The NHL’s lockout of its players, to the surprise of no one, is in full swing and with the reported tensions of the most recent meetings between the league and the player’s union heightened it is unlikely we will be seeing professional hockey in the near future. As such, the conclusion of the Flame’s Training Camp Preview is in essence a preview of the upcoming season, if there is to be one at all.
With that being said, the key to the Flames’ success this season is represented by the performance of their veteran core. For nearly a decade, the Flames have consistently placed their universal hopes on the shoulders of team captain Jarome Iginla and workhorse goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff. This year’s incarnation of the team will also once again look for strong support from Iginla’s on-again, off-again setup man winger Alex Tanguay, and all situations defender Mark Giordano. These 4 players not only represent the three areas of the hockey team but form the pillars of the franchise as it exists today. The prolonged loss of any of these players would dramatically affect the on-ice performance of the team and, as has been the case for the past few years, the Flames will go as far as these 4 players will take them.
The Veteran Core
For the past 12 years, Jarome Iginla has been the dominant offensive force of the Calgary Flames and the face of the franchise. About to celebrate a full decade as Flames captain, Iginla has given everything for franchise. His litanies of accomplishments are certainly impressive: two Maurice Rocket Richard Trophies, an Art Ross Trophy, a Lester B. Pearson Award (since renamed the Ted Lindsay Award), a Stanley Cup finals run, and registering at least 30 goals for 11 straight seasons. Iginla also leads the franchise in all-time goals and points while Al MacInnis’ assist record is well within reach. Simply put, Iginla’s career has placed him among the all-time greats in the minds of any Calgary fan and has become as synonymous with the Flames organization as Lanny MacDonald’s goal celebration of the 1989 Stanley Cup Finals.
While it is likely impossible for Iginla to ever be held in disfavour amongst the Flames faithful, it is becoming very possible that his career in Calgary may soon be coming to an end. While Iginla’s movement is nothing but pure speculation, the facts remain that this season represents the last of Iginla’s deal- meaning he will be eligible for UFA status this upcoming summer- and he is still one Stanley Cup short of becoming the most decorated power forward of all time. If he wishes to capture the elusive chalice while wearing a flaming C, Iginla will have to not only remain the consistent threat he has always been but also put forward an all-star season. The lockout may in turn be a blessing for the aged power forward who is known for notoriously slow starts, as a shortened 48-60 game schedule could give Iginla a beneficial amount of games in which he can maximize his style of play.
Last season was anything but a down year for the adored Iginla, as he managed a respectable 32 goals and 67 points. While that represents a drop of 19 points from 2010-2011, Iginla still proved to be the most capable Flame offensively and certainly is capable of returning to a 75-80 point level. During Michael Cammalleri’s first stint in Calgary, Iginla managed an 89-point season and another full season between the pair can only improve their chemistry.
Another factor in Iginla’s performance is the tertiary piece to the Flames’ top line: Alex Tanguay. Tanguay had trouble staying in the lineup in 2011-2012, suiting up in 64 games and notching 49 points. Tanguay is certainly entering the book end of his career and will be looked upon to be a steady offensive force. If the top trio of himself being paired with Cammalleri and Iginla remains intact he certainly will have two premier goal scorers of different skill sets to distribute to, giving him plenty of options. Visualizing a power play of Tanguay working the half-boards looking to find Cammalleri or Iginla in the slot or faceoff circle is almost cruel and unusual punishment for opposing netminders, and if he can stay healthy Tanguay should be good for a consistent 65 points.
Defensively, Mark Giordano has quickly become Calgary’s best all-around defender since Dion Phaneuf’s promising campaigns early on in his career. He can play all situations and eat up a plethora of minutes, and unlike Jay Bouwmeester is a multi-dimensional player that utilizes his ice time effectively. He can hit, he can pass relatively well, his point shot is effective, and his shot blocking is fearless. Ironically his stalwart defensive work (particularly on the penalty kill) rigorously abuses his body and as such it is likely that the leg injury that caused him to miss 21 games last season could become a recurring theme. Injuries will be inherently part of Giordano’s game due to his fearless play, although shot-blocking is now a universally accepted aspect of the defensive game and resulting injuries are almost unavoidable. As the Flame’s most consistent blueliner, Giordano needs to avoid the bad luck of injuries and remain a presence in the Flames lineup if they are going to pursue a playoff-worthy regular season.
While all of the aforementioned players are crucial to the Flames’ success, the unquestioned backbone of the team is goaltender Miikka
Kiprusoff. Due to the organization’s inability to find a consistent backup to alleviate the Finnish goaltender’s workload, Kiprusoff has appeared in the bulk of the Flames games for the past 7 years and 2011-2012 was no exception. Kiprusoff played 70 games last year (for the 7th consecutive season), and posted 35 wins, 22 losses, and 11 losses in extra time. Also entering the denouement of his career, Kiprusoff will more than likely receive more than a bulk of the starts this season, and if the season is shortened to 48 or 60 games it is conceivable that Kiprusoff could see action in all but 5 or 6 games. Much like Iginla, a lockout shortened season could prove to be a boon for Kiprusoff as there has been much debate over whether or not his robust workload wears on him near the end of the season. Less available games to play means that even if the Flames resort to their tried-and-true formula of overplaying Kiprusoff it will be statistically impossible for him to play as much as he has in past seasons. This may give credence to those who believe that the amount of his starts are in covariance with his level of play and it is almost a certainty that if Kiprusoff plays at a consistently high level, the Flames will win games that they don’t have any business winning.
The lockout has unfortunately robbed Flames fans of seeing a very new look Flames team open the season on time, and articles such as this preview trio will sadly serve only as simple prognostications until a new collective bargaining is reached. What is certain is that the Flames can be easily identified into the three components that have been the subject of these articles: the new faces, the comeback candidates, and the veteran core. All that remains is for the season to eventually start and for these three groups to co-exist on the ice, and hopefully that means a return to the playoffs for the Flames.