Flames believe veteran roster ready for playoff push

The Carolina Hurricanes system includes three members of the Sutter family. Brandon Sutter, the 11th pick of the 2007 Draft, played a full season with the team last year. Cousin Brett Sutter played most of the season with the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL, but did play five games in the NHL between Carolina and Calgary. Carolina drafted another cousin, Brody, in the seventh round of the 2011 Draft.

In his first summer as Calgary Flames General Manager, Jay Feaster faced a conundrum.

The Flames have missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs in back-to-back seasons and Feaster could do one of two things to change his team's outlook for 2011-12 -- unload some of the team's aging but talented assets and rebuild from scratch, or do a little bit of tinkering and hope the veteran core clicks for a push to the postseason.

Feaster chose the latter, and Flames fans are hoping that commitment to the core will pay dividends.

Entering the summer, Calgary had most of its salary-cap room accounted for, along with 10 players with some version of a no-trade or no-movement clause.

Feaster gave the team a little financial flexibility by trading defenseman Robyn Regehr and forward Ales Kotalik to the Buffalo Sabres for up-and-comer defenseman Chris Butler and young center Paul Byron.

That allowed the Flames to sign offensive blueliner Anton Babchuk to a two-year extension and re-sign forward Alex Tanguay to a five-year contract.

Add that to a roster that includes 34-year-old captain Jarome Iginla -- coming off 43 goals in 2010-11, the third-highest goal total in his illustrious NHL career -- veterans Olli Jokinen, Jay Bouwmeester and work-horse goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff, and the Flames believe they have a roster that's seasoned -- and ready to make a run at the Stanley Cup.

The Flames sent Regeher and Kotalik East to Buffalo in a late-June trade.

While Regeher enjoyed a successful career in Calgary -- recording a positive plus/minus rating in each of his past seven seasons -- his cap hit of $4 million was just too much.

Kotalik, meanwhile, never found his groove in Calgary. The 32-year-old right wing appeared in only 26 games this past season for the Flames, splitting time with their American Hockey League affiliate, the Abbotsford Heat.

Gone via free agency are defensemen Adam Pardy and Steve Staios.

Pardy, who signed a two-year, $4-million deal with Dallas, missed 52 games last season due to a shoulder injury. He'll be missed as the Flames were 17-8-5 when he was in the lineup last season.

Staios, who played for five different teams during his 13-year NHL career, also was hampered by injuries last season, appearing in 39 games.

Although he never appeared in a game for Calgary, another big departure this summer was Tim Erixon, perhaps the club's most-promising prospect. Erixon, the No. 23 pick of the 2009 Entry Draft, is a talented, swift-skating defenseman. However, he couldn't work out a deal with the Flames, and rather than watch him re-enter the 2011 draft and chance losing him for nothing, the Flames traded him to the New York Rangers for a prospect and a pair of draft picks.

Butler, 24, will add depth to the Flames' defense corps, which features Bouwmeester, Mark Giordano, Cory Sarich and Brett Carson.

A stay-at-home defenseman, Butler had 5 goals and 31 assists in his past three seasons with Buffalo. Feaster said the team is projecting Butler as a No. 5 defenseman, but the general manager could see him cracking the top four.

The 22-year-old Byron has eight games of NHL experience, but spent the majority of the past two seasons with the Sabres' AHL affiliate, tallying 40 goals and 46 assists in 124 games.

The Flames also acquired physical forward Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond from New Jersey in exchange for a fifth-round pick in the 2012 Entry Draft.

Three of the Flames' top five goal scorers this past season were older than 30, and Kiprusoff will turn 35 in October.

If the Flames are going to win with their current crop of players, it better be soon.

The group as currently assembled has talent, as evidenced last season.

Curtis Glencross and Rene Bourque each established career-highs in goals in 2010-11. Tanguay's 69 points marked his most productive output since 2006-07. And after scoring only 2 goals in his first 15 games, Iginla's 43 goals were third in the League.

All of that certainly is promising, but didn't equate to team success as the Flames finished 10th in the Western Conference.

Virtually the same roster returns for the 2011-12 season. So can the Flames finally catch fire and rekindle any realistic playoff hopes?

That's the burning question throughout Calgary.

If this team -- with its minor alterations -- can't step it up a notch, the answer may not be the one Flames fans want to hear.