The San Jose Sharks and Calgary Flames will begin their respective seasons on Sunday night, as the Flames host a battle at the Saddledome.
The Sharks enter this lockout-shortened season with something to prove. Although the club qualified for the postseason for the eighth straight time last spring, the Sharks suffered a five-game loss to St. Louis in the opening round. That poor playoff result came on the heels of consecutive appearances in the Western Conference finals.
San Jose general manager Doug Wilson made a flurry of moves prior to the 2011-12 campaign but was more reserved during the most recent offseason. He did manage to lure defenseman Brad Stuart away from Detroit with a three-year, $10.8 million contract and the veteran should help shore up a team that already ranked eighth in goals allowed per game last season. With Dan Boyle, Douglas Murray, Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic making up a solid top- four, Stuart's presence can only help add further depth.
The Sharks are also expecting Martin Havlat to improve upon a lackluster first year in San Jose. Havlat was acquired in a blockbuster trade with Minnesota before last season, as Wilson opted to ship Dany Heatley out of town to shake things up. Havlat played in only 39 games during the regular season and posted seven goals and 20 assists. He added two goals and an assist in the team's playoff series against St. Louis.
San Jose is still built around play-making centerman Joe Thornton, but young sniper Logan Couture, who has gone over 30 goals in his two full NHL seasons, is quickly becoming the team's most important player.
"I'm really excited," Couture told the San Jose Mercury News. "It's been a long week of practice, but a good week and I think as a team we're ready to go. You can feel it now."
Meanwhile, the Flames failed to qualify for the postseason once again in 2011-12, making it three straight years outside of the playoffs. The 90-point effort was also Calgary's eighth straight campaign with 90 or more points, so it's not like the team is devoid of talent either. That being said, new head coach Bob Hartley, who led Colorado to a Stanley Cup title in 2001, will need to work a minor miracle to get the down-trending Flames back to the postseason this year.
In an effort to add some scoring punch via the back end, Flames GM Jay Feaster signed offensive defenseman Dennis Wideman to a five-year, $26.3 million contract prior to the lockout. Wideman has posted at least 10 goals and 35 points in four of the last five seasons and he recorded 11 markers and 46 points in 82 games for Washington in 2011-12. If he can keep up that level of production in Calgary, Wideman easily would become the Flames' best scoring weapon from the blue line.
Jarome Iginla, a future Hall of Fame player who's given his all to the Flames over the last decade and a half, is still with the Flames but his days in Calgary may finally be numbered. Trade rumors involving Iginla, who turned 35 years old last summer, have been a common occurrence for several years now and if Calgary struggles early on this season it may be trigger his departure.
Iginla could fetch a nice return on the trade market even if his 67 points last year marked his lowest total since also scoring 67 in 2005-06. With no fewer than 31 goals in each of his last 11 seasons, Iginla still is the best player Calgary has but it may be time to flip him in the interest of building for the future.
Iginla and No. 1 goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff are both over 35 years of age, so Calgary seems to be heading for a rebuilding phase whether it's ready to admit it or not.
The Sharks and Flames split four meetings in 2011-12 with each club winning a game at home and on the road. San Jose has won three of its last five games in Calgary.
Iginla has been bothered by a groin issue but is expected to play on Sunday. Burns is sidelined for San Jose while recovering from sports hernia surgery and is out indefinitely.