SUN Hockey Pool

Breaking down the positions

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:15 AM ET

The Calgary Flames annual one-and-done rite of spring is now in the books.

Now comes the change.

Where it ends is anybody's guess.

The coaching staff? Probably.

The management? Not likely.

The support staff? Hey, you never know.

The players? Definitely.

The Flames team that will hit the ice in October won't be a major overhaul of the team that bowed out to Chicago in the opening round of the playoffs Monday night.

Nor should it.

The core of the Flames doesn't need to be blown up, not yet, but it's obvious some serious tinkering must be done, and the betting man says we'll see a younger team in the future unless some serious salary paring is done.

Here's a crystal ball look at what to watch for by position between now and training camp.

GOALTENDING

Miikka Kiprusoff just completed the first season of a six-year, US$35-million pact. It's likely he won't play the final year of the pact, but that's too far in the future to consider now.

Kiprusoff will turn 33 early next season, and it's high time the Flames relied a little less on Kiprusoff through the regular season. He can insist he wasn't tired, but next season it may be worth playing him around 60-65 games so he has more gas in the tank come playoffs. For that you need a backup the team has confidence in, which brings us to Curtis McElhinney.

McElhinney was both a victim of bad luck and sub-standard performances, mostly by his teammates and sometimes by himself.

Due to be an unrestricted free agent, he and the Flames will likely part ways, but should he return, it has to be with the understanding of playing upwards of 20 games. McElhinney deserved a better fate most outings, but too often didn't make the most of his opportunities.

Leland Irving is waiting in the wings and was solid in his first pro season, but he's better off playing the majority of the games in the minors than sitting at the end of the bench. Watch for Calgary to bring in a more experienced backup, but with a low price tag.

DEFENCE

Dion Phaneuf had an off-season, some are attributing it to injuries, but it was a step back from the previous year. Expect him to be back with a vengeance come fall. Talk of trading Phaneuf is foolish and short-sided. He won't be untouchable forever without improvement, but you don't deal a young blueliner with his skills. He just has to mature. If, in a year or two you don't think it'll ever happen, then you make that trade.

Robyn Regehr's value was never more noticeable than the playoff series. Nobody was missed more than him. With a healthy knee, he's still the cornerstone.

Cory Sarich's stock should elevate. He was the team's best defenceman against Chicago, despite a broken ankle (although we'd heard heel bone). If you need to shed salary, though, his deal worth US$3.6 annually is a place to look.

However, the first blueliner salary to try moving may be Jim Vandermeer's, two more years at $2.3 million. He's game for anything and gives his all, but it's a big price for a third-pairing blueliner who was No. 7 at one point.

Adam Pardy is due to be a UFA, but the Flames would be best served to sign the team's most-improved player, who is the first of a wave of youngsters expected to step up. Next is Matt Pelech, after that it's John Negrin, Keith Aulie and even T.J. Brodie.

Adrian Aucoin ($4 million) and Jordan Leopold ($1.5 million) are pending UFAs and likely to play elsewhere. Aucoin's salary just doesn't fit, he'll get more than the Flames should pay elsewhere, while Leopold is likely looking to find a place to call home for the long term.

Rhett Warrener and Anders Eriksson may have seen their final NHL days.

CENTRE

The easy thought is to run Olli Jokinen out of town because he wasn't a factor in the playoffs and his salary could maybe keep Michael Cammalleri in the fold. Considering the cost to bring Jokinen to Calgary, it won't happen. Nor should it. Jokinen will spend the summer trying to figure out what he must do to actually succeed when the games go to the next level. He's had a taste, and will be motivated to do better. And if it doesn't work out by the end of next season, you say sayonara to the then UFA.

The other big-ticket centre is Daymond Langkow. He also had a down year, struggled to score and then was hit by injuries. Expect him back and better next year. From there, you have veteran depth in Craig Conroy, a young player who can also play on the wing and could use a new coach in Dustin Boyd -- Mike Keenan just never seemed to trust him -- and a fourth-line player in Warren Peters to round out a solid crew.

Plus, the forgotten Wayne Primeau can't have a third injury filled year, can he?

WINGERS

Michael Cammalleri's chance to prove he could score in crunch time came and went. The 39-goal man from the regular season netted only one tally in the playoffs and will likely be priced out of Calgary. It would be great to keep him in the fold, but the Flames simply won't have the space to do it unless a Jokinen or Langkow is dealt.

The other main pending UFA, Todd Bertuzzi, is an interesting study. On one hand, if his salary is reasonable, it may be worth another deal. However, his poorly timed penalties and injury history suggest it may be worth having a young player in that role to start the season and salary cap space come trade deadline.

After that, there are some exciting futures to go with Jarome Iginla.

The addition of Rene Bourque and Curtis Glencross last summer were great moves by GM Darryl Sutter.

Bourque has the potential to play a first-line role, more likely a very good second liner, while Glencross is a perfect third-liner.

Plus, David Moss took his game to a new level and will continue to improve, while Eric Nystrom was shining on the fourth line, and could even be a third-line player with his determination and drive.

Calgary needs more of these type of players: Young, big and strong on the forecheck. Chicago's crew has an seemingly endless cast of them, and the Flames should take a page out of that book. Unfortunately, nobody on the farm is ready for prime time or screams out a first- or second-line player yet -- not even Mikael Backlund -- so Sutter will need to find another player in the Bourque/Glencross mold if Bertuzzi is let go.

Prepare for a younger -- hopefully quicker and bigger -- team this coming season and in the future.

The building blocks will remain, but a few pieces around them are going to change.


Videos

Photos