SUN Hockey Pool

Flames' waiting game

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:26 PM ET

It’s halfway through the season and Calgary Flames faithful are already sounding like Chicago Cubs fans.

“Wait ’til next year,” is a theme heard more and more around the city. But do Flames fans really expect that quick of a turnaround?

Does it seem possible the Flames, who are currently in 14th place in the Western Conference and falling further and further from a playoff spot, will change that drastically next season?

Barring some drastic moves involving a key part of the puzzle — such as Jarome Iginla, Miikka Kiprusoff and/or Robyn Regehr — the Flames are poised to ice nearly the same team when the 2011-12 campaign kicks off.

It will be a full season and a half before the Flames are truly ready for a rebuild.

When this season is in the books, four forwards, three defenceman and backup goalie Henrik Karlsson are due to be unrestricted free agents. On the list with Karlsson, the most likely to return, are Alex Tanguay, Curtis Glencross, Brendan Morrison, Craig Conroy, Steve Staios, Anton Babchuk and Adam Pardy.

Tanguay is on pace for 20 goals and 62 points, so he won’t be re-signed with a US$1.7 million contract, and may price himself out of Calgary. The others may be due for a change of scenery or are on the wrong side of age 35. One or both of Babchuk and Pardy could remain in the fold but will always remain in the role they currently hold.

It won’t be until after the 2011-12 season when the Flames will have all kinds of players off the books.

Daymond Langkow, whose career sadly may be over, Ales Kotalik, Niklas Hagman, Olli Jokinen, David Moss, Tom Kostopoulos, Raitis Ivanans (also injured), Tim Jackman and Cory Sarich all are due to be free and clear.

Iginla, Matt Stajan, Rene Bourque, Jay Bouwmeester, Regehr, Mark Giordano and Kiprusoff are the only players signed for the 2012-13 season. It’s the last year for Iginla and Regehr’s contracts.

(Whether there will be a season remains to be seen since the current collective bargaining agreement expires before then, but that’s another story.)

Which means Jay Feaster, the acting GM but seemingly the man to be the full-time GM, has a tough order making next season different from this one.

Yes, it would be great to integrate a couple of defencemen, such as Matt Pelech, John Negrin or the recent pre-season darling T.J. Brodie, into the lineup, but none of those three have jumped forward enough to be considered a slam-dunk NHLer next season.

That said, the Flames are best served to promote one or two of those blueliners next season, not only to bring fresh blood into the fold but also to send a message to its prospects opportunities exist.

Of the forward prospects, things are more up in the air regarding who could play in the NHL.

Greg Nemisz, the 2008 first-round draft choice, is earning kudos in his first pro season, but it’s a dicey proposition to think he’ll be ready to be a full-time top-nine forward next season. There are candidates for fourth-liners in Ryan Stone, Stefan Mayer and John Armstrong, but Tim Jackman is a perfect player in that role and the team would need to make Moss and Kostopoulos third-line players to make space.

Who knows? Maybe the Flames will draft a first-rounder capable of stepping into the fray and making an impact the way Matt Duchene helped the Colorado Avalanche bounce back.

Or all those players hoping for bounce-back years make it happen next season. Or maybe a big trade turns things.

Otherwise, ‘wait ’til next year’ will be a resounding theme for a long time.


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