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Sunday, September 9, 2007

Morning Musings: Are the Flames better?

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:

Ballhype: hype it up!

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