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2013-14 Calgary Flames Preview

After years of ignoring the writing on the wall the Calgary Flames finally embraced the notion of rebuilding for the future when they traded away Jarome Iginla last season.

Iginla, a likely future Hall of Famer and the face of Calgary's franchise for over a decade, had been the subject of trade rumors for a few years before he was finally dealt to Pittsburgh at last season's trade deadline.

In another clean break with the past, longtime Calgary goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff called it a career this summer despite the Flames' attempts at getting him to stay for another year.

With the departure of both Iginla, who signed over the summer with Boston, and Kiprusoff the Flames will be forced to sink or swim without two of the best players ever to suit up for the franchise. There are almost certainly dark days ahead for the club, but the hope is it can lead to something positive down the road.

While Jay Feaster is still Calgary's general manager the club did bring in Brian Burke to serve as president of hockey operations. The outspoken Burke is expected to help Feaster get the club back on track, but it's not unreasonable to think he could eventually take over the GM role, especially if the early stages of the rebuild project takes a turn for the bad.

Bob Hartley is back behind the bench for the Flames, as takes on the unenviable task of molding this unimpressive mix of prospects and veterans into something that resembles a legitimate NHL team.

FORWARDS - With Iginla gone the Flames lack a go-to offensive weapon to rely on, meaning winger Mike Cammalleri will be saddled with that role by default.

Cammalleri, who has one year left on his current contract, tied with fellow winger Lee Stempniak for the team scoring lead in 2013 with 32 points. Cammalleri notched 13 goals and 19 assists for the Flames, while Stempniak added nine goals and a team-best 23 assists.

Unfortunately for the Flames offense, Cammalleri may miss the start of the season after suffering a hand injury.

Curtis Glencross led Calgary with 15 goals last season and will be called upon for scoring once again, as will fellow winger Jiri Hudler, who had 10 goals and 17 assists in 2013.

While none of the fellows mentioned above are likely to have a role in Calgary's long-term future, the club is hoping left winger Sven Baertschi can turn into a franchise player. The 13th overall pick of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft played in 20 games for the Flames in 2013 and although he only recorded three goals and seven assists, nine of his 10 points came over the last seven games of the season.

If Baertschi is able to take a big step forward in 2013-14, this massive rebuilding project would suddenly look a little easier to pull off.

Calgary expects to be thin down the middle of the ice with either Mikael Backlund or Matt Stajan manning the center spot on the top line. Stajan had five goals and 18 assists for the Flames last season, while Backlund had eight goals and eight assists.

The lack of skill at center gives pivot Sean Monahan a shot at making the team this season. Monahan, who will turn 19 years old on Oct. 12, was selected by Calgary with the sixth overall of this summer's draft. Making the jump from junior hockey to the NHL is hardly ever a smooth transition, but the Flames may use Monahan this season simply because they might not have four better options.

In fact, young guys who are a lot less highly touted than Monahan also will get a chance to earn a spot in Hartley's lineup this season. After all, nothing is set in stone when a club finally opens its eyes and sees rebuilding as the best course of action.

DEFENSE - To some Calgary fans, the fact that the club is no longer over- paying defenseman Jay Bouwmeester is a good thing. The bad news is the Flames didn't replace him with a better option to use at the top of their defensive rotation.

As it stands, Dennis Wideman and Mark Giordano are penciled in as the top defensive pairing for the Flames heading into 2013-14. Wideman, who had six goals and 16 assists in 46 games last season, returns as the club's best offensive blueliner.

Giordano, who took over as team captain for the departed Iginla, figures to be the team's best all-around defenseman and could wind up being the team leader in minutes. He had four goals and 11 assists in 2013.

T.J. Brodie has posted identical numbers of two goals and 12 assists in each of his past two seasons and, at just 23 years of age, the Flames can reasonably expect him to take a step forward this season.

The Flames also added veteran help at the back end in the form of offseason free-agent signess Shane O'Brien and Kris Russell. O'Brien had four assists in 28 games with Colorado last season and has seen action in 483 career NHL games. Russell, who has 95 points (23G, 72A) over 364 games, had one goal and six assists in 33 contests with St. Louis last season.

GOALTENDING - When Kiprusoff officially announced his retirement earlier this month it made Karri Ramo the club's de facto No. 1 goaltender.

Ramo spent the last four seasons with Avangard Omsk of the Kontinental Hockey League, but the 27-year-old does have NHL experience on his resume. The Finnish backstop saw action in 48 games over the course of three seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning, but last suited up in an NHL game in 2009.

Although Ramo became an All-Star while playing in Russia he still has a great deal to prove at the NHL level. He was just 11-21-0 with a lofty 3.35 goals against average during his time with the Lightning.

Joey MacDonald appears to have the inside track on the backup job after going 8-9-1 with a 2.87 GAA in 21 appearances for the Flames last season. MacDonald, 33, has started more than 17 games in a season just once in his NHL career and that was back in 2008-09 with the New York Islanders.

With the goaltending situation anything but settled it be unwise to count out Reto Berra for playing time. The 26-year-old Swiss backstop has never played in North America, but, at 6-foot-4, he certainly has the size to make an impact in the NHL.

WHEN ALL IS SAID AND DONE - Just about anyway you slice it this looks like it's going to be a difficult season for the Flames and their fans. On paper, the club is easily the worst team in the newly realigned Pacific Division and it seems like they'll have a hard time even hanging in the Western Conference playoff chase. It won't be much fun to watch, but this rebuilding project is a necessary evil for a franchise that has fallen on hard times.