SUN Hockey Pool

Iginla's new army

The Calgary Flames are ready to begin another National Hockey League season as they take to the Ice...

The Calgary Flames are ready to begin another National Hockey League season as they take to the Ice at Don Hartman Arena. (SUN/Al Charest)

STEVE MACFARLANE -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 12:04 PM ET

The star remains the same.

His supporting cast, however, is stronger.

The Calgary Flames are Jarome Iginla's team and GM/head coach Darryl Sutter basically standing pat at the trade deadline made sure that wouldn't change.

And that's not a bad thing.

With the addition of another big-name player, such as Sergei Samsonov -- who instead went north to Edmonton -- the Flames would have had another scorer to take some pressure off their captain.

But by not making any significant changes, Sutter ensured it will be his $7-million man who will again be front-and-centre when the playoffs begin.

Iginla led the charge in 2004 and his loyal followers pitched in enthusiastically, taking the Flames all the way to the Stanley Cup final.

The 2006 version, when broken down player by player, is capable of doing the same -- even without the element of surprise the underdogs enjoyed when NHL playoff hockey was last played.

"I think we're a better team," said Iginla yesterday. "I think that we're stronger defensively.

"Up front, we're not scoring as many goals as we can -- everyone's been talking about that, we talk about that, we know that. But if you look around in our room ... we're all capable of more. We're more offensive than we've shown. It's on us to bring that out."

On defence, there's no question this year's crew is even more capable of dismantling any attack. Gone are Denis Gauthier, Toni Lydman, Steve Montador, Mike Commodore and Brennan Evans. Aside from the hard-hitting Gauthier, those names don't scare anyone.

Now insert rookie wrecking ball Dion Phaneuf, veteran Roman Hamrlik, depth players Bryan Marchment and Cale Hulse -- and, if needed, capable prospects Richie Regehr and Mark Giordano.

Where skeptics will argue the Flames are weak is up front. Craig Conroy fans are still crying over his departure, claiming his absence is the reason Iginla isn't producing at a Rocket Richard Trophy pace.

Truth be told, Daymond Langkow, who has spent the most time alongside Iginla this year, isn't the setup man Conroy was. But he already has 11 more goals than Conroy potted in 2003-04 and is seven points shy of the former Flame's total that season.

Chris Clark has become Mike Leclerc.

Oleg Saprykin is now Kristian Huselius.

Darren McCarty takes over pest Ville Nieminen's role.

Gone also are Krzysztof Oliwa and Dave Lowry. In are Byron Ritchie and newcomer Jamie Lundmark.

Lowry's presence in the locker-room is mirrored by Marchment's this season: He keeps the guys relatively calm and focused on the task at hand.

Nieminen's role as an agitator in the post-season can easily be filled by McCarty, a multiple Cup winner who also has a knack for scoring big goals.

Huselius' offensive skill is better than last season's wildcard: Saprykin. The question is when it will come into play. Saprykin's shining moment came in the Cup final when he scored an OT goal to give the Flames a 3-2 series lead over the Lightning.

Huselius could play a part in more than one critical goal this year.

What about The Eliminator, you ask?

Martin Gelinas' departure hurt, no doubt. He scored the series-clinching goal in every round, earning him the apt nickname.

Tony Amonte is the likely candidate to carry on the tradition.

True, his goal production since signing here as a free agent last summer has been subject to many moans and groans. Just remember that Gelinas wasn't exactly lighting the lamp at a record pace in the regular season, either.

Amonte needs two more points to match Gelinas' 2003-04 total. Of his 11 goals this season, three have been game-winners. That's a decent ratio. There's also a shootout winner that doesn't count in the stats and a few assists to set up the winning goal.

But if Amonte can't become The Eliminator, McCarty suggests it could be a team effort.

"Everybody's got to score a big goal at a different time," said McCarty. "That's what playoff hockey or this drive to the end of the season's about."


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