Flames post-lockout Storylines and Question Marks

With the lock-out finally winding down and training camp set to start in about a week, we can finally start talking actual hockey again. Huzzah!

The long lay-off, new CBA rules plus the development of players and a shortened NHL season will all have an impact on how this season shapes up for the Flames. Here are some primary issues and questions the Flames will face:

1.) The Spectre of a Slow Start

The Flames were terrible to start the season in each of the last two years. Each time they fell to the very bottom of the league by December before reeeling things back in just enough to barely miss the post-season by April.

A 50-game schedule means there can be no 3 month warm-up period this time though. Which is especially problematic for an older roster that has seen the vast majority of it’s big ticket players sitting on the sidelines for the last eight months. Jarome Iginla, Mike Cammalleri, Alex Tanguay, Miikka Kiprusoff, Curtis Glencross, Dennis Wideman, Jay Bouwmeester, Mark Giordano – none of these guys have done much more than skate and scrimmage since their season ended last April. Now, they will have an abbreviated training camp to try to get back into game shape. 

In addition, new additions Jiri Hudler and Roman Cervenka tried to play hockey in Europe, but injuries limited them to four games and 14 games respectively. So the entriety of Calgary’s top-end has been on the sidelines for a huge chunk of time and they won’t have any kind of grace period to get themselves back in shape. A four week cold streak to start the season could kill their playoff chances immediately.

2.) On the other hand – a better shot at a high pick

For those who like the see the glass as half full, if the Flames pull out of the gate slowly it could mean a top-10 pick in an entry draft year where the high-end talent is relatively dense. Adding a Jonathan Drouin, Aleksander Barkov, Hunter Shinkaruk or Seth Jones to the fold would be a nice consolation prize for missing the dance again.

3.) The end of Jarome Iginla era?

The best part about the lock-out ending for Flames fans is we get to see Iginla in the Flaming C again. There’s no guarantee the captain will re-sign with the team after this season, so expect those pesky Iginla trade rumors to start up again. Particularly if, as outlined above, the team falls off the pace right away.

4.) Who will be Kipper’s back-up?

This issue might be moot since Kiprusoff is capable of playing pretty much the entire schedule by himself. That said, an injury would put the Flames in the enviable position of having to go with a tandem of Henrik Karlsson and Leland Irving in net. Yikes.

Karlsson has proven to be a mediocre NHL puck-stopper during his couple seasons in town, while Irving has been relegated to a third string goalie in Abbotsford behind Barry Burst and Danny Taylor (neither of which have NHL deals). If Kipper falters or get hurt, the club has less than ideal options to fill-in for him.

5.) Redemption for Mikael Backlund

Calgary’s lone top-six type forward in the 23-28 range had both an excellent and terrible season last year. Excellent because he was a team leader in terms of diffculty of play, scoring chance and possession metrics. Terrible because the puck just wouldn’t go in the net while he was one the ice, causing many fans and pundits to wonder if he’s just another bust in a long line of failed Flames draft picks.

Unlike the rest of the established roster, Backlund managed to play 23 games in the Allsvenskan this year, scoring 30 points (which was one of the best point-per-game paces in the league). SWE-2 is obviously big step down from the NHL, but his results show that Backlund still has some offensive spark in him.

He’ll likely never be a marquee point-getter in the league, but if Mikael can manage a 35-40 point pace while providing capable two-way play, he’ll re-affirm his place in the club’s plans. On the other hand if he suffers through another extended dry spell, expect the team to move on.

6.) How Will Bob Hartley Change Things?

By the end of his tenure here, it was clear Brent Sutter had run out of answers. It’s possible that’s because there aren’t any given the make-up of the roster…

That said, new bench boss Bob Hartley will get a chance to wring new life out of this group. It will be interesting see what new systems and new line combinations he will employ in an effort to get the club back into the playoffs.

7.) SVEN BAERTSCHI!

The Swiss phenom is the most exciting rookie to appear ’round these parts since Dion Phaneuf nearly a decade ago. He has already proven to be one of the best offensive weapons on the Heat this year despite being a fresh face 20 year old, so it’s almost certain he will break camp with the big squad. How he fares and who he plays with is one of the main reasons myself – and many others, I suspect – will be watching the games this season.

If Baertschi excels, it may give management the impetus to finally turn the page and start building the team around a new, younger nucleus going forward.

  • It will be interesting to see who the Flames invite to main camp from both junior and Abbotsford.

    I figure that they might want to have a look at Wotherspoon and Brossoit out of junior. As for the Heat, Baertschi and Brodie are givens. Speculate that Ben Street has earned a look along with Roman Horak. Leland Irving will be in camp and I am not sure what to expect from him. I would not be surprised if the Flames make an effort to sign Steve McCarthy to an NHL deal (they still have 3 openings, assuming the 50 contract maximum stays in place) and have him in camp as well.

    Overall, am happy to see that we will be talking about NHL hockey again, but certainly an unhappy season ticket holder and fan with the antics of both the NHL and the NHLPA.

  • These WJC’s actually have me looking forward to a new page. It was refreshing to see Wotherspoon & Seiloff play as well as they did on the big stage. With Johnny Hockey playing so good & becoming a winner, would love to see a Drouin or Mackinnon added to him & Sven. I am even excited about our young future goalies.

    I am wondering if FN could do us hockey poolies a favor and give us an injury report for notable/significant players that will be returning from abroad :).

  • BurningSensation

    Ugh – so Cervenka has a ‘blood clot issue’ – that doesn’t sound good. At all. Do we have a time-line for his recovery/arrival?

    I ask because in my pool’s draft I landed Cervenka as a longterm prospect.

    This does seem to be a year of ‘could be great’ or ‘could be a nice lottery pick’, with out much chance of ‘hey, we’re mediocre again!’.

    Drop the puck already.

  • beloch

    I have a few questions…

    1. With the regular KHL season ending in February, might we see Ramo crossing the pond for a cup of coffee before the season is done? If I’m not mistaken, his KHL contract expires at the end of this season, so he should be free to come over unless some NHL rules prevent this. I think it’s pretty important for the Flames to see what they have in Ramo since his presence could really change the goal-tending picture in 2013/2014.

    2. Why haven’t they traded Karlsson yet? Surely they can get a bag of pucks for him… I don’t see how he fits into the organization unless the answer to #3 is pretty bad.

    3. When was the last time Irving played a game? Is he washed up? What the heck happened to him anyways? Is he still considered to be a qualified backup for Kipper?

    4. If Iginla decides he wants to go elsewhere, what are the odds he’ll sign with Calgary with the intention of being traded, just to give the club some return? Letting Iginla be poached with zero return for the Flames would likely be the end of Feaster!

    5. Under the new CBA, what kind of shot do the Flames have at the top picks (say #1-6) if they finish 17th (i.e. Top non-playoff team)? Does the lottery take into account how long it has been since a team has had a top pick? It certainly doesn’t seem to take into account how many 1st round picks a team has had in a row…

    6. Do we have any ETA’s on Hudler and Cervenka? What are the odds they’ll be back before the season is over? The Cervenka experiment was one of the few things I was looking forward to this season! I still think Hudler was a mistake, but I’m hoping he’ll surprise.

    7. How do the amnesty buyouts work? It looks like they must be used before the 2013/2014 season, but can they be used immediately (e.g. Bye Stajan!)? Can they be used on players that the team has traded for, or only on current roster players at the time of the CBA signing? For example, could a team with 3 bad contracts trade one to a team with just one bad contract, which could then use its spare buyout to get rid of that player (while presumably getting something worthwhile in the trade)?

    8. It’s probably waaaay too early, but when might we see Gaudreau come up for a cup of coffee? I don’t expect him to be able to cope with NHL level hockey just yet, but the kid’s earned a reward for his hard work and a game or two in the NHL might help him set some development goals.

    9. Can we fire Fehr or Bettman once the new CBA is inked? Please?

    • beloch

      Gaudreau can’t sign a pro contract until he’s finished with college. NCAA eligibility rules, and all that. Bringing him up for “a cup of coffee” would serve no purpose. He still has things to learn at the amateur level, and will have to play at least a season in the AHL after college.

      The lottery takes nothing at all into account other than position in the standings (unless the new CBA changed the rules). If you finish 17th, you have no chance at all at a top 6 selection, since winning the lottery only allows you to move up a maximum of 4 spots. On the other hand, if you look at the roster, the Flames’ chances at a lottery pick are better than making the playoffs. I don’t think the Flames will finish 17th.

      I don’t think there’s any chance the Flames lose Iginla for nothing. If he doesn’t want to return as a Flame, it’s unlikely he blocks them with his NMC, then leaves as a FA. that just doesn’t seem to be a Jarome Iginla thing to do. If he wants to leave, he’ll ask for a trade. Full stop.

      Avangard Omsk won’t release Ramo while he still has a contract with them. They’ll keep him for the playoffs (and, if Ramo’s performance over the last 3 years is any indication, probably go deep), and then they’ll try hard to sign him at the end of his contract (I mean, he’s the best goalie they’ve ever had; why wouldn’t they?). The Flames have the inside track at signing him because he wants to return to the NHL, and he’s already finished his ELC. But Omsk won’t give up without a fight.

  • beloch

    Finally a chance to discuss some actual hockey. Thanks to all of the Nation writers who still somehow managed to pump out quality work, it must have been brutal. It will be great to watch Sven and Backlund continue to develop their games, and to watch Iggy score 30 in 50 to keep the streak going!

    Over/Under 30 days until Iggy signs an extension?

  • beloch

    I feel like an old, hot, ex-girlfriend (whom i said I would NEVER get back together with) has called me up and asked for a second chance. I want to say no…but I’m weak.

  • beloch

    This just in… the lockout was staged by US owners to have 3 franchises flee to Canada by virtue of a US fan fallout.

    Go Nordiques, Beavers and Roughriders!

  • Old Soldier

    The new draft system will allow all 14 non-playoff teams the opportunity to win the first pick overall. The four spot rule is gone.

    What doesnt change is the weighted system. The league always had the bottom 14 spots weighted, and that remains, but now it doesnt limit how far a team can move down, though teams will still only move back one spot.

    An example, couple years ago, NJ won the lottery but could only move to 4th. Under this system, they would have gotten the 1st pick and everyone between #1 and #7 would move back one spot.

    Basically if the Flames finish 10th again, they will have the same opportunity to win the #1 pick.

  • Old Soldier

    Baalzalmon. I was under the impression that a new rule was accepted that would indeed allow a 17th place team to compete in lottery for 1st overall pick.

    • MC Hockey

      Yes all non-playoff teams now have a chance at first overall draft pick Is what the reports are saying but the league and union are not releasing details officially until after the vote!

  • RKD

    Sweet, can’t wait for the Flames to hit the ice again.
    I hope Cervenka isn’t out too long, we all want to see what this guy can do.

    Cervenka is pegged as the best player playing outside of the NHL. We’ve heard that before, ahem Fabian Bunnstrom. You better be right Jagr.

    This team is still terribly weak down the middle, without a #1 center. Right now, Cammalleri is the #1 center. Unless he is moved off the top line. With Cervenka injured, this will give time for guys like Baertschi and hopefully Backlund to shine.

    This is the first time Kipper will be playing less than 70 games a season. The last time that happened, he won a Vezina and set a modern day NHL lowest GAA.
    Kipper played great last season. He is 8 years older now so it is a lot different but who knows.

    Glad to see Iggy back in a Flames uniform, it would have been a shame had his career with Calgary ended due to a work stoppage.

  • BurningSensation

    Just heard Cervenka is being described as ‘week to week’.

    He’s on blood thinners to control the clotting problems – for what that is worth.

  • Reidja

    All of the lockout apathy made me forget how horrified I am of this team’s chances of finishing higher than 10th… Now that that is back let me be the first to ask: why the hell would we expect Cervenka to not suck? He has never played a game of NHL hockey, doesn’t back check (self admittedly), therefore probably shouldn’t play centre (oh and neither should Hudler or Cammalleri), and also, he has never played a game of NHL hockey. Sorry, I am a bummer, someone has to be.

    Also, the Oilers are probably going to kick our asses.

    It’s not all bad though… I’m looking forward to Backlund, Baertschi and Brodie. Let the long burn-down/rebuild resume…

    • loudogYYC

      I would tend to agree, but then again, they couldn’t kick the Heat’s ass, why would we expect them to be able to beat (closer to) an NHL team? Horcoff? Khabibulin?

      On another note, I went to watch the Giants-Hitmen game yesterday. I don’t tend to gush about offensive output by defensemen, but Brett Kulak looked like an absolute top notch D. 100% solid defensively and made some beautiful passes, did a very good job of getting shots through traffic, very smart with the puck, had a knack for just dumping it places where his team could get control, physical and even a bit nasty. Looks like the complete package. He’s my new favourite prospect.

  • loudogYYC

    Duhatschek put up a good article about how great the shortened 94-95 season was because every team played on its toes from the get-go. Apparently every team but 1 was in the playoff hunt until the final week of the season.

    I was admittedly excited about watching the western conference prove the Flames are just not good enough with this mix of veterans and no elite talent or identity, but if history repeats itself this team will likely be in the hunt for 7th or 8th place again. Here’s to Baertschi and Backlund being a big part of a good season!

    Here’s Duha’s article btw:

    http://tinyurl.com/bg3btgt

      • That’s a good point I did not consider. Still, there’s a fairly big chance the Flames are going to be a gong show this year. It’d be nice for him to avoid that and come up next season when more substantive (hopefully) changes have been made.

        • seve927

          I thought the only way he burns a year is if he plays in the NHL. At least that’s how the old CBA was worded. If you’re still under 20, you don’t burn a year.

          • the entry level slide only applies to players not playing pro in NA. You will note that NHL contracts include AHL salaries. Baertschi has been earning his AHL salary with Abbotsford this year. That means his contract is running down.

          • Where do you get your info from? I read the CBA last time I looked into this and it clearly only talks about playing NHL games. Anyone who doesn’t play more than than 10 (or 9 maybe) NHL games, signed their first contract when they were 18, and did not turn 20 before Sept 15 can have their ELC slide for a second year. So I went looking this summer for examples, and their aren’t many, but I believe Slava Voynov is one. I think he played two years of pro with Manchester before his ELC kicked in.

            Kent said the same as you, so maybe I’m missing something, but just wondering where you’re getting that from.

          • You may be right about U20 contracts sliding in the AHL (looking at JT Miller’s contract at the end of the season would be a good place to look), but this debate is irrelevant where Sven is concerned, since he’s not a U20 player. If he was, he’d be in the AHL.

          • I know he could have played in the dub, but he actually would have been an overager. He was born in ’92. He’s 20. That’s the ONLY reason he’s in the AHL right now. If he hadn’t been born in late ’92, he would be playing for Portland, and he would have been on Switzerland in the World Juniors. He didn’t play for the Swiss because he was too old. He isn’t in the WHL because he’s old enough for the AHL. Not everyone uses the non-sensical September cutoff the NHL does for the draft (if the NHL’s cutoff made sense, Baertschi would have been drafted the same year as Niederreiter).

            Before you ask, I have no idea why Nugent-Hopkins was allowed to play in the AHL, since technically he shouldn’t be eligible. He’s under 20, and he was drafted from the CHL. That (usually) immediately disqualifies a player from playing in the AHL.

          • Maybe bad example, I don’t know what the cutoff was for WJ, but we were talking about NHL anyway. Which is Sept 15th. That was the line I quoted from the CBA. Still don’t see why his ELC wouldn’t slide.

        • It depends for me. If he comes up and plays a meaningful role and can compete, I’d prefer him to be on the Flames. If, however, they have him on the 4th line or he struggles a lot, back to the farm with him.