Captain Jarome Iginla, left, seen with Calgary Flames teammate Rene Bourque, is dealing with a back injury as the season approaches. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)
The Calgary Flames will begin the 2011-12 season with almost the same roster as it finished last year.
There are a handful of newcomers with the team when the Flames left for a few days of team building in Banff, including defenceman Derek Smith and Roman Horak. They may be nothing more than fill-ins as veterans Jarome Iginla (back spasms) and Brendan Morrison (off-season knee surgery) remain in recovery mode from their ailments.
But for the most part this is the same group that finished last season with an impressive 27-10-9 run after Christmas in 2010-11. The improved play coincided with the dismissal of general manager Darryl Sutter, but there were a number of factors involved in the turnaround.
There was the emergence of left wing Curtis Glencross as reliable scorer. He finished with a career high 24 goals.
Olli Jokinen played much better as shutdown centre, something each Western Conference contender needs because the elite teams each have a strong player down the middle, like Henrik Sedin (Vancouver), Joe Thornton (San Jose), Jonathan Toews (Chicago), Pavel Datsyuk (Detroit) and Ryan Getzlaf (Anaheim).
Captain Iginla also found his scoring groove. He endured a horrible slump that dated back to when he set up Sidney Crosby for the dramatic overtime winner for Canada in the 2010 Olympic final. Ignila returned to the Flames after that magnificent moment and scored only five times in the final 20 games of the 2009-10 season. Then he started slowly last fall with only three goals in his first 17 games.
But Iginla came to life in mid-November with a hat trick at home against the Chicago Blackhawks and never looked back. He checked in with 40 goals in his final 65 games.
Only three players - Alex Ovechkin (301), Ilya Kovalchuk (261) and Dany Heatley (245) - have scored more goals in the past six seasons than Iginla's 234. That is why it will be important for the 34-year-old Iginla to shake off his latest injury and start sniping at the start of the season.
Coach: Brent Sutter enters fifth NHL season behind the NHL bench having missed the playoffs in each of his first two years as head coach of the Flames. He has yet to win a playoff series, too. The Flames only improved by four points from Sutter's first year to his second season as coach. But his players in Calgary may finally be comfortable in Sutter's defence-first system as evident by their play in the final 46 games last year.
GM: After taking over for the fired Darryl Sutter last December, Jay Feaster had his interim tag removed in May. The former Harrisburg, PA. lawyer was at the helm of the Tampa Bay Lightning when it beat the Flames in the 2003-04 Stanley Cup final. Feaster, 49, also won an AHL Calder Cup in 1996-97 with the Hershey Bears. His primary move in Calgary was dealing veteran Robyn Regehr and forward Ales Kotalik to the Buffalo Sabres for some salary cap relief in exchange for centre Paul Byron and defenceman Chris Butler last summer.
Last year: 41-29-12--94 points, 10th in the West (three points out of the playoffs).
Who's in: C Paul Byron, LW Roman Horak, RW Lee Stempniak, RW Guillaume Desbiens, RW Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, D Chris Butler, D Scott Hannan.
Who's out: C Daymond Langkow, D Robyn Regehr, D Adam Pardy, D Steve Staios, RW Ales Kotalik, LW Fredrik Modin.
Key stat: The Flames finished last in goals scored with 204 in 2009-10, but improved to fifth in the league last season with 250.
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