CALGARY - The quick restoration of their home arena after massive flooding is a message for the rebuilding Calgary Flames.
Less than three months after the Elbow River destroyed everything below the eighth row of seats in the Scotiabank Saddledome, the arena was not only operational again, but the affected areas are bright and polished for the 2013-14 NHL season.
A team that hasn't made the NHL playoffs in four seasons can use that effort to inspire their own turnaround.
"For the players, we saw what happened and the way the city came together and the team that helped repair this arena," Flames centre Matt Stajan said.
"For sure, that's something we can use and can try do the same sort of thing, try and come together quickly and make it work."
When general manager Jay Feaster could finally bring himself to say the word "rebuild" in July, he also said "the rebuild doesn't have to take forever when you get a group of guys who are committed to the program."
For the first time in almost a decade, the Flames open a season without goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff and longtime captain Jarome Iginla.
Iginla, a 30-goal-or-more man for 11 of his 16 seasons in Calgary, was traded to Pittsburgh in March. He has since signed with Boston.
Kiprusoff, who played over 70 games in seven seasons while a Flame, retired during the off-season.
The team's identity was tied to those two stars for so long, the Flames seem a much different hockey team even though the club has retained several veterans.
"It feels different this year," acknowledged new captain Mark Giordano. "We don't have the go-to superstar, the go-to guy.
"We have a lot of guys who have to have great years for our team to be good, but the work we're putting in, the work ethic you see here, it's a fresh look."
Head coach Bob Hartley has yet to coach Calgary for a full season because his first with the Flames was shortened by the lockout. Calgary finished 13th in the Western Conference at 19-25-4.
Feaster, Calgary's GM since 2011, will now answer to Brian Burke as the new vice-president of hockey operations.
The Flames open the regular season Oct. 3 in Washington followed by a stop in Columbus before their home-opener Oct. 6 against Vancouver. Calgary's pre-season record was 4-2-1.
The team's renovation began with Iginla's departure followed closely by the trade of defenceman Jay Bouwmeester to St. Louis. Defenceman Cory Sarich and winger Alex Tanguay were dealt to Colorado in the summer.
Czech forward Roman Cervenka headed to the KHL instead of returning to Calgary for a second season.
The Flames needed to get younger and bigger, said Feaster.
He got forward David Jones and defenceman Shane O'Brien in the trade with the Avalanche. He moved draft picks to acquire three Alberta-born players: defenceman Kris Russell from St. Louis, forward T.J. Galiardi from San Jose and forward Corban Knight from Florida.
Knight was assigned to the AHL's Abbotsford Heat on Thursday along with forwards Max Reinhart and Michael Ferland.
The Iginla and Bouwmeester deals yielded a pair of first-round draft picks at this year's draft in addition to Calgary's No. 6 selection, which the club used on forward Sean Monahan.
The former Windsor Spitfire will start the season with the Flames, while forwards Emile Poirier (22nd) and Morgan Klimchuk (28th) were returned to their junior teams.
Karri Ramo emerged from training camp the frontrunner to succeed fellow Finn Kiprusoff as Calgary's starting goaltender. The 27-year-old spent the past four seasons in the KHL, but has 48 games of previous NHL experience with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Swiss product Reto Berra showed promise in the pre-season, but admitted he needs seasoning in North American hockey. The Flames also have as insurance 33-year-old Joey MacDonald, who was Kiprusoff's backup the final weeks of last season.
Calgary is flush with cap space, particularly now that Kiprusoff's contract is off the books. The team has $13 million to work with, according to capgeek.com, which is second only to the New York Islanders.
The Flames need more depth at centre and didn't buy it in the off-season.
Veteran forwards Stajan, Mike Cammalleri, Jiri Hudler, Lee Stempniak, Mikael Backlund and Curtis Glencross are expected to lead the offence. Cammalleri, in the final season of a contract that counts $6 million against the cap, and Stempniak led the Flames in points last season with 32 apiece.
Giordano, O'Brien, Russell, T.J. Brodie, Dennis Wideman and Chris Butler will patrol the back end. Winning games will require airtight execution of systems at both ends of the ice.
"We can't afford to have one-trick ponies on this team this year," Hartley said.
Calgary has spent to the cap limit and not made the playoffs with expensive names like Dion Phaneuf, Robyn Regehr, Bouwmeester, Iginla and Kiprusoff in the lineup, so a different approach is underway.
How much patience Flames fans will have for a rebuilding season depends on whether they see a realistic post-season future or not.
"I think we have more depth than more people give us credit for," Giordano said. "I think if we find a way to play that hard style, painful style to play against, and we get goaltending, it could go a long way."
The players don't like the term "rebuild" either, because it can be used as a crutch or an excuse.
"We're not in the mindset that it's OK to lose because we're in a rebuild," Stajan said. "We want to win right now. As players, if you don't have that mindset you shouldn't be playing in this league."
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