Northwest: Flames out of the playoff picture

By Blake Benzel

Photo: Calgary Flames goaltender Henrik Karlsson and his teammates will have much to ponder with the club missing the playoffs for the third consecutive season (courtesy of

Bob Frid/Icon SMI)

Just like that, with one shot, the Calgary Flames post season hopes were over thanks to the Vancouver CanucksAndrew Ebbett.

Ebbett scored his fifth of the season with 1:02 left in overtime to assure that the Flames would be making tee times in mid-April instead of preparing for hockey games for the third time in three years, which has left the team with a lot of questions, but few answers.

The Flames have an aging and expensive roster of players that underachieved this season – one reason why the future is looking bleak in Calgary.

After a resurgent year in 2010-11, Jarome Iginla faded away this season and, with two games remaining, could set his lowest point mark since the 2005-06 season. Alex Tanguay spent a bulk of the season injured, but even so, his production slipped after a comeback season last season, as well.

Even their hopeful prospect, Mikael Backlund, took steps back this season after a promising stretch run last year. Backlund struggled with injuries all season long for the Flames and just never got his legs underneath him.

“At times, we were a really explosive team and really dangerous on the power play and scored four, five or six goals,” forward Lee Stempniak told the London Free Press. “For some reason, it was just really streaky this year. We’d score a bunch of goals in a couple of games and then just get one for a couple of games. We just didn’t have that consistency.”

With a handful of expiring contracts, however, the words rebuild don’t seem to be in the Flames’ vocabulary.

“Really, it’s a reload, a restructure,” forward Mike Cammalleri told the Calgary Herald. “That’s kind of what you do nowadays. I think that’s how most teams are doing it, anyways.”

Cammalleri’s perspective may be fairly close to the truth, too. The Flames have 15 players under contract for next season, with about $17.8 million in cap space – a respectable amount to fill the holes that the squad has.

Given his strong performance in his emergency call-up, it would seem that the Flames are getting an NHL-ready top-six forward in Sven Baertschi if and when he joins the team next season. And the Flames are hoping to get a full season from Backlund as well, so there is some youth in the wings. But if the Flames are going to “reload,” so to speak, general manager Jay Feaster is going to have to address the areas of the team that his predecessor refused to.

The Flames have just five players on their roster who have double digits in goals (six if you count Cammalleri, who scored a chunk of those goals for the Montreal Canadiens), showing a distinct lack of secondary scoring – something that should easily be addressed in the off-season, as is their lack of production from the blueline.

The Flames have a long and important off-season ahead of them. They have distinct holes in their line up that need to be addressed and they need to do something to improve on a team that has missed the playoffs for the last three seasons and that hasn’t made it out of the first round since their Stanley Cup Finals run in the 2003-04 season.

With a solid, though aging, core group of players, a shrewd off-season could change both of those situations, which is exactly what the Flames and their fans are now hoping for.

Northwest Division Notes

Edmonton Oilers head coach Tom Renney was assessed a $10,000 fine after his comments following the Oilers’ 2-0 loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Monday, saying “Maybe you need Hollywood in the playoffs. I’m not sure,” regarding the Kings’ power play advantage. … Peter Mueller is the Masterson Trophy nominee for the Colorado Avalanche. Mueller missed the majority of the last two seasons, dealing with two concussions over that time.