SUN Hockey Pool

NHL lockout idles Flames' storylines

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:38 PM ET

CALGARY - If not for the lockout, the Calgary Flames would be squaring off with the Vancouver Canucks Thursday night at the Saddledome, the scheduled season-opener.

And 81 other regular season contests would follow.

If only that was reality.

Instead of gearing up for another campaign, and playoff hopes once again high, we'll all have to sit and wait for the the players and owners to stop squabbling and come up with a new collective bargaining agreement.

But here are six storylines we'd rather be watching.

Will he be Sven-sational?: It's been a long time since there was any excitement about a first-year pro in the Flames system. Certainly, it's been a generation since anybody figured a rookie could be a game-breaker of any sort.

Sven Baertschi is the long-awaited player with big expectations.

By scoring three goals -- all in consecutive games -- during his brief five-game summons from the junior ranks last season, the 2011 first-round draft choice created a real buzz. Plus, he gave fans real hope for this season.

Baertschi wasn't just going to be handed a roster spot on the opening-day roster, but you can bet your bottom dollar he'd be given every opportunity to prove he can make the cut.

Instead, we'll have to monitor his progress with the AHL Abbotsford Heat.

Is this it for Iggy and Kipper?: Face of the franchise Jarome Iginla is due to be an unrestricted free agent after 2012-13. Goalie Miikka Kiprusoff has two years remaining on his contract, but the final season is worth US$1.5 million. Plus, he no longer has a no-movement clause.

Should the Flames be on their way to missing the playoffs for a fourth straight season, you bet both those players would be in trade talks.

The Flames will eventually be without those two standouts, so this could very well be the last chance for them to make their mark here.

Bob Hartley's influence: Bob Hartley is a head coach without anything to do. The new bench boss came to the Flames to replace Brent Sutter and immediately put plans in place for the coming season.

He had the training camp setup done months ago. Instead, he's waiting, like the rest of us, for players to arrive.

Hartley's gameplan is an up-tempo game. Whether the Flames have the horses to go with that style remains to be seen, but it could make for more entertaining games. Lord knows Flames fans deserve some entertaining hockey.

Will more youngsters make the cut?: Sven Baertschi isn't the only youngster looked at to be part of the Flames.

Lance Bouma and T.J. Brodie have already proven to be pieces of the puzzle, so it's about time for Greg Nemisz -- in his third pro season -- to push for a full-time NHL job.

But it doesn't end there.

Goalie Leland Irving has a shot to be the backup in Calgary and Roman Horak is expected to take another step, after splitting time between the NHL and AHL last season. Same thing goes for Paul Byron.

First-year pro Max Reinhart has shown the potential to be a future NHLer, with his smarts and skill.

Free-agent impact: To their credit, the Flames braintrust didn't stand pat in the off-season. They took some shots for signing Jiri Hudler to a four-year, US$16-million contract and Dennis Wideman to a five-year, $26.25-million deal, as well as KHL standout Roman Cervenka to a one-year deal.

It would have been interesting to see whether Wideman and Hudler could deliver value for those deals or struggled with the pressure. Likewise, Cervenka's season would be a study in how a 26-year-old would adjust to the NHL.

Playoffs!?!: Three years without punching a ticket into the NHL's second season has limited expectations on the Flames. Their chances in the coming season certainly don't appear any easier with the Minnesota Wild adding a pair of impact players in Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, and the Edmonton Oilers and Colorado Avalanche having plenty of young talent maturing.

If -- and it's a big if -- the Flames could have proven they could be a playoff team with their soft rebuild plan, they'd buy some time for future moves to be put in place.

If the Flames miss again, though, the call for a full-scale rebuild would become louder and louder.

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca

On Twitter: @SUNRandySportak


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