The Closing Window

Jarome Iginla and the Flames are running out of time to make a run. Jeff Gross/Getty Images

One of the beautiful things about being a Panther fan right now is the tremendous future for the Florida franchise.  Dale Tallon has picked all the right players, and it looks like the Panthers’ resurgence is coming sooner rather than later.  Rooting for Florida is an investment that might finally pay off.

Unfortunately for a few other teams, the window that is opening for the Panthers is now closing for them.  Whether it be through age or free agency, some teams are running out of time to chase the Cup.  Realistically, the 2011-12 season might be their last shots at glory for a while.

Calgary Flames - The Flaming C’s have at least been in playoff contention for every year since ’04.  A few years ago, they were today’s Capitals: they consistently racked up points in the regular season, but couldn’t make much of an advance in the postseason.  Things have trended downward, however, as the Flames have missed the playoffs twice in a row.

Inexplicably, the Flames didn’t do much retooling at all, as the roster going into this year is not much improved.  The blue line was especially hit hard, as Robin Regehr, Adam Pardy, and Steve Staios are all out of town.  One newcomer is Chris Butler, who should reside on the third defensive pairing, but his presence isn’t much of a consolation prize after the Flames’ depth on the d-line took such a hit.

The two most important numbers heading into this year for Calgary are the ages of Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff, both are 34.  These are two world-class players reaching the twilight of their careers, but their supporting cast is a little long in the tooth.  Flames’ GM Jay Feaster decided to keep things as they are, so we’ll have to see if the Flames really can create a championship-caliber team from a group of veterans.  If they can’t, then Iginla and Kiprusoff might retire without rings.

Nashville Predators – The situation is Nashville is a polar opposite of what’s going on in Calgary.  The team is young and deep, but its key players are in a contract year.  Shea Weber will be a RFA, and Pekka Rinne and Ryan Suter will be UFAs.  This group has proven to be the core of the franchise for the Predators and it will be a pain to see at least one of these players go.  Nashville doesn’t have the spending ability to keep them all, and the price will certainly be raised by eager big-market teams in Detroit and Toronto.

The smart money says that Rinne will be the one to leave, as the Predators have a goalie prospect, Chet Pickard, in the wings.  However, the Predators team that will be on the ice this year will almost certainly be better than the roster after free agency next year.  The Predators need to win now, before their best players are bought away.

Phoenix Coyotes – The Coyotes’ organization will be good in the future, but its future in the Arizona is in serious jeopardy.  The ownership issue hangs over the team.  A few ownership groups want to keep the Coyotes in Phoenix, but others are pushing the team to move to Canada.  Regardless of who buys the team, insiders say the franchise will move to Canada if there before next season if the ownership issue isn’t resolved.

Shane Doan, Kyle Turris, and Keith Yandle have proven to be solid players, but the goalie issue is the biggest factor this year.  Gone is Ilya Bryzgalov, and in comes Mike Smith from Tampa Bay.  Time will tell if Smith can grow into his role as starter in Phoenix, but he isn’t as talented as Bryzgalov.

The Coyotes’ days in Phoenix appear to be numbered, so the Coyotes will have to win now for what fans they do have in Arizona.

So what do you think, Panther fans?  Am I missing a team?  Do you agree/disagree?  Be sure to comment below.

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