It didn't take long for Flames coach Brian Sutter to figure out
his team last season. "Two minutes into training camp I could
tell their approach wasn't conducive to winning," he says. "We
had some young players who didn't understand what it takes and
others who were accustomed to mediocrity."
For the first half of the season Calgary was worse than
mediocre: It won just six times in 31 games as Sutter went with
his young players. But then the Flames went 14-13-5 in their
final 32 games. They still need to develop consistency--not to
mention a power play--before they can think about the playoffs.
However, they should improve on last year's 26-41-15 record, the
worst in franchise history.
While Calgary's future is its youth--the Flames will use a dozen
players under age 24--its immediate success will depend on how the
veterans perform. Right wing Theo Fleury, the only player left
from Calgary's 1989 Stanley Cup team, led the Flames with 78
points last season, while no other Calgary player had more than
49. The 30-year-old Fleury is capable of a 50-goal season, but he
has been frustrated by a lack of support.
The defense is burdened by inexperience. As a stopgap measure,
13-year veteran Steve Smith, a Calgary assistant coach last
season, has come out of retirement, and the Flames signed
34-year-old free agent Phil Housley. In the nets Calgary, one of
five teams with a goals-against average of more than 3.00 in
1997-98, acquired 34-year-old Ken Wregget to provide stability.
Wregget, however, is injury-prone--he was limited to 15 games
with the Penguins last season because of a back ailment.
Sutter's not promising a Stanley Cup this season, but he's sure
his players now know what it takes to win. "This team has worked
hard and sacrificed a lot," Sutter says. "I guarantee we'll be
miserable to play against."
Right wing Theo Fleury, the league's shortest man at 5'6", was
the only player in the NHL to lead his team in penalty minutes
(197) and points (78).
KEYS TO SUCCESS
--Forward Jarome Iginla needs to rebound from a sophomore slump
that saw his goal scoring dip from 21 to 13.
--Andrew Cassels must prove that he's capable of being a No. 1
center, which would keep opposition checkers from smothering