With the unpleasant memories of last season finally fading and new hope springing up in their place, it’s time to start publishing our predictions and previews. We’ll begin by reviving an old Nations tradition – picking goats and stars for the upcoming year. Who do you think we’ll become your fan favorite – his every play idolized, his every mistake forgiven? Alternatively, who will you curse every time he hits the ice?
There are some obvious candidates on both sides for the Flames – Giordano, Iginla, Tanguay, Glencross versus Stajan, Bouwmeester, Hagman Kiprusoff, etc. However, like most pre-season expectations, actual over-achievers and disappointments when the action starts can surprise. For proof, go back and read our stars and goats from September 2009. Make sure to have a good laugh at Ryan Lambert’s picks in particular.
With that in mind, here are your FN writers choices for the upcoming season:
Kent Wilson’s Star and Goat
Star: Mark Giordano
It seems an obvious choice, but Giordano is poised to improve on his career best season from last year. With Robyn Regehr out the door, Giordano becomes one of the two best defenders on the club and should be a minutes-leader for the team on a nightly basis. In addition, Gio was actually one of the unluckiest defenders on the team last year in terms of percentages. He was one of the best blueliners in terms of possession and scoring chance ratio, but his on-ice percentages (PDO) was the worst on the club – a combined 97.6 (including a save percentage of just .899!).
If the bounces regress for Giordano, there’s a good chance he will hit 50+ points and double digit +/-.
Goat: Anton Babchuk
Although I’m sure Brent Sutter is going to shelter Babchuk as much as possible again this year, I think he’ll still end uo a goat for various reasons: first, because I doubt he’ll be north of a 60% zone start again, meaning he won’t start so many shifts in the offensive zone. That’s a difficult ratio to sustain for any regular skater, let alone a defender. If, for instance, Cory Sarich starts the year on IR, Babchuk will have to take a few more minutes and defensive zone draws.
In addition, Babchuk was by far the luckiest Flames defender last year. Pucks went in at un uncanny rate when he was on the ice. If that falls away, his defensive short-comings will be much more apparent.
Vintage Flame’s Star and Goat
Star: David Moss
Prior to his untimely injury last year, Moss was having the best year of his career. His play along side Jokinen and Glencross was nothing short of superb. The line dominated against opposition lines and Moss’ play did not go without notice. When Brendan Morrison went down at center, Sutter moved David over and slotted him in that position on the top line. The move paid dividends, not only obviously increasing Moss’ scoring chances but also elevating the chances for both Iginla and Tanguay.
With the departure of Daymond Langkow, David will be leaned on heavily to fulfil the role as a #1 two-way center. Sutter likes Moss in the middle and by all indications in comments and interviews, David is going to be given every opportunity to make the position his. This year could mark the turning point in Moss’ career, especially if he shows he can center the top line.
Goat: Brendan Morrison
Even though he was only re-signed for 1 more year, Morrison is 36 years old and coming off a devastating knee injury. It is going to be extremely difficult for the Flames to find a fit for Morrison and for Brendan to find his fit on this team. Last year he was a spark plug in scoring for the Flames while fans watched in dismay at the slow start plaguing Jarome Iginla. That will not be the case this year, with too many options already present for the Flames to ensure the captain has a better start.
Calgary has taken dramatic steps, trading core team members, to get younger and faster. The move of Moss to center, and the fact that the Flames have too much invested in Matt Stajan automatically pushes the damaged and aging Morrison down the pecking order. I see Morrison as a role player more this year, used mostly as line changes are made to spark the team or throw off the opposition. If Stajan bounces back in his play, and Jokinen continues his dominance as a 3rd line center, Morrison could find himself in the press box, with a bum knee that just didn’t allow him to keep pace with this changing team dynamic.
Ryan Lambert’s Star and Goat
Star: Alex Tanguay
I mean obviously this is going to be contingent on him and Jarome Iginla both being healthy and all that, but Tanguay was a big reason the Flames’ offense finished fifth in the league last year (so too was the fact that every goalie in the Northwest Division not named Roberto Luongo was abysmal).
But he could be even better this year because his shooting percentage last year was a little below his historical average, which itself is dragged down by two or three rather poor seasons that are well outside the rate of about 20-21 percent he usually puts up.
He’s a wonderful complementary player to Iginla and was so in each of his previous three seasons with Calgary.
Goat: Miikka Kiprusoff
There was a time when I was fully prepared to patiently wait for him to round back into Vezina-Winning Goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff. That time was two years ago, but after three sub-.910-save-percentage seasons out of the last four, I’m finally done. Oh they’re gonna decrease his workload this year? Perfect. They’ve said that each of the last two or three and it’s changed nothing.
He just hasn’t been good and once again is gonna shoulder the load because we all remember how great he was in 2006. We might end up forgetting around mid-December.
Robert Cleave’s Star and Goat
Star: Jay Bouwmeester
There are more than a few Flames’ fans that have given up on JB ever amounting to more than an overpaid, if solid, rearguard, but I have a feeling that this will be a season that shows his true value.
It’s an odd thing, but virtually every player that worked with Robyn Regehr seemed utterly uncomfortable in that role. That wasn’t Reggie’s fault per se, and it’s certainly true that the level of competition he routinely faced was daunting, but watching Bouwmeester last year left me with the impression that they were a bit ill-matched. I don’t expect Jay Bouwmeester to be a great offensive producer, but I do expect him to have a sound season in his own end and a better, more aggressive one when the Flames have the puck. He’s the undisputed shutdown guy now, and I might be going out on a limb here, but I just have the sense that he needed a change of partner to get him to take more of a leading role.
Goat: Matt Stajan
The Flames are in a bit of a pickle with Matt Stajan. He’s really not much more than a tweener second-third line center on his best days, but the club is paying him more than anyone else that might play in the middle this season, and given that paycheque the management has every right to expect him to be a productive 55-60 point player. Anyone counting on that happening?
I suppose there’s the chance that Gary Roberts could have turned him into a madman this summer, but absent that, his ceiling is about one line below where the club requires him. As an aside, his contract isn’t his fault, because any of us would take the dough if it were offered, but even with Langkow elsewhere, he’ll need to be a lot better than last year to prevent being on the third line or worse. If he’s usurped yet again by Brendan Morrison, well, the Flames might have to hope for an amnesty buyout clause in the next CBA.
Robert Vollman’s Star and Goat
Star: Miikka Kiprusoff
Calgary is not an easy team behind which to play, but nobody does it better than Kiprusoff. The long list of Calgary’s back-ups since the lock-out season have all been bested by Kiprusoff, and by a far wider margin than most any other NHL goalie. Granted none of these alternatives were much better than replacement-level, but they all did far better wearing other jerseys than they did the Flaming C. No, he won’t be the Vezina-level, top-ten star he once was, but he can return to 2009-10’s .920 level, which will probably be enough for a post-season berth.
Goat: Alex Tanguay
In a time when Calgary was shedding as many of the bad contracts as possible, they offered Alex Tanguay a bizarrely risky long-term deal that requires him to sustain his current production level until age 36. Tanguay’s exceptional talent, especially when paired with Jarome Iginla, is obvious to anyone, but may not be sustainable for even one year without taking a dip – not all the way down to 2009-10’s 37 points, but somewhere in the 40-60 range. After all, Iginla himself can continue to defy Father Time for much longer, and what hope would Tanguay have without him?
Even when a guy is playing reasonably well, fans can turn on a player in the salary cap era simply because his agent got him a great deal, because they know that contract prevents the team from getting the extra pieces they need. Alex Tanguay could find himself in that boat (The HMCS Stajan?) by year’s end.
Pat Steinberg’s Star and Goat