Stanley Cup contenders

ERIC FRANCIS, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:52 AM ET

On paper, the Calgary Flames are Stanley Cup contenders.

And while the same thing has been said about them for several years now, the difference this year is they have a coach who will hold everyone accountable.

Oh sure, they also added the most coveted free-agent defencemen in the league.

That should help.

But it's the system, the structure and the discipline this team so sorely lacked under Mike Keenan that should do well to get the most out of Calgary's wealth of talent.

Those who don't buy into the highly-regimented framework Brent Sutter used to elevate the New Jersey Devils to new heights last year will sit, regardless of their stature.

Like everyone else, Jarome Iginla will be forced to play more of a two-way game again while linemates Olli Jokinen and David Moss help ensure the captain still succeeds offensively.

To those who think Iginla's scoring prowess will be limited by Sutter's defence-first system, I give you Exhibit A: Zach Parise and his 94 points in Jersey last year.

As part of a group effort that will do well to replace the 39 goals scored by Mike Cammalleri here last year, Moss could very well bolster his 20-goal effort last year to 30.

Jokinen is a good bet to win over fans disappointed by his late scoring slump last year with diligent play at both ends, a nice chemistry with Iginla and a return to the 30-goal mark he's hit four times.

Then, in case you were wondering, he'll be lost as a UFA -- a rental player just as Cammalleri was.

No one will have to try harder at winning back fans than Dion Phaneuf, who should benefit from the addition of Jay Bouwmeester in many ways.

With Robyn Regehr and Bouwmeester slated to play in the first pairing, gone will be the days of Phaneuf logging 28 or 29 minutes a night. He will instead be counted on for much higher quality minutes both on the powerplay and as a second-pair blueliner alongside Mark Giordano.

His relationship with Sutter dating back to their days in Red Deer together can only help as the two have already had several chats about how he can get his career back on track.

No team has more talent or depth on the blueline than the Flames.

As always, no man is more important to the Flames fortunes than Miikka Kiprusoff, who should benefit from a renewed focus on defence. Sutter insists he'd like to reduce Kiprusoff's legendary workload significantly to the point he's starting roughly 65 games, which can only help him rebound from four straight seasons of a rising goals-against average.

Aside from Bouwmeester, perhaps no player will pack as much intrigue as newcomer Nigel Dawes, who starts on the second line. The junior phenom will be counted on to be one of a potential nine 20-goal scorers, which includes linemates Daymond Langkow and Rene Bourque.

Bourque's ankle is still a legitimate concern following off-season corrective surgery, as he was on pace to eclipse the 30-goal mark before being injured last year.

Dustin Boyd, Craig Conroy and Curtis Glencross make up a formidable third line that can both check and score.

Lost in the beauty of Theo Fleury's fairytale fortnight was the slight disappointment none of the organization's top young prospects were able to step up and grab one of the two top-six forward spots up for grabs.

Young AHL scoring stud Kyle Greentree was sent to Abbotsford a week ago, followed by Mikael Backlund.

The most pleasant surprise of camp came via Anton Stralman, whose solid showing prompted Darryl Sutter to ship him to the Columbus Blue Jackets for a third-rounder.

There have been no surprises in camp, and that's just fine with the Sutters, as the biggest surprise of all would be if this club can't live up to expectations and lose in the first round for the fifth straight year.

This is the year they challenge for the Cup -- maybe even win it.

Just like the paper suggests.

ERIC.FRANCIS@SUNMEDIA.CA

FLAMES WOES

SEASON RECAPS SINCE LOCKOUT

- 2005-06: With 103-point campaign, the Flames enjoyed their best regular season since the 1989 Stanley Cup campaign, capturing their first division crown in a dozen years. But the Anaheim Ducks extinguished the Flames in a seven-game opening-round series.

- 2006-07: Coach Jim Playfair guided the club to a 96-point season. But the Flames lost a first-round series to the Detroit Red Wings in six games.

- 2007-08: Mike Keenan's first year behind the bench resulted in a 94-point campaign. The club blew 3-2 series lead to lose an opening round set to San Jose in seven games.

- 2008-09: Fifth-seeded Flames lost in six games in opening round to Chicago Blackhawks.


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