Just a little warning... if you're on board with Keenan and Sarich and Nolan and the new faces of the Flames you may want to stop reading right now.
Pre-season hockey is a chance for us to look at the questions our teams face heading into the season. We get a chance to share our usually high and lofty expectations for our own teams.
When I look at the Flames this year, I'm a little scared. There are too many questions that need to be answered in order for me to enter this season with confidence. I'll start with the positives. I like the hiring of Mike Keenan. I'm on board with that. I'm one of the guys who was calling for Playfair's head at the end of the season, and I still think it was a huge mistake not firing him then. The extensions to Iggy and Regehr were great and a huge part of the puzzle, long term contracts at bargain prices. I fully expect both Dion and Kipper to sign extensions during the season. That's where the positives end for me.
When Darryl Sutter was hired as coach and GM I could barely contain my excitement. It was clear that Flames management was committed to building a long-term winner. And Sutter made an immediate impact. He's built us a power-house team that was a bad video goal review away from a Stanley Cup and are now an annual Western Conference favorite. But he made bad moves at the deadline and followed that with an offseason, that aside from the positives I already mentioned, was frankly brutal.
Giordano and Taratukhin both belong on our team. They bolt to Russia because they get no respect. Now, we have to count on Anders Ericksson as a regular contributor on D? Are you kidding me? Rhett Warrener clearly can't skate, oh right, he took a power skating course in the off-season. Phew, I'm sure he'll skate like Dan Boyle now. Aucoin will play 50 games if we're lucky and Sarich is at best a 5-6 on any Western Conference team that thinks they're worth a damn. Our D got slower and less offensive, exactly the opposite of what we needed. Our D will probably lead the league in penalties as we chase around all the younger faster teams.
So, the questions heading into this season that plagued us late, and in the playoffs against the Wings are still there. Can we win more faceoffs? A lot of times we win faceoffs and the players on the wing fly in and steal the puck due to a lack of hustle. Are we going to cover the point? Sheldon Souray's 2 goals against us in his 1 game he played against the Flames are all you need to think about. Kipper was extremely vulnerable on shots from the point all season long, and nothing was ever done about it. Can we win on the road? I think Hamrlik was a big part of that problem as he never ever played well on the road and he was an underrated member of our team.
The questions are still there but the good news we should have a good idea of how the season will go for us. If we get out to our usual 4-9-2 mark; our typical slow start; that should tell you to expect much more of the same.
In my opinion, the teams that are doing things right in the post-lockout era are those that address two things. Puck-moving, smooth skating defense, and youth who can contribute. Sutter did the exact opposite. If we were starting the 2003-2004 season over again, I'd be hanging the Western Conference banner in the dome right now. But its not 03-04, we never won the cup then, we haven't won a playoff series since, and I don't believe it will end this year.
The Flames will battle for a playoff spot, not the division title.