One of the first topics that always comes up when talking about the Calgary Flames is age. As of Oct. 17, 2011, they were the second oldest team in the league with 29.6 as their average, falling just short of the mark set by the Wings at 29.9. They had only five players under the age of 25 play in more than 20 games, and their two biggest stars (Iginla and Kiprusoff) are now both eligible for 35+ contracts. To add to the problem, as one of the comentors informed me, the Flames have never drafted in the top 5. For him, it was a source of pride - it shows that every season the Flames compete from start to finish - but it also means that the most elite talent from the draft classes has never gone to Calgary. As he pointed out, there are of course steals later in the rounds (Anze Kopitar and Iginla were both taken at 11th, etc), but the later you draft, the more hit and miss it becomes. And unfortunately, for whatever reason, Calgary seems to miss a lot. They have Sven Bartschi (LW) and Johnny Gaudreau (G), but other than that, their prospect pool is pretty bland. There is hope that perhaps Feaster can find a way to move them from bubble land and up into the playoffs without completely going into an Edmonton-style blowup, but it's not a really happy time for Flames fans right now.
They can take comfort in knowing that at least one of their positions is strong, since their crop of Left Wings is pretty impressive. Alex Tanguay, Av killer Curtis Glencross, Michael Cammalleri, Blake Comeau, and Sven Bartschi all play that position, and Comeau and Bartschi are both at or under the age of 25. But beyond that, it starts getting grim. The only center they had that scored over 20 points last year is now in Winnipeg (Jokinen), and even though there are some prospects on their way up (one poster mentioned Lance Bouma, Roman Horak, and Paul Byron), their current crop at the NHL level is less than inspiring. Futhermore, besides Iggy and Stempniak, their RW's aren't anything impressive either. The two defensemen with the highest ATOI last year (Bowmeester and Giordano) had Corsi so scary that even someone that knows very little about Corsi knew it was bad (even if they were going up against fairly high Quality of Competition). Luckily, they do have youngerster T.J. Brodie well on his way, but besides him, their blueline is... underwhelming. The 35-year-old Kiprusoff played 70 games in goal for them last year with only the inexperienced Leland Irving and Henrik Karlsson behind him. It's a team that for the past three years has battled and only missed the playoffs by a hair, but it's held together by aging bodies and declining talent.
They do have a new coach coming in though to make the best out of a bad situation. Our old friend Bob Hartley, the man that helped bring home our '01 Cup, recently signed on. Fans were very dissatisfied with Brent Sutter's coaching style and thought that he was one of the major reasons why Calgary failed to make playoffs, so maybe Hartley's the spark that can help get Calgary back to the post-season. However, this roster is a far cry from the successful one he had in 2001. It certainly will be interesting to see what he can make of this less-than-world-beating team.
Speaking of the team, the lines that fans expect to see opening night are:
Tanguay - Glencross - Iginla
Bartschi - Backlund - Cammelleri
Comeau - Jones - Stempniak
Bouma - Stajan - Jackman
Bowmeester - Wideman
Butler - Giordano
Brodie - Sarich
When asked about their GM, the fan's reaction was very meh. Some thought Feaster was doing a decent job considering the mess that Darryl Sutter left, while others are severely underwhelmed and don't think he's doing enough to improve the team. They do believe that their scouting staff has finally gotten better though and they're excited about some of their recent draftees; however, they are very cautious about going into full-on rebuild mode. They'd much rather see Iggy and Kipper traded for young NHL players than take to the draft.
That brings up another interesting topic - what to do with Jarome Iginla. I guess his role with the team is deeper than I expected. He's become more than a Captain - he's actually been personally consulted on every big move the team makes for years now, and it's to the point where it's not what the team wants, it's what Iggy wants. He has full control over the team, not the Flames management. As one poster stated, "He is more than what Sakic was to the Avs, more than Yzerman to the Wings". He truly has become the embodiment of the organization and is so ingrained in the system that even though fans are starting to really question his leadership abilities, it seems as if everyone is afraid to do anything about it. Almost across the board, fans still say that they'd be okay with seeing him moved for young players or NHL ready prospects, but they doubt that anyone is going to pull that trigger unless Iginla asks to be traded.
Unsurprisingly, Iggy and Kipper are also their favorite players, although they feel that 23-year-old Mikael Backlund (C) and Jay Bouwmeester (D) are the most underrated on the team. On fan was irritated by Tanguay and thought he needs to pass less, shoot more, but with Bourque off the team, the annoyance factor has gone down. The player they'd most like to steal from another club? Crosby or Stamkos. They'd fix their 20-year deficiency at center, as would Duchene or Stastny from the Avs. Landy also got a little love from one poster. Calgary fans also seem to hate Vancouver as much as we do, and Tim Erixon, the prospect that forced a trade away from the Flames last year, wasn't exactly in their good graces either.
Their opinion of our team was an interesting one though. They acknowledged that the Avs are a good, young team on the upswing that is exciting to watch, but they also said that the one thing we really lacked was a veteran presence. One poster even said that when they play us, he expects to see diving and drawing penalties, which he believes is part of the reason why we didn't get the calls last year. This is the first time I've heard another team mention it, but this is also the first divisional rival that I've talked to. They play us more than the rest of the league, so they probably know us better than most. This poster did believe that the addition of a good veteran presence, much like what the Blues did with Langenbrunner, McDonald, and Arnott would go a long way in helping keep our kids in line and fixing the leadership void left in the wake of Sakic. Perhaps a veteran presence is what we need to help fix our lack of power plays problem.