Why the low-budget Calgary Flames could be cooking up a surprise...

The pundits have spoken and Jay Feaster isn’t listening. And why should he? What the so-called experts are saying isn’t music to the ears of the Flames GM.

Virtually every media outlet and/or oddsmaker is targeting the Flames for last in the division, last in the conference, even last in the league. That’s what a complete rebuild does to expectations. Personally, I think this low-budget team could surprise a lot of people. Not to the point it will challenge for a playoff spot, but enough to raise some eyebrows. I have the Flames finishing above Phoenix in the Pacific and wouldn’t be surprised to see them finish above four or five teams league-wide.

Here’s my thinking:

Prognosticators say Calgary’s lack of proven goaltending is the cement-encased shoes that will drag the team to the bottom. But remember, the Flames received terrible goaltending from Miikka Kiprusoff last season so how can Karri Ramo be any worse? Ramo’s credentials the past few seasons in the KHL are impressive. Critics may scoff that he’s capable of even middling goaltending, but I think he’ll open some eyes.

Feaster says he’ll have a 23-man roster of players who have a complete buy-in on a team approach under coach Bob Hartley. In my opinion, that’s his way of saying he wasn’t getting as much from the likes of Jarome Iginla, Alex Tanguay and company in past seasons. I think the Flames will miss Iggy a lot less than any pundit expects. Let’s face it, there were a lot of things Iginla didn’t do well, especially as he slowed down in recent seasons. Calgary’s new leadership personalities are by-example players like

Mark Giordano and Curtis Glencross.

Every year there’s a team or two that confounds the experts and plays above expectations — Ottawa last season, Nashville the year before. Maybe it’s Calgary this season, maybe it isn’t. But I’m saying the Flames finish closer to 25th than they do to 30th. It will mean a slightly lower draft pick in 2014, but will make for a less frustrating season in three or four years for Calgary fans.

Three Flames to watch

Karri Ramo

The former top prospect for the Tampa Bay Lightning has matured a lot since the early, struggling days in Florida. He’ll be playing behind a defence that is among the most suspect in the league, but he’ll win over fans in short order.

Mike Cammalleri

The Flames would be wise to load up Cammy with 25-plus minutes of ice time per night and overdose him with power-play duties. If he’s scoring at a 30- to 40-goal rate, he’ll command a first-round draft pick in return come trade deadline.

Sean Monahan

The arrival of Joe Colborne may expedite his return to junior, but I’d like to see him play nine NHL games interspersed with three or four more watching from the press box. Then return him to Ottawa for a month, then WJC camp, then a trade to a contending team in the OHL.

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