the critical need for a centre, while adding some offence, Jiri Hudler was signed. “Jiri Hudler is a highly skilled and dynamic offensive player,” said Flames General Manager Jay Feaster after the signing. Last season, with Detroit, Hudler amassed 50 points in 81 games. These numbers seem fair, but it is important to note that the majority of his points came on the power play, while playing along side Henrik Zetterberg.

Hudler was signed on a 4-year contract at an AAV of $4,000,000. He is currently slotted to play in the second centre position, but has been known to play on the wing.

Let’s not forget Roman Cervenka, the player who was argued to “be the best player not in the NHL”. Cervenka is a skilled centre, whom presumably is going fit on the  1st line, in between Mike Cammalleri and Jarome Igina.

Earlier this week, Flames fans went through a scare, as Cervenka was diagnosed with a blood-clot and, initially, was thought unable to fly. This proved to be false, and he flew to Calgary sooner then expected and has been skating just fine.

Mikael Backlund looks to rebound from a disappointing season. Picture from Getty Images.

Mikael Backlund, recently had a successful stint in Sweden during the lockout. Through 23 games with Västerås, Backlund potted 13 goals and 17 assists for 30 points. Although a natural centre, Backlund was shifted to the wing, and played on a line with the skilled Patrik Berglund.

Backlund will play center this season, likely on the second/third line, however, he is capable of playing on the wing. He will be looking to rebound from a disappointing 2011-2012 season, and hope to find his stride with the new head coach in town.

In the following quote, from the Calgary Flames, Backlund responds to Bob Hartley’s up-tempo style of playing “That works way better for me. That’s my style of hockey. I’ve always been a good skater so I like to use my feet and work hard and skate a lot. That is what I was doing in Sweden – I was skating lots and pressuring d-men.”

Since day one, Backlund has been labeled as a top 6 forward, yet has been unable to live up to the hype. This season will either be a big leap forward, or a step into obscurity for the Swedish center.

For once the center position has some competition. Backlund will be competing with Cervenka, and Hudler for the number one/two centre spots – an unusual situation for the Flames.

Sven Baertschi, the rookie sensation, is looking to build off his strong performance in the 5-games he appeared in last season.  Baertschi will start the season in Calgary, for certain. Wether he sticks around or not, is up to him. He will need to work for it, and impress the Flames brass, otherwise, he’ll be sent right back to Abbotsford, which isn’t exactly the worst thing.

He has the skills needed to be an effective player in the NHL, and Feaster does not intend to rush their top prospect. In 21 games this season with Abbotsford, he has 18 points, and was in the top 20 in scoring before a neck injury forced him out of play for a month. For a 20-year old, first time AHLer, it is quite impressive.

Sven Baertschi looks to become a full-time NHLer. Picture from Getty Images.

On the defensive side of things, the Flames are quite strong. They signed UFA Dennis Wideman to a 5-year, $26.25-million contract, while also sending a fifth-round pick and RFA defensemen Jordan Henry to the Capitals.  Wideman also received a no-movement clause, causing Wideman to be the 10th player on the Flames roster who has either a no-trade or no-movement clause in their contract. This is a move that sees the Flames blue line get a lot better offensively.

With the good, comes the bad, as Wideman is known to be an occasional defensive liability and will need to improve this moving forward.  The 29-year-old had 46 points in 82 games last season, and 3 points in 14 playoff games.

Mark Giordano and Jay Bouwmeester are sure to carry the load, while Dennis Wideman will provide that extra needed offence.

Young defensemen TJ Brodie will also see his role change, as he has matured into an impressive player. His point totals should increase this year, along with his minutes played.

In net, the Flames will (not surprisingly) weigh heavily on Miikka Kiprusoff. The backup position is currently up in the air. One would assume that Leland Irving would take the job, or at least fight for it, however he has been mediocre at best this season in the AHL. Without a stellar camp, Henrik Karlsson will remain the backup.

Quick hit – This is a unique year for the Calgary Flames, in terms of the depth chart. The Flames currently have a log-jam in the forward position, which has not happened in years. There are currently four left-wingers capable of playing in the top two slots, and the same goes for the center position. Feaster won’t have Baertschi on the main roster, if he’s going to be playing fourth-line minutes. This should make for an interesting training camp.

Prospect Watch

Johnny Gaudreau – Gaudreau had an impressive World Junior Championship, winning gold, while leading the US in scoring. He is a very skilled player, yet with his small frame, it may lengthen his development. I don’t see him playing in Calgary this year, but next year may be his time.

Mark Jankowski – Jankowski is a long-term project, and has had a decent season for Providence College as a freshmen. He currently has 9 points, in 15 games played.

Jon Gillies – Jon Gillies was a rare success, in terms of drafting goalies. He had a solid World Juniors camp, and despite not seeing much playing time – capitalized when he could. He also plays for Providence College, and has seen success. Gillies has a .924 save percentage, and is seeing the majority of the games.

Max Reinhart – Reinhart has had a tough time adjusting to the AHL, and is sitting at 5 points in 34 games played, with a minus-12 rating. He is having obvious issues with the speed of the game, and will definitely require another season or two in the AHL.

Tyler Wotherspoon – Tyler Wotherspoon really impressed many people during his WJC performance. He was an underdog, and not really well-known before the tournament. He does nothing flashy, but he plays a very steady, smart game. He might be deserving of an invite to training camp, and a playing chance sometime in the near future.

Markus Granlund – The brother of Minnesota Wild prospect Mikael Granlund, is making a name for himself. A dominant WJC and season in general, is putting him on scouts radars everywhere. He has developed immensely over the past season, and is moving up the Flames depth charts faster then most predicted.


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