Same ol', same ol' for Flames?

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:02 AM ET

CALGARY - At quick glance, itís easy to see who the Calgary Flames blame for the downfall of last season: Robyn Regehr.

Just compare the rosters of the 2010-11 Flames to whatís readying for the coming campaign.

Same goaltenders in Miikka Kiprusoff and Henrik Karlsson.

Essentially, itís the same group of forwards. In fact, itís more of an addition with Lee Stempniak in the fold and Daymond Langkow out in the trade with the Phoenix Coyotes since Langkow only played four games.

The biggest changes from last seasonís squad which failed to reach the Stanley Cup playoffs ó a shortfall which has taken place two straight years ó is on defence.

And the most noteworthy party no longer patrolling the Flames blueline is Regehr, who was shuffled off to Buffalo along with the overpaid and under-achieving Ales Kotalik and a second-round draft choice in exchange for 24-year-old unheralded defenceman Chris Butler and small forward Paul Byron.

Sure, Adam Pardy and Steve Staios were also allowed to leave via free-agencyó Pardy received a two-year contract with the Dallas Stars worth US$4 million (an astonishing deal for a third-pairing defenceman who played just 87 games the last two seasons and missed 50 clashes last season due to shoulder injuries) and Staios remains unsigned ó but Regehrís departure is unquestionably the biggie.

OK, itís with a tongue firmly planted in cheek weíre saying Regehr is the reason the Flames missed the playoffs, or implying the lack of changes means the Flames believe that to be the case.

But, now that the leaves are changing colour and the season is coming quickly, thatís all which came from time of discontent.

Regehr, 31, may have his best days in the rear-view mirroró mainly because of all the physical abuse heís taken and dished out over 11 full seasons for the Flames ó but was nothing but a true impact player during his 827 regular season games and 41 playoff contests.

It will be interesting to watch how ice-time is handed out without him in the lineup.

(It will also be interesting to see how Edmonton Oilers forward Ales Hemsky enjoys the Battle of Alberta without having Regehr driving him into the endboards with regularity, but thatís another story.)

Can you blame the Flames for not making sweeping changes? Sure. When you donít advance to the second season, itís an obvious sign something is wrong.

But maybe GM Jay Feaster has good reason to keep much of the team together. After all, this is a squad which compiled a 27-11-9 mark to end the season after a horrible eight-week stretch put them tied with the Oilers for last in the NHLís Western Conference.

The salary-cap jail as Feaster called the situation, also played a part in the lack of changes. Itís hard to overhaul a roster when so many players are signed to untradeable deals or have no-trade clauses. That will change after this season, with 11 veteran skaters due to become unrestricted free agents. For now, the vast majority of the Flames will look the same.

In goal, Kiprusoff has three more seasons remaining on his deal and will continue to be the main man. Karlsson was inked to a two-year contract extension, which means 2006 first-round draft choice Leland Irving is likely going to spend another season in the minors waiting for his chance.

Up front, the Flames have 14 forwards on one-way contracts ó which includes Raitis Ivanans, whose career may be over due to concussion issues ó and Mikael Backlund.

Unless the team can make another trade ó itís probably a good bet Feaster would love to find a way to deal Niklas Hagman and his contract worth US$3 million or Matt Stajan and his deal with three more seasons ≠≠ó or opts to put a player or two with one-way contracts in the minors, only a very strong pre-season will earn a prospect a NHL roster spot to start the season.

Of course, injuries can and likely will change things, but right now, the Flames are looking to add a player in Brendan Morrison, who had off-season knee surgery, and not thinking about losing others.

Therefore, watch for much of the same lineup which provided the kind of offensive production you need to be a playoff team ó tied for seventh in the league and fifth most among Western Conference squads last season.

Watch for Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay to be the offensive leaders, for Rene Bourque to be pushed for 30 goals, Curtis Glencross to go for a second-straight 20-goal season, Backlund to take on a bigger role, Olli Jokinen to be a key two-way centre and players such as Stajan and Hagman to try putting their careers on track.

The bigger unknown remains the impact of Regehrís departure.

Scott Hannan will be counted on to make up for the physical presence lost, and with Cory Sarich still here, it gives the team two tough-as-nails blueliners.

Butler will be provided every opportunity to show heís a top-four blueliner but isnít expected to be a big point-producer, although heís apparently adept at making the outlet pass.

Ultimately, though, the big minutes and magnifying glasses will concentrated mainly around Jay Bouwmeester and Mark Giordano.

Bouwmeesterís offensive production has been disappointing through his first two seasons with the Flames, and itís high time he prove heís indeed the elite defenceman heís being paid to be.

Giordano is in Year 1 of a five-year contract worth

$20.1 million. Heís gone from an undrafted overage junior to an up-and-comer to under-rated to being considered one of the best second-pairing defencemen in the league.Now, he has the chance to be a top-tier blueliner.

You know, to replace the obviously-to-blame Regehr.


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