Welcome to the NHL FanHouse 2008-09 season preview. While other sites are previewing "30 teams in 30 days," we decided to take advantage of the extra time off before the start of the season to bring you all 30 previews over the next three weeks. We're counting down in reverse order of finish from last season in each conference every weekday from now until October 3. Look for an Eastern Conference preview every morning and a Western Conference preview every afternoon. Click here to read them all.
What's Changed: The backbone of this team hasn't been touched. 50-goal scorer Jarome Iginla is still the rock of the offense. Cammalleri should help bolster the Flames' top line, and Daymond Langkow is expected to remain the center. The signing of Bertuzzi is an interesting one for the Flames. Calgary has plenty of tough guys, and Bertuzzi struggled mightily at times last year in Anaheim. He did stay healthy for 68 games and tallied a not-terrible 40 points, but he still has a penchant for really dumb and irresponsible penalties.
While I know Mike Keenan wants a tough hockey team (hence the decision to let Tanguay and Huselius go elsewhere), I can't imagine he'll be happy watching Bertuzzi take a dumb penalty late in a close game. Unless Bertuzzi starts playing smarter hockey, it's not destined to go well for him.
On defense, Dion Phaneuf is still the key player. He'll average 25-28 minutes a game, score goals, set up the forwards, hit people, and throw punches. His big job is to protect durable goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff, who played in 76 games last year and appeared to wear down late in the regular season and into the playoffs.
The acquisitions of Bourque and Glencross are merely line-filler. The reasonable expectation would be that you could squeeze 70 combined points out of the two if everything goes well.
Make no mistake. The key to the Flames' season will be the health of their Big Three and the ability of Keenan to complement Iginla on the top line to maximize everyone's abilities.
Who's On The Hook: Anyone who skates with Iginla. That's Calgary's top line, and it simply must be productive. Cammalleri was pretty good on a bad team in Los Angeles. Can he step up his game on a team that is expected to make the playoffs?
Kiprusoff did seem to wilt a bit last spring. That will increase the pressure on backup Curtis McElhinney, who should be able to take 10-12 games and perhaps keep Kiprusoff fresher for the playoffs, assuming Calgary makes the playoffs.
Is Keenan on the hot seat? He wasn't brought in to finish seventh in the West and lose in the first round. More alarmingly, his team was often caught off-guard and looked unprepared early in games. Falling behind like they did so often might be okay for an explosive team. For a team that still relies on intensity, defense, and goaltending, it's not helpful when you're down 2-0 five minutes in.
Where They'll Finish: I can see Calgary winning the Northwest Division. They arguably have the best forward, defenseman, and goaltender in the West. The problem is depth. If enough players step up around Iginla, Phaneuf, and Kiprusoff, the Flames are a contender. If that doesn't happen, Calgary and their blue-chip players will struggle to make the playoffs.
In the end, that's what I see happening. I look at the Flames and see an eight seed. If that. They just don't have enough forward depth to support Iginla.