CALGARY - The Calgary Flames open the NHL season with several young players creating a buzz. For a team facing a long climb to the playoffs, the future is what the Flames can continue to sell in the second year of a rebuild.
Calgary (35-40-7) finished 27th in the league last season and out of the playoffs for a fifth straight year. The Flames were involved in a record 49 one-goal games and won 25 of them.
Hockey operations president Brian Burke jettisoned his interim general manager's tag and made Brad Treliving his replacement in April.
It was the third change at that position in just over three years. Treliving beefed up the managerial staff by adding two assistant GMs for a total of three.
"We have a new GM. We have lots of new people in the organization," head coach Bob Hartley said. "Last year, I feel that we turned a corner. But that corner is still not good enough."
The Flames open at home against the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday before embarking on a six-game road trip.
With the loss of leading scorer Mike Cammalleri to free agency and the New Jersey Devils, there is a pressing need for goal scoring in Calgary.
John Gaudreau, 21, and 18-year-old Sam Bennett demonstrated exciting offensive flair in the pre-season, but are those forwards ready for the 82-game grind of the NHL?
Bennett will start the season with the Flames, but as an injured non-roster player because of a shoulder injury.
A more muscled Sean Monahan, with a sensational rookie season already under his belt, turns 20 on Sunday. A 22-goal man in his first year in the NHL, anticipation is high over what Monahan can do in his sophomore season.
Treliving signed veteran left-winger Mason Raymond to help fill the scoring void left by Cammalleri. The new GM took a flyer on Devin Setoguchi in the hopes the right-winger will reclaim his career.
The Flames require stepped-up contributions from Mikael Backlund, Matt Stajan, Curtis Glencross and Joe Colborne as well as continued excellence from captain and defenceman Mark Giordano to have a chance at playoff contention.
"I think we will have to go through our four lines, our six defencemen to generate some offence," said Hartley, who is entering the final year of his three-year contract. "It's going to be by committee."
The signing of goaltender Jonas Hiller was the most significant off-season transaction in Giordano's mind. A proven performer who fell out of favour with the Anaheim Ducks, the competition between Hiller and Karri Ramo makes for an interesting tandem in net.
"Ramo is so good and bringing in another guy who is right at that level ... for me, that was the biggest because I know how important goaltending is," Giordano said.
"The teams with the best goalies usually are the teams that are in the final at the end of the year. I think that was a huge step for our team."
Led by Giordano, Calgary's blue-line should be solid. With 47 points in 67 games and a plus-12 rating, the captain played himself into the conversation for the Canadian men's Olympic team last winter.
Kris Russell and T.J. Brodie give the Flames mobility on the back end. Edmonton native Deryk Engelland arrived via free agency from the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Gaudreau capped his college career at Boston College by winning the Hobey Baker Award and signing with the Flames the day he was handed that trophy.
The left-winger from Carney's Point, N.J., led the Flames in shots on net in the pre-season and was a three-assist dynamo in the final exhibition game at home.
The Flames generously list him at five foot nine and 160 pounds. Now that he's a pro, his game load is about to double whether he spends the season with the Flames or ends up with Calgary's new American Hockey League affiliate the Adirondack Flames in Glens Falls, N.Y.
"It was definitely one of the big things I was concerned about in the off-season," Gaudreau acknowledged. "I made sure I worked out a lot and took a little bit more time off the ice because I normally do since I'm going to be playing a lot more games.
"It's going to take a little bit of a toll on me and I've got to get used to it."
Treliving used the No. 4 selection in this year's draft on Bennett, which made the Holland Landing, Ont., forward the highest pick in Calgary's history.
Bennett showed flashes of brilliance and promise in the three pre-season games he did play. Treliving has said more than once he doesn't expect the teenager to play a full season in Calgary.
The Flames can keep Bennett for up to nine games before his entry-level contract kicks in and then return him to the Ontario Hockey League's Kingston Frontenacs. But Bennett's shoulder will delay his NHL debut and Treliving said it was a "strong possibility this could require a surgical procedure."
"He's probably been dealing with this for longer he's wanted to let on," Treliving said. "Ultimately, it's a speed bump. This is going to be a really good young player."
Rising talent aside, the Flames need to take a significant step forward this season to show their fan base the post-season is on the near horizon.
"We can't be satisfied being a team that is in games and not getting the results," Giordano said. "We have to get results. We have to start the season and focus on trying to win those one-goal games and getting points out of them so we can make a push for playoffs."
Notes: Hartley said Hiller will start Wednesday against the Canucks with Ramo getting the nod Thursday in Edmonton. ... Calgary assigned forward Markus Granlund to Adirondack.
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