The Calgary Flames finally have conceded that it's no longer 2004.
That year, the Flames got within one victory of a Stanley Cup championship. Those Flames were led by the combination of captain Jarome Iginla, one of the NHL's top power forwards, and newly acquired goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff, who stepped in to provide the kind of goaltending the Flames hadn't seen in years.
Iginla and Kiprusoff unquestionably were the two best players on that team. Unfortunately for the Flames and their fans, they were still the team's two best players entering the 2012-13 season -- a big reason Calgary had not advanced to the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2009 and hadn't won a playoff series since its near-miss in 2004.
Each streak was extended another year after the Flames wound up No. 13 in the Western Conference, 13 points out of the final berth in the playoffs. Now, however, the organization's philosophy of refusing to deal stars and chase -- unsuccessfully -- a seventh or eighth seed appears to be finished.
Iginla was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins in March, bringing back a couple of prospects and a first-round pick in the 2013 NHL Draft. That deal was made not long after the Flames sent veteran defenceman Jay Bouwmeester to the St. Louis Blues, bringing back another 2013 first-rounder. General manager Jay Feaster asked Kiprusoff if he wanted to be traded, but the winningest goaltender in franchise history opted to stay and said he plans to retire rather than play the final season of his contract.
Trading Iginla, the longtime face of the franchise, marked a new era in Calgary.
"I, candidly, like the fact that there's no face of the franchise," Feaster said during the team's summer rookie camp. "I think the face of the franchise ought to be the flaming C [logo], and the goal of the franchise ought to be to win a Stanley Cup. The whole is supposed to be greater than the sum of its parts.
"I don't care about individual superstars. The only agenda I care about is the flaming C. We want guys who want to play for the crest on the front, not the self-aggrandizement of the nameplate on the back. I recognize that that's what fans and media will look to do -- to try to put that face [on someone]."
Feaster continued his shakeup before the draft, sending center Alex Tanguay and defenceman Cory Sarich to the Colorado Avalanche for forward David Jones and defenceman Shane O'Brien. The GM also added young forward [and Calgary native] TJ Galiardi from the San Jose Sharks for a 2015 draft pick.
The net result is a team that finally is beginning a rebuild, one Feaster hopes will get the Flames back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a roster built around a core of young talent.
But for that to work this season, they will have to find a goaltender to replace Kiprusoff.
Feaster brought back veteran backup Joey MacDonald, a waiver claim last season, and signed former Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Karri Ramo, who is back in the NHL after playing four seasons in Russia, during which his goals-against average never was higher than 2.11. At 27, he's earned an invitation to Finland's Olympic orientation camp and knows there's a job waiting to be won in Calgary. The Flames think he can do it -- they gave him a two-year deal worth $5.8 million.
Also potentially in the mix is Reto Berra, who was acquired from St. Louis in the trade for Bouwmeester.
"It is crowded, but I think it's going to be a great competition and it's going to be kind of fun to watch it play out," Feaster said after signing Ramo.
O'Brien will add muscle, and another newcomer, Kris Russell, brings speed to a defence corps that won't be centered on Bouwmeester for the first time since the 2009-10 season. Rookie TJ Brodie and veteran Mark Giordano were solid last season; Dennis Wideman brings some offensive ability, as does Mark Cundari, an All-Star at the American Hockey League level who was another piece of the Bouwmeester deal. Cundari had a goal and two assists in four games with the Flames.
Two other young players, Chris Breen and Patrick Sieloff, also figure to get a chance to land jobs on the blue line.
Iginla's departure leaves a hole up front, though his offensive numbers had been in a gradual slide, with nine goals and 22 points in 31 games before being traded. Center Mike Cammalleri and forward Lee Stempniak topped the Flames with 32 points apiece, though Cammalleri was minus-15 and Stempniak was a plus-2. Curtis Glencross was the top goal-scorer, with 15 in 40 games.
Numbers like those are a big reason Sean Monahan, the sixth player taken in the 2013 NHL Draft, could make the team as an 18-year-old.
"From our very first interaction with him, Sean has demonstrated a seriousness of purpose and a steadfast resolve to be the very best player he can be, and his character and work ethic have continued to shine through in his preparation this summer," Feaster said during summer development camp. "Not only is Sean a very good hockey player, but he is a great person as well."
Monahan's chances of making the Flames are better than they would be on a lot of teams because of Calgary's lack of production through the middle. Cammalleri, Jiri Hudler (27 points, minus-13), Matt Stajan (23 points, plus-7) and 2007 first-rounder Mikael Backlund (16 points, minus-6 in 32 games) don't terrify opponents.
But Monahan isn't the only young player with a chance to make the big club.
Sven Baertschi, a speedy left wing taken in the first round in 2011, will get every opportunity to win a full-time job. So will center Corban Knight, who averaged more than a point per game in the past three seasons at North Dakota and brings much-needed size (6-1, 180) at center.
The Flames will be a lot younger, and ending their playoff drought figures to be difficult. But coach Bob Hartley said he won't accept anything less than top effort.
"I want to create an identity, especially since we're going with some younger guys, that we will be a team that's very resilient," he said. "We'll never quit."
FLAMES' OFFSEASON OUTLOOK
Author: John Kreiser | NHL.com Columnist
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