Welcome back to Northern Exposure, your weekly NHL Canadian tour. Join me as I make a stop in each of the seven Canadian NHL cities, discussing stories of interest in each.
After checking in with the new Winnipeg franchise last week, I continue west to take a snapshot of the Calgary Flames.
The Calgary Flames are at a tipping point in their franchise cycle. They are on the brink of being competitive, while a rebuild is on the near horizon. The longer they wait to start the rebuild, the longer the rebuild might take. Their situation is much like that of the Ottawa Senators, who went the way of dismantling and basically starting from scratch. The Flames don’t appear to be going down that road yet, instead preferring to give the current crop another shot at catching lightning in a bottle.
KEY FREE AGENTS TO BE: UFA – Alex Tanguay, Brendan Morrison, Steve Staios, Anton Babchuk, Adam Pardy, Staffan Kronwall, Henrik Karlsson RFA – Brendan Mikkelson, Matt Pelech
WHERE THEY ARE SET: With 18 players signed for next season, the shape of the roster is pretty much apparent. The goaltending is in good shape, whether it is Henrik Karlsson returning as the backup or Leland Irving moving up from Abbotsford to Calgary. The key defensemen are in place (Bouwmeester, Regehr & Giordano) with a couple of spots open.
NEEDS: Even if the Flames can re-sign Alex Tanguay, they still need another impact forward. Finding that elusive centre to play with Jarome Iginla. For the amount the top line players are getting paid, more is to be expected from them.
TOP 5 OFF-SEASON PRIORITIES:
1) #1 Centre –Many players have auditioned for the role, but the Flames have been without a legitimate top line pivot since they traded Joe Nieuwendyk to Dallas. This task has proven more difficult than finding a goalie in Philadelphia. It looks as though they will have to go another season with a group of #2 or #3 centres trying to do the job.
2) Alex Tanguay – Off a one year contract, Tanguay returned to Calgary and put up 69 points. Now a free agent once again, will be looking for a big increase on his $1.7 million bargain contract from last year. The Flames are interested in getting a deal done, but the figures will have to align to make it happen.
3) Curtis Glencross – He has been re-upped with a generous contract, but now they must prepare him to be ready to face the pressure that will come with his new-found paycheck. He has always been a player who has overachieved for his standing, but with great contracts comes great responsibilities.
4) AHL Coach – With Jim Playfair‘s confirmed departure to the Phoenix Coyotes to work as an associate coach with Dave Tippett, the Flames must find the right fit to nurse along the prospects with their AHL club. The pipeline from Abbotsford to Calgary must continue to produce if the Flames are to avoid hitting rock bottom in the next couple of years.
5) Stabilize the Defence – Mikka Kiprusoff can only do so much, and he needs more defensive support. Jay Bouwmeester must be better at both ends of the ice, and Mark Giordano must continue his rapid development. The player who steps in to become the 4th defenseman will have a lot to say in choosing the direction the team takes this season.
CONCLUSION: With Jarome Iginla and Mikka Kiprusoff at the top of their games, the Flames are a competitive team. However, they are getting older and are in a position that they must get the support from their teammates every night if they are to return to the playoffs this coming season.
Now a quick tour around the other cities:
The Vancouver Canucks are continuing their tradition of having to do things the hard way. After taking Games 1 & 2 at home, they were demolished in Boston, losing Games 3 & 4 by a combined score of 12-1. Back at home, they won game 5 by a 1-0 score and now have two chances to win the deciding game that will bring the Cup to Vancouver for the first time since the Canucks were brought into the league. Although their style of play has been under scrutiny due to what some would consider unsportsmanlike behavior, they are doing what they feel they need to do to get the job done.
The Ottawa Senators finally have a championship in the family, as the Binghamton Senators won the AHL Calder Cup in 6 games over the Houston Aeros. Goaltender of the Future Robin Lehner was the playoff MVP, and the first teenager since Carey Price to lead his team to the Calder Cup. In Ottawa, GM Bryan Murray is close to making a decision on who will coach the club in 2011-12. TSN is reporting that Detroit Red Wings assistant coach Paul MacLean will be named the Senators new head coach on Tuesday.
Edmonton Oilers GM Steve Tambellini opened the door a crack to the thought of trading the #1 overall pick. Although the price will be admittedly high, this was the first mention from the club that the pick might be available. This is the chance for the Oilers to address multiple areas by perhaps trading down a couple of places and still get a quality player and another asset or two to help the emerging team in the future.
The Montreal Canadiens continued the daunting task of forming a roster by resigning Andrei Kostitsyn to a one-year contract extension. Reports are that he signed for the same $3.25 M that he made last season. GM Pierre Gauthier still has plenty of work to do to finalize the roster, including almost the entire defence corps. The Canadiens are also going to have to replace assistant coach Kirk Muller, who is being sought after by a number of teams for vacant head coaching positions and can pretty much select the situation he wants to go to.
GM Brian Burke has been strangely quiet in the past couple of weeks. I would suggest that this is the calm before the storm, as the Toronto Maple Leafs are expected to be active in attempts to move up into the draft. Given Burke’s track record at the draft, whether they are successful or not, it should be entertaining either way. Hopefully TSN will have Burke miked up so we can all be privy to the inside scoop. One question was answered as goalie James Reimer was signed to a 3 year contract extension this past week, for a value of $5.4 million over the life of the deal. The question remains who the other half of the tandem will be when the season starts.
In Winnipeg, the franchise formerly known as the Atlanta Thrashers has begun retooling under the direction of new owner Mark Chipman. GM Rick Dudley was let go in favor of Chicago assistant GM Craig Heisinger, while Craig Ramsey was asked to interview for his job with the new leadership, with no guarantees of returning as the team’s head coach.
That is all for this week’s edition of Northern Exposure. By this time next week the Stanley Cup parade will be over and the NHL awards and the NHL Entry Draft will be right around the corner.