Now that everyone has had an opportunity to simmer drown and get over the early exit from this year’s NHL playoffs it’s time to assess the road ahead. The Calgary Flames turned in what many believed to be a poor post-season performance barely squeezing into the final eight in the West. The fact of the matter is, the club has made the post-season three seasons in a row and expectations are high (perhaps too high?) ever since the improbably run of 2006.

Nonetheless, changes are in order as improvement needs to be made and can be made. Here are the top ten changes the Calgary Flames need to make during this year’s off-season.

Top Ten Off-Season Flames Changes

10. Fight club: Eric Godard stays or goes? We say stays. Some of the top teams in the league carry 1+ goons. Although the enforcer is temporarily out of the game, many teams pick up smaller guys who do the same job but sometimes run unchecked (think Hollweg, Cowan, Tootoo, Hordichuck, etc.). Resign Godard to another 1 year deal at half a million and have him play half the games. Iginla would not have hurt his knee had we had someone to police, plus the guy is a monster in fights.

9. Worthy back-up: Jamie McLennan is a character guy in the dressing room but he didn’t post the number we would have liked. Chances are someone from the farm club comes up this year. Likely Krahn will back up despite Curtis M putting up stronger numbers.

8. Hamrlik or Stuart? I think for the money we’d opt for Stuart, but don’t be surprised if he doesn’t want to sign with Calgary in the off-season. Hamrilik has expressed interest to stay but I’m not sure the 3.5 million price tag will be low enough to warrant re-signing. For less money I’d take him for sure. Perhaps both go and we pick up a big name free-agent? Scott Hannan perhaps?

7. Offer long-term contracts to key players. Namely Iginla and Kiprusoff, however, one could slot the likes of Regher and perharps Langkow in this category. Solidifying the core will help the team build a new identity coming into 2007-08. A re-focus to the defensive game would certainly help.

6. Number one center? Conroy is not our answer to #1 center at 38. I don’t mind putting Langkow as the number one guy but then we have a huge gap at number 2. Lombardi didn’t pan out as the second line guy. Frankly I think at the end of next season or the 2008-09 season we’ll see either Huselius or Tanguay go for a number one C. More help to Iggy may give him the edge he need to, dare I say, lead the league in points.

5. Repeat Iginla performance? The captain had the third highest points/game total in the league. He was putting up the numbers but some question his ability to lead the team and play solid defence. Regardless, he’s still the franchise player so perhaps a contract extension before the puck drops?

4. Limit minutes for Phanuef. He’s only 20 folks so nothing but daylight ahead and he’ll be getting better. However, this year he showed his age by making a number of defensive mistakes. Speaking of the D, expect Giordano, Hale, and Phaneuf to stay around. Regher and his brother will be around for another year most likely. The rest is up in the air.

3. Number three as in the third line. Time to move age for youth. The farm club has a number of capable players ready to jump. Russian Taratukhin is likely ready to make a push. Many believe Boyd is ready to make the jump too but FlamesForum wonders about his size. Another year in the AHL wouldn’t hurt him. Prust is likely the younger version of McCarty. Other new Flames that will benefit from a quality off-season program include Moss and Lombardi again.

2. Goodbye old Flames: Mclennan, Mccarty, Friesen, Amonte, Nilson, and Ritchie may all have played their last games as Flames. Ritchie was a bargain and could do some damage if given more ice. Nilson was a good addition to the third line. Amonte scored 30 points but one has to wonder how much money you need to pay for 30 points? And what about bust Friesen? Sure he wasn’t in the ideal situation but it’s time to move on from his 1.6 million contract. All in all, out with the old and in with the new, management will have to make some tough decisions and there could be a number of aged players leaving the team.

1. The Road. Period. Improve the road performance by replacing the third and forth lines. Is that the solution? Maybe not entirely, but it’s a good start. Fact is, less than a dozen wins on the road is not good enough. Could this mean a coaching change? Is there enough respect in the room around Playfair? Fact is the team was not prepared for road games and they suffered mightily. We don’t think Playfair is gone this off-season but he’ll be on thin ice early.

And there you have it, the top ten changes we feel the team needs to make in the off-season. How many come true we’ll have to see but we can certainly fuel the speculation fires in the meantime!

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