When Johan Franzen scored the OT winner for Detroit in the sixth game of a series that really shouldn’t have gone past a fifth game, many believed that changes were in store for the 2004 Stanley Cup Finalists. With expectations of change high, the team went out and acquired defensemen Adrian Aucoin, Cory Sarich, Anders Eriksson and forward Owen Nolan.
What do the team’s four main acquisitions bring to the table?
Aucoin can play a ton of minutes and quarterback the team’s powerplay but his problem has always been health. During his two year stint in Chicago, he only played 92 games total.
Sarich was brought in right after the free-agency period began and was given a hefty deal that will pay him $3.9 million during the 2007/08 campaign. Sarich is a warrior who plays every game and plays a physical game. In addition, he is strong on the penalty kill and should improve the Flames’ special teams play.
In Nolan, the team is adding a power-forward whose best days are most obviously behind him. Nonetheless, the Flames are only asking Nolan to play a second line scoring role and he should be able to contribute the 20-25 goals that teams like to receive from that spot.
Eriksson, while the most unheralded of all the off-season acquisitions, was an extremely solid pickup. The puck-moving defenseman improves the team’s defensive depth and was an extremely impressive +12 on a terrible Columbus squad last season.
With all the additions this off-season, the Flames were not without their fair share of departures. Out went Jeff Friesen, Tony Amonte, Brad Stuart and Roman Hamrlik.
What did the team lose with these departures?
While the losses of Friesen and Amonte won’t be felt at all, the losses of Stuart and Hamrlik could be significant.
Hamrlik played an unheralded game but meshed well with Dion Phaneuf and did a good job of bringing the youngster along during his first two seasons in the NHL.
Stuart, admittedly not a favorite of mine, does skate well, makes a nice first pass and can log plenty of minutes on the back-end.
What about the coach?
After mentioning all these transactions, I have yet to mention arguably the biggest off-season move by Flames’ management and that was the hiring of Mike Keenan. Keenan has a reputation that precedes him as a tough, manipulating head coach who runs out his welcome quickly in all the cities he coaches in. Sutter obviously believes his team needs extra motivation and is not worried about the ramifications of a Keenan hire and the disaster that could come along with it.
So is the team any better?
All in all, the Flames are not substantially better than they were last season; however, they are not substantially worse either. The team needs to address its awful play on the road, and I think Keenan will actually help in that regard. Nonetheless, my main concern lies with the team’s forward speed. Keenan, like his protege Sutter, likes to play a high-pressure, high-forecheck game and the Flames lacked enough speed last season to be able to mount an effective forecheck. The addition of Owen Nolan will not do much to change that speed deficiency. It will be interesting to see if the team changes its game plan to fit its personnel, or vice versa.
The Flames are most likely a five or six seed in the Western Conference this year but are they substantially better than they were last year? On paper, maybe slightly. However, with Iron Mike in the picture, just about anything can happen in 2007/08. This will be one team that will be exciting to follow all year long.
On to the morning papers:
- Eric Francis has a 1-on-1 interview with the aforementioned Mike Keenan in this morning’s Calgary Sun.
- President of Les Habitants Pierre Boivin took exception to a report that Daniel Briere chose not to sign with the Canadiens because he wasn’t assured a spot on the top line alongside Michael Ryder and Christopher Higgins.
- Pat Hickey of the Montreal Gazette discusses the pressure that has already begun to mount on the shoulders of Carey Price at Habs‘ camp.
- The Flyers‘ rookies are at camp, but they shouldn’t get their hopes up about making the team this season writes Tim Panaccio of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
- Jonathan Filewich is hoping to makes the Penguins this training camp after maturing in the AHL. Dave Molinari of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has the story.
- Carter Gaddis of the Tampa Tribune has a very interesting piece about the NHL below the 49th parallel.
- Damien Cox’s tackles just about every question a fan might have going into the 2007/08 season in this morning’s Toronto Star.
- Having watched the Manitoba Moose in person many times last year, I share the sentiments that Alain Vigneault has about Mason Raymond, Alexander Edler and Jannik Hansen. All three are said to be a cut above the rest at Canucks camp thus far.
- In one of the more interesting reads this morning Fluto Shinzawa takes a look around the NHL in his Sunday morning piece for the Boston Globe.
- Phil Kessel cut out ice cream, candy and soft drinks from his diet and is in much better shape entering camp this year than he was last year.
- While the Sabres are entering camp without a captain, the team is not the least bit concerned about a leadership gap writes Tim Graham of the Buffalo News.
- Adrian Dater of the Denver Post says the Avalanche have been extremely impressed with the play of prospect Chris Stewart at the team’s rookie camp thus far.
- Ken Hitchcock told GM Scott Howson he wanted to change the atmosphere in the Columbus dressing room and Howson has taken him up on his request. Doug MacLean’s office (why did he have an office in the dressing room?) has now been replaced by a meetings room.
- The Jackets have been extremely impressed with first round pick Jakub Voracek so far at rookie camp writes Tom Reed of the Columbus Dispatch.
- As Mike Heika writes in the Dallas Morning News, Dallas prospects, and brothers, Michael and James Neal would like nothing more than to one day play on the same NHL team.
- The Detroit Free Press tries to answer five key questions about the Red Wings heading into training camp for the 2007-08 season.
- The Predators may be playing without Forsberg, Kariya and Vokoun this season, but they won’t be playing without their fair share of distractions, writes John Glennon of the Tennessean.