It's funny, the Edmonton Oilers finished dead last in the NHL last season, yet when you discuss the Oilers and Flames here in Alberta it seems that the overwhelming opinion is that the Oilers are in a far, far better place then where the Calgary Flames are these days. Now, if we are talking about the long term future of the teams, it's hard not to agree. The Flames are an older team, that has traded away assets on the quest for the here and now. Obviously the problem is that the here and now quest ended with the Flames missing the playoffs last season setting off wide spread panic in the Flames faithful. Judging by some conversations I've had with Flames fans, that panic and trepidation hasn't gone away as the off season has gone on. In fact, Daryl Sutter solidified some of the mentioned emotions until the puck drops this fall when he brought back and signed center Ollii Jokinen soon after the Free Agent period started July 1. Until Flames fans see the product, many aren't willing to commit to anything positive at this point. This Oiler fan will however, and surprisingly, it won't be all doom and gloom.
First off, just so we can all see, lets consider the Flames top 6 forwards, defense, and of course the goalie, as things stand right now.
First off, Tanguay at 1.5 million could be a steal. Both Iginla and Tanguay had off season in 09-10, but last time they played on the same team Tanguay had a career year. If the Flames hold true with their promise to Tanguay in allowing him to play on Iginla's line, I believe Tanguay could be one of the off season steals, and Iginla could be back to the point a game player we all know he is. Stajan, if he is in fact lucky enough to be the number one center, could also see a very nice increase in his stats as well, hopefully somewhat justifying that big contract Sutter gave him. Jokinen, being back in a Flames jersey has fans and "experts" alike asking what the hell? I admit that when word came that the Flames had signed him, I didn't get it. I've somewhat changed me mind on that as I have pondered it over the past month. Dustin Penner makes 4.25 million bucks to play hockey for the Edmonton Oilers. It's a unanimous opinion in this city that if Penner can score 30+ goals in a hockey season, the contract is worth every penny. I'll flat out say that a 30 goal player is worth 4 million, maybe even 5 million, if he is a sure fire thing to get 30+ year in and year out. So when you consider that Sutter got Jokinen back for 3 million bucks, and his upside is anywhere from 25-35 goals, on a team that can't score, is it really that bad of decision? I don't think so. In fact I won't be surprised when Jokinen does score 25 or more goals this upcoming season. Hagman, is consistent 20 goals as it gets in my opinion, and I think that being on a line with Bourque and Jokinen could be the best talent he has player with during his time in the NHL. The other interesting point is that the Flames are over the cap as we speak, which means they aren't done dealing. Whispers have been load and consistent that Robin Regehr still gets traded for an upgrade at center for the first line, if that happens obviously it makes things even more positive for the offense. Bottom line for me is this, I think Sutter has given this team the shot in the arm it needed offensivly, which is the only reason the team missed the playoffs last year. They couldn't score. Their GA was one of the lowest in the league and as long as Brent is coaching this team that's not likely to change in 2010-2011.
So what will the Flames season look like next year, best guess of course? I think the Canucks in the Northwest are the team to beat, but the Flames are the second option. They certainly compete for a playoff berth, and if Tanguay and Iginla click, they might give the Canucks a run for their money. Flames finish 4,5, or 6 in the West and sadly that will be ahead of the Edmonton Oilers. The truth hurts sometimes.
Then again, this is just another damned opinion.