October 5, 2011
Elite eight ain't in cards for FlamesCalgary will miss playoffs — again
By ERIC FRANCIS, QMI Agency
CALGARY - Jay Feaster has read the reviews and isn’t the least bit irritated by what he’s seen.
No one in the hockey world is picking the Calgary Flames to make the playoffs. No one.
“When I canceled my Sports Illustrated subscription in Tampa and burned it in effigy, that’s when I really stopped caring,” the Flames GM said with a chuckle of preseason predictions.
“I truly don’t care. Everybody is entitled to their opinion, and some of them are pretty uninformed.”
It was 2002 when Feaster’s Tampa Bay Lighting were pegged by SI to finish 30th, prompting Feaster to set match to his last copy of the glossy mag. His club responded by winning the southeast division and beating Washington in the first round.
We’re about to find out if the Flames can react similarly.
But first, Feaster may have to get his lighter out and burn this page as it’s evident 10th is the best this squad can hope for in the Western Conference.
Contrary to what national media types have suggested, it has indeed been a progressive summer for the club as Feaster made two tough decisions to get the club out of salary cap jail while injecting much-needed youth into the organization. Trading Robyn Regehr and Daymond Langkow opened some wiggle room between the salary cap and the club’s current payroll, allowing the team some flexibility moving forward.
But that doesn’t mean the team improved.
In fact, it would be tough to argue the west’s 10th-place finisher from a year ago is any better a team than the one that struggled to keep pucks out of its net. After all, gone is the club’s top shut-down defenceman.
Offensively, the team may actually be better with the addition of Lee Stempniak bolstering a surprisingly deep forward ranks that scored the seventh-most goals in the NHL last year (and most goals from Christmas on!)
However, the top line is already in a massive state of flux due to Jarome Iginla’s pre-season back ailments, Brendan Morrison’s ongoing recovery from knee surgery and Tuesday’s announcement first-line filler Mikael Backlund is out for six weeks with a broken finger.
The atmosphere is certainly much better these days as Feaster and coach Brent Sutter have made great strides in improving an atmosphere damaged by Darryl Sutter’s prolonged stay. In Sutter. the team truly has one of the league’s most accomplished and talented coaches, giving the club every chance to continue its progression from Christmas onwards.
It goes without saying that for the Flames to have any chance at making a charge at the top eight, it will have to get the type of world-class goaltending Miikka Kiprusoff provided two years ago. Perhaps that’s possible with the newfound confidence in Henrik Karlsson, giving Kiprusoff more time to rest.
But perhaps the best way to illustrate how tough it will be for the Flames to make the grade for the first time in three years is to work backwards and figure out who they can’t finish ahead of.
Can we all at least agree Vancouver, San Jose, Los Angeles and Detroit are in an echelon the Flames can only dream of? Right. It’s hard to fathom Chicago, Anaheim or Nashville taking steps backwards this year, leaving Phoenix as the only playoff from last year team unlikely to be near the top eight next spring.
By the way, for those who thought the Flames were close to being playoff material last year, keep in mind they had a 39% winning percentage against the above eight. They won 76% of the time against bottom dwellers.
The young Blues of St. Louis are healthier and a little more developed, Columbus broke the bank to add two superstars, and even Colorado’s young studs may be ready to challenge. (We won’t insult the Flames by suggesting Edmonton or Dallas are comparable).
It’s likely Calgary will be one of five clubs battling for the lone playoff spot not essentially sewn up.
Sure, the Flames will win more games than they’ll lose.
But it won’t be enough.
Cue the lighter.