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Sweeping changes expected during offseason

The Sports Xchange

Three straight seasons without playoffs. Bigger changes have to be coming in Calgary this offseason.

The Flames really had little choice going into the 2011-12 season, with so many under-performing veterans with no-trade and no-movement clauses on the books, it was difficult to make sweeping moves. They were essentially forced to go into this past season with much of the same lineup from the 2010-11 campaign, although they managed to jettison a few players over the past eight months -- such as Daymond Langkow and Niklas Hagman -- while burying a couple of others in the minors.

This summer, though, could mean more than the past couple summers. Forwards Olli Jokinen, Lee Stempniak, David Moss and Tom Kostopoulos, as well as defensemen Cory Sarich and Scott Hannan are pending unrestricted free agents. As well, it's hard to imagine the club would give Blake Comeau a qualifying offer after a five-goal season in which he was paid $2.5 million in salary.

Sure, a few of those players could be back, but the Flames know the time has come for more sweeping changes. They have a few youngsters in the system they want to give every opportunity to be in the NHL on a full-time basis.

How big the rebuilding goes remains to be seen. It's possible the club could trade the likes of long-time captain Jarome Iginla and star goalie Miikka Kiprusoff -- who are both aging and may not want to be part of a rebuild -- as well as under-performing defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, although it may be tough to find a team willing to take on his contract worth $6.68 million per season and running through 2013-14.

The time has come for the Flames to go in a new direction. How much of a turn they make remains to be seen and it could make for some wild times.

Despite a terrible start to the season, again, and a dreadful post-Christmas road trip, the Flames actually pulled into eighth place in the Western Conference with a 1-0 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Feb. 18. It concluded a stretch in which they went 5-0-3, with five of those games on the road. However, a few days later, they lost at home to the Edmonton Oilers, which started a stretch with just one win in seven games and they never returned to the top eight.

A five-game winning streak put the Flames within a point of a playoff spot in mid-March, but one night after beating the Phoenix Coyotes at home, they lost again to the Edmonton Oilers and went 1-4-4 on the way to being officially eliminated in their 80th game. Curiously, it was through that last skid the Flames actually had several players return from injury.

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