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Are the Calgary Flames legitimate playoff contenders?

Aug 16, 2011, 12:41 PM EDT

Edmonton Oilers v Calgary Flames Getty Images

For better or worse, the Calgary Flames put together an impressive run to finish just a few strides short of a playoff spot during the 2010-11 season.

On the bright side, that run convinced them to keep Jarome Iginla rather than trading him away; even if the likable star is getting older and ranks as expensive ($7 million annual cap hit for two more seasons), it’s doubtful that the Flames would have received an acceptable trade return for their captain. On the not-so-bright side, that run also allowed the Flames to put off a rebuilding plan that many clamor for. It’s tough to justify the Flames’ status as one of the NHL’s biggest spenders right now. (They spent big last season and currently own the league’s fourth highest payroll according to CapGeek).

Flames GM Jay Feaster seems to believe that the resurgent second-half Flames are the true version of the team. That was his message to the Calgary Herald’s Vicki Hall, at least.

“When you watch what we accomplished in the second half, the way we played and the things we did, I don’t believe it needs to be ripped apart,” he said, pointedly. “I know the that soup de jour are those teams that finished 30th for five straight years or 29th for five straight years. They draft all the sexy names, and it’s going to be wonderful some time down the road. And that could very easily happen for some franchises.

“There are other franchises who have been in that position. They’ve drafted in the top-five or the top-eight year after year after year, and they’re still wandering in the desert. That’s not something anyone here is prepared to do.”

Is Feaster correct in keeping the band together? Are the Flames going to be genuine contenders next season? Here’s my take on both sides of the argument.

Offense: Making Iggy happy

While the experiment didn’t work out so well in Tampa Bay, Alex Tanguay ended up delivering on the expectations that he would be one of the league’s best bargains last season. His new contract ensures that he won’t be severely underpaid anymore ($3.5 million per year for the next five seasons), but it also keeps Iginla happy.

I’m not crazy about the term of that contract – Tanguay has a lot of mileage for a guy who’s 31 years old – but the two wingers developed a nice chemistry in Tanguay’s two stops in Calgary. The hopeful strength of that combo represents their best chance to make the playoffs because the rest of their offense is pretty suspect.

source: Getty ImagesDefense: Essentially trading Robyn Regehr for Scott Hannan

It’s interesting how much the Flames defense changed over the last few years, with Regehr and Dion Phaneuf shipped out of town via the trade route. The logic behind moving both players was reasonable (even if the decisions were debatable), but the returns were lukewarm in each case. Now there’s even less of a question that the leaders of their blueline are Jay Bouwmeester and Mark Giordano (the team’s top two players in ice time last season). While both players have some positives going for them, it doesn’t really bode well for the team’s hopes of ranking among the elite.

Getting rid of Regehr’s approximate $4 million cap hit seemed like a rebuilding move until the Flames basically kept the band together to a considerable expense, but at least they closed some of the gap by signing Hannan to a frugal $1 million deal. If the price were the same, I’d rather have Regehr, but Hannan can absorb tough minutes and bring a physical game to the ice too. (Just not quite as well, in my opinion.)

Goalies: Another big workload for Miikka Kiprusoff

I’m a big proponent of teams adding quality backups. The most obvious reason is the randomness of injuries, but if you look at the way the league is changing at the position, it pays to give your top guys rest. Tim Thomas played in just 57 regular season games and Roberto Luongo played 60, yet both were Vezina Trophy and Stanley Cup finalists.

Kipper, on the other hand, has six straight seasons with 70+ games played. That workload is taking its toll as he’s only had one above-average individual season (.920 save percentage in 2009-10) in the last four. The Finnish goalie probably enjoys getting almost every start, but it’s hard to say that the Martin Brodeur Model is really working in Calgary.

***

The Flames finished three points and three wins short of a playoff spot at 10th place last season. If that’s your definition of a playoff contender, then Calgary should be able to reach that mark. It’s hard to imagine that group shooting for much more than a seventh or eighth seed in the stacked Western Conference, though.

  1. mendicant - Aug 16, 2011 at 1:02 PM

    I’m a Flames fan, but that ‘run’ at the end of the season was not a glimpse of the future. I watched the games and what happened was that the Flames walked all over everyone…. who wasn’t a playoff team. Take a look at how they did against teams that eventually made the playoffs and the wheels fell off.

    It will take more than just beating up on the little guys this season. With Minnesota improving a _lot_ and Vancouver still very strong, they can’t count on making up games within the division. They need to find a way to beat better teams and the moves or lack thereof haven’t provided them that.

    It will be a very lucky run if they end up any better off this year, unless a somewhat stable lineup provides more of a push than I expect (and I don’t expect a lot).

    • James O'Brien - Aug 16, 2011 at 1:14 PM

      I can’t help but agree with you.

  2. icelovinbrotha215 - Aug 16, 2011 at 1:38 PM

    Jarome Iginla is the man.

    • grudenthediva - Aug 16, 2011 at 3:55 PM

      The man when it comes to running up points vs. scrubs but failing miserably when it counts the most, yet still getting a free pass from the media, sure.

      Mr. “I dreamed of holding the Cup aloft yet I went pointless in the clinchers and pucker up tight when the pressure is on” Iginla’s followers never cease to amaze.

      • icelovinbrotha215 - Aug 16, 2011 at 5:36 PM

        You are so right. He got 1,006 points against scrubs. So that means he was playing against the likes of you and I haha. And how many clinchers did he play exactly? I’d like to see ya break that down for us ‘followers.’

      • christoboydo - Aug 17, 2011 at 11:23 PM

        are you kidding me with this bullshit?

  3. sknut - Aug 16, 2011 at 1:40 PM

    I don’t think they are. they are a lot like minny with average vets eating cap space and with minny improving and the youngsters in Edmonton its going to be tough for the flames.

    • hanktheking - Aug 16, 2011 at 2:19 PM

      I couldn’t disagree with you more O’Brien, at least when it comes to Kipper. Only 1 standout season in the last 4? Consider Mikka has playe for 3 different coaches over that time, has been the subject of trade rumors more recently and rarely gets enough offensive support. Don’t blame the goalie who stops 45 shots and let’s 3-4 get by him, he’s helpless..

      But then again, why would you east-coasters know anything that actually happens in the western conference?

      • James O'Brien - Aug 16, 2011 at 2:32 PM

        I based that comment on Kipper’s numbers in those three other seasons:

        .906 save percentage in 2007-08
        .903 in 08-09
        Strong season: .920 in 09-10
        .906 in 10-11.

        He’s won a lot of games, but that tends to happen when you play a lot of them too. I’m not necessarily saying that he’s a “bad” goalie, just that the Flames are depending on him far too much.

  4. ThatGuy - Aug 16, 2011 at 3:05 PM

    On paper, I would say they are 3rd in the NW(behind Vancouver by a lot, and Minnesota by a little). The last couple years that hasn’t been good enough for playoffs. And I don’t really see that changing. With Edmonton very young, they could make a jump. I just don’t see it happening for Calgary, but that’s why they play the games. Going to be a fun season.

  5. hanktheking - Aug 16, 2011 at 3:08 PM

    Touché. However, I still feel Mikka is elite. If he wasn’t between the pipes every single night the Flames might be the worst team in the league. I live in CGY but am not a huge flames fan so I can appreciate the work he has to put in every single night, and when you see him live and his measureables (as compared to other bigger, more physically imposing tenders) you have to be impressed.

    But thanks for your follow up, you do a good job O’Brien.

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