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Peering over the shoulder at the Flames

Only one other team is capable of mustering up the amount of sheer bile and zealous hatred down to the marrow of my being as much as the Calgary Flames can. And that was all before Keenan showed up. So this year will be a hoot.

More to the point though, gentle reader, is that the Flames didn't exactly get any weaker this summer. They didn't make a massive splash like the mullets did (and you're on crack if you think Owen Nolan is a savior of any sort), but when you line up against the likes of the punk Iginla, the goof Phaneuf and frumpy-looking Kiprusoff, you're just not allowed to take take many shifts lightly. So let's take a look down the red mile and see what the Flames got.

Forwards - Dustin Boyd, Craig Conroy, Carsen Germyn, Eric Godard, Kristian Huselius, Jarome Iginla, Daymond Langkow, Matthew Lombardi, David Moss, Marcus Nilson, Owen Nolan, Eric Nystrom, Wayne Primeau, Brandon Prust, Grant Stevenson, Alex Tanguay, Andrei Taratukhin and Stephane Yelle
Comments - Iginla, Tanguay and Langkow remain the constant threats and are supported by Lombardi, Conroy and Huselius. Sidenote - I find it hard to fathom that Keenan, even with his inherent ability to go where no coach has gone before, is going to tear Huselius, who lead the team in PP goals, a new one now that he's productive. Amonte is gone and presumably replaced in part by Nolan and that has car wreck written all over it. Despite that, guys like Moss, Kobasew and Nilson will provide even more energy for Calgary giving them four pretty decent lines. I'll admit the Flames have more firepower then the Canucks (I know, bold statement eh?) but they suffer from the same problem: if some of those core guys cannot find the back of the net on some nights, they will struggle mightily to win consistently.

Defensemen - Adrian Aucoin, Anders Eriksson, Mark Giordano, David Hale, Dion Phaneuf, Robyn Regehr, Cory Sarich and Rhett Warrener
Comments - We know Phaneuf will be a force and Regehr is a good defensive defenseman, but it gets a bit questionable after that. Warrener is fine, but far from lights out and Sarich is, well, an interesting signing. And that brings us to Aucoin and his Jovo-esque groin. Glass half full = Aucoin will more then offset losing Hamrlik and add another layer of hell to a Flames powerplay. Glass half empty = he plays one game on bad ice (Hi Dallas!), his skate gets caught in a rut and he spends the three months questioning his chosen line of employment.

Goalies - Miikka Kiprusoff and Brent Krahn
Comments - I'm not going to bother with Krahn other then to say he's huge, apparently familiar with injuries and you won't see much of him unless the Flames decide to go the route of the 2006-07 Oilers. It's all about Kipper on this team and, though he wasn't lights out last year, he was still good enough to be top five in the league last year. Like Luongo, as long as he's in net he'll give the Flames every chance to win.

Conclusion - Soon you will see every pundit and their mother pick the Avs to run away with the Northwest and then likely followed by a logjam of the Flames, the Wild and the Canucks. I disagree and primarily on the point about the Flames. First, as last season showed, this team gets very streaky and I don't think the supporting staff behind Iginla/Tanguay is that strong to give Keenan constant offensive pressure (although he will have plenty of energy and hitting, I can't emphasize that enough). Additionally, I don't think Aucoin will stay healthy long enough to bolster the blueline which will put added pressure on Kipper to compensate for a weaker defense. Obviously, if this team is as streaky as I think they are, they could easily go on a long winning streak and keep things interesting, but I'm of the mind there's a reason this team just snuck into the playoffs last year and they've done little to improve on that this offseason.