Calgary muddy up the middle
The Flames are eager to know what they have in former top prospect Mikael Backlund. (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)
Calgary muddy up the middle
The Calgary Flames are in trouble. At least when it comes to producing goals. Superstar captain Jarome Iginla is no longer a 50-goal scorer and the last time Mike Cammalleri saw the happy side of 55 points was 2009.
The signing of Jiri Hudler in the off-season offsets part of the loss of Olli Jokinen and it is hopeful their other key signing up front, Czech star Roman Cervenka, will make up for the rest. Rookie sensation Sven Baertschi thrown into the mix makes for an overall upgrade in potential goals. But the upgrade will need to go a lot further if the team is going to make a dent this season. After all, the team’s pitiful 199 goals in 2011-12 ranked 24th in the league.
The main problem looks to be up the middle, where Jokinen played. And in Hudler and Baertschi they have added a couple of wingers. The situation up the middle is muddy to say the least and there are a handful of options that could play out. The difference between successfully holding onto a top-six center job in Calgary could mean the difference between 30 points and 55 points or more. Let’s take a look.
*Note - all projections are based on a 70-game season. Here’s hoping they get that many games in.
Current Status: Not playing anywhere, but has been one of the more involved players in collective bargaining negotiations. He’s coming off three consecutive seasons of playing between 65 and 67 games. So a delay to the start of this one will probably benefit him.
Probable future: Cammalleri is weak in the faceoff circle, winning just 45.6 percent of them last year. The Flames would prefer him to be the second line’s version of Jarome Iginla on the wing, giving them a balanced attack. But if none of the below centers pans out, they may not have a choice. Regardless of where he plays, a 43-53-point outcome is likely.
Current Status: Backlund is playing in the second league over in Sweden. He has 19 points in just 10 games and as a point of reference, teammate Patrik Berglund (St. Louis) has 16 points in 15 games. Backlund is fifth in league scoring and none of the others in the top 15 have played fewer then 15 games. In other words – He is doing great.
Probable future: Backlund is entering his third full NHL season, although since he played 23 games in 2009-10 he was two games shy of making 2012-13 his fourth campaign. In other words, he’s very close to that "magical fourth year" – close enough to make it worth keeping an eye on. He’s not the greatest at faceoffs either, but the Flames have used him at center and on the wing. Either could be a possibility, but a wing position would likely mean less power play time and a spot on a checking line. If healthy, 20 points wouldn’t surprise me and neither would 45. Yes, that’s absolutely no help. But that’s how things are in Calgary – lots of coin flipping.
Current Status: Playing for HC Slavia Praha in the Czech League, Cervenka has 13 points in nine contests. He was arguably the most sought-after free agent coming out of Europe and the Flames all but promised him a top-six job.
Probable future: It’s his job to lose, but if he wants to keep it, 45 points in 70 games is a must. Minimum. If he manages just six points in the first 20 games, he may have played his way into the press box. But you knew the risk/reward with this guy before you drafted him.
Current Status: Horak made the Flames last year to the surprise of many. But he was unable to play his way into a top-six job and on an energy line he’s just not as effective in fantasy hockey. With Backlund back to full health and Cervenka looking to fill Jokinen’s shoes, the odds were stacked against Horak even making the team. But wait a minute – Horak is off to a blazing start with the Abbotsford Heat, posting 10 goals in just nine games to lead the American League. Any team in desperate need of offense up the middle would be stupid not to take notice of this. He’s caught the attention of Calgary brass and they’re certainly penciling in some possible lineup changes.
Probable future: This is a cage match between Cervenka, Horak and Backlund. There isn’t room for three 40-point centers. Horak is still young (21) and the team can afford to keep him on a checking line or in the minors. Whereas with Backlund and Cervenka, the team would like to see what they’ve got – right now.
Current Status: Not playing anywhere right now, but like Cammalleri he’s been involved with the NHL Players’ Association. On the ice, Stajan is trying to get his career back on track. His cap hit ($3.5 million per year) speaks of him being a top-six forward, but his performance has been that of a depth player.
Probable future: Depending on what is agreed upon in the new CBA, Stajan could be bought out, waived or sent to the minors. Or he could carve out a niche as a strong checking-line center. He’s decent at the dot – he took the second-most faceoffs on the team and won 51.8 percent of them last season – and he was pretty good in that role in Toronto before being miscast as a first-liner. For him to become a fantasy factor in Calgary, about a dozen unlikely events need to happen first.
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