Hockey season is back!!! With this return is also the return of Peter Maher talking everything Flames with Don, Joanne & The Coach every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 8:05am.
That’s right, it’s the one and only Peter Maher giving you the inside scoop with everything going on in the 2017/18 season. Not only that, we also have Peter Maher’s Hockey Blog every single week for you to find out even more info on your team.
Peter Maher’s Hockey Blog
Monday, December 11th
Did the Flames turn an important corner last week? It’ll take more than a three-game sample but Glen Gulutzan’s skaters were impressive in collecting five of a possible six points in three games.
The extra time loss in Toronto followed by a victory in Montreal and a come-from-behind home ice triumph over Vancouver on Saturday marked the fourth time this season the Flames have pieced together a three-game win streak.
But this one may have been the most impressive.
The key elements were better defensive play in all three games and in Saturday’s tilt getting badly needed secondary scoring.In too many of the earlier successes, the Flames relied on strong goaltending, especially from Mike Smith, to attain success. Last week was the first time during a three-game point splurge that the Flames didn’t have at least one game where they allowed over 40 shots. In fact, in two of them the shot total was under 30.
While limiting the shots against is critical going forward, depending on just one forward line to carry the offense isn’t a good recipe for success either. The Sean Monahan-Johnny Gaudreau-Michael Ferlund trio has been one of the best in the National Hockey League but successful teams need better balance.
Saturday, in particular, was a sign of expanding the production. While the #1 unit failed to gain a point in the 4-2 win over the Canucks, the other three lines all produced.
Fourth line right winger Troy Brouwer scored a goal giving him three points in four games after going 26 matches with a goal. Third line left winger Sam Bennett scored the winning goal giving him points in six of seven matches for a total of 10 points in that span. Second line left-winger Matthew Tkachuk, returning from a one-game suspension, scored two goals.
If the Flames are to keep moving up in standing and have a shot at gaining a top placing in the Pacific Division, it’s imperative that the lower-ranked lines be offensive contributors.
At the outset of the season when I predicted the Flames would finish first or second in their own division it was with assumption balanced scoring would be prevalent and the much-touted defence group would keep the shots against down.
It took awhile, but that’s what the Flames got last week. Developing that on a consistent basis is the on-going challenge.
Monday, December 4th
When I retired three Flames seasons ago from the broadcast booth in the Scotiabank Saddledome, which now bears my name, I turned my radio involvement to three mornings a week with Don, Joanne and Coach on XL103.
This Friday (December 8) at 8am will be my last radio rendezvous with Don Stevens and Joanne Johnson after so many of them over the last three Flames seasons and a quarter of this one on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
They re-jigged their show to facilitate my ‘Maher in the Mornings’ interlude between songs and I was grateful for the opportunity to continue with some Flame talk joining two long-time friends who are leaving the radio airways this week after brilliantly ironic careers.
While my on-air involvement with Don and Joanne has been in recent years, I’ve known both off-the-air for a long time. When I was broadcasting Flame games at night, they were working mornings at an affiliated station.
A friendship evolved and over the past six years we’ve frequently golfed together at the Cottonwood Golf and Country Club where we are all members. Coach would have joined us to make it a radio foursome but he’s not a golfer.
Both Don, Joanne and Coach are all Flame fans making our morning conversations enjoyable although it required an adjustment from me.
When I started with them on XL in September of 2014 I had a tendency to talk too long when responding to their questions. Finally, Don, dedicated, detailed and serious as he is classy with his work, told me, “Peter, we’re a music station. You need to shorten your comments.” I apologized and answered that it was habitual in that for 20 years at another station at 8am I needed to fill 15 minutes with talk every day. Plus, a similar stint at 5pm and then the Flame game broadcasts with length post-game shows.
I promised to be more condensed but old habits are difficult to break. I believe this year I finally got it down to 3 minutes per show and now they are leaving.
Don has broadcast for 50 years, a remarkable accomplishment in a business that can be tough at times with listener ratings often determining longevity.
Joanne has been in broadcasting for 35 years and I’ve known her for almost all of that time. Like Don, very professional, caring, humorous and classy. Both of them very much community-minded.
They have assisted with a number of charities in Calgary and area with the most high-profile being the Golf-a-Kid-To-Camp Tournament where funds were raised to assist youngsters stricken with cancer to attend camp part of the Kids Cancer Foundation initiative. After over two decades that event held its final Tournament at Cottonwood this past August. Don, Joanne and Coach not only lent their name and worked tirelessly to help make it successful but were involved with the camp itself.
When I first made appearances in the morning with them on XL only Don and coach asked questions. One day over breakfast I asked Joanne why she didn’t jump in once-and-a-while, she replied she didn’t know hockey that well. I told her, no problem, ask anything, we’ll make it work. She always came up with good ones. Last year a listener friend of mind commented to me, “Joanne really knows her hockey.” Perhaps, that’s her next career – Hockey Commentator.
Regardless of their future plans, I hope Don, Joanne and I can continue our golf outings. Don is as thorough and as well prepared on the golf course as he is on the radio. Consequently, I’ve never beaten him. Next summer, since he’ll be playing more, he’ll have to give me strokes.
In the meantime, I’ll continue with my ‘Maher in the Mornings’ hockey talk three times a week with Coach, Buzz Bishop and Heather. As it will for the listeners, it’ll be different for me with the new crew.
In the meantime, Don and Joanne move on having had careers “You can definitely put in the Win Column…Yeah Baby!!!!!!”
Monday, November 27th
When the Flames and Edmonton Oilers clash in the Scotiabank Saddledome for the first time this season on Saturday neither will be in the position I predicted for them at the outset.
Still time for situations to change but the Flames chances are much better than the Oilers.
I’ve mentioned a couple of time previously in this blog that I felt the Alberta teams in the National Hockey League would occupy the top two positions in the Pacific Division this season when all was said and done.
But with a little more that three-quarters of the campaign remaining to be played, the odds of that happening for the first time since 1991 are dwindling.
While my prognostication for the Oilers was a modest one, many NHL ‘experts’ had more lofty expectations for Edmonton’s hockey heroes. Many of them listing the Oilers to be in the Stanley Cup finals.
As such, the Oilers are the league’s biggest disappointment thus far as they started this week 11 points out of first place in the division. They stand in 15th place in the Western Conference, six points out of a playoff spot.
The Flames aren’t off to as great a start as anticipated but they still have a solid shot at finishing first in the Pacific and not in as dire straits as their Northern rivals. After ending last week ending a six-game trip with a 3-2 win in Colorado, they stand third in the division, four points out of top spot with a game in hand of Vegas Golden Knights.
The Pacific Division has been full of surprises other than the Oilers – some positive and some negative.
The first year Golden Knights have shocked all by being in first place in the Pacific. No NHL expansion team has ever gotten out of the gate this proficient.
The second place Los Angeles Kings have exceeded expectation as well but that could be changing. The Kings got off to a solid start under new head coach John Stevens but lately have slumped with just two wins in their last nine games. Perhaps, overall they now have a record close to what was foreseen.
The Vancouver Canucks, also with a new coach in Travis Green were thought to be a Western Conference bottom-feeder while in a re-build mode. But they’ve stayed in the playoff race so far, having the last wild card spot in the West.
The Anaheim Ducks have been be-felled by injuries to key players and it has hindered their assent up the standings while the San Jose Sharks hold down the first West wild card playoff location. Arizona Coyotes, who have been better lately, are in the West basement, which doesn’t come as a shock.
The Oilers, though, are a stunning shock. Other than their opening night home ice 7-3 trouncing of the Flames they have exhibited only brief flashes of power.
Edmonton hasn’t had anything close to the goaltending it got a year ago from Cam Talbot. The defence is lacking and other than captain Connor McDavid, have been exposed as a slow team. The Oilers number two star and this season’s highest paid on the team, Leon Draisaitl , hasn’t been anywhere near the same as he was last season.
Calgarians eager to see the Battle of Alberta revived may be wishing for an Oiler turnaround. Conversely, with lack of sentiment, hope they remain where they are.
Monday, November 20th
Brian Burke isn’t a huge proponent of analytics but during a recent interview in Toronto stated “We think we have the best analytics guy in hockey in Chris Snow but we don’t brag about it like some teams do.”
The Flames President of Hockey Operations feels analytics are “grossly over-rated” in hockey but concedes “even though they (analytics) should be used, it’s down the list.”
Interesting evidence backing up Burke’s non-priority on analytics is that while Snow is now in his seventh season as Flames Director Hockey Analysis, the team has quietly added support staff to that department for this season.
Just where that department stands in Flames importance is difficult to tell. Clearly some other teams, as Burke states, aren’t shy to point out the value of analytics.
…And the likelihood is that the process will gather momentum in time around the National Hockey League.
Sports is often referred to as being copy-cat whereby if success is gained in one area, others are quick to follow.
That being the case, baseball may have accelerated analytics use this fall. The two teams which participated in the World Series – Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers — pitted two 100-win regular-season teams against each other for the first time since 1970 but also the most advanced in sabermetric staffs.
With that attainment other teams are figure to focus more on the concept.
That was reflected in three baseball off-season managerial changes. Three qualifiers for the playoffs – the New York Yankees (Joe Girardi), Boston Red Sox (John Farrell) and Washington Nationals (Dusty Baker) – somewhat surprisingly all fired their managers. All three clubs, despite successful regular-seasons, opted to replace the bench bosses with skippers that could connect with young players and are affluent in analytics. That overlooked the previous criteria where experience on the bench has often been the requisite.
The pace of a baseball game clearly allows for more data-driven decision-making than hockey. But it is now playing a role in the NHL.
Mike Babcock and Joel Quenneville are two of the most experienced and highest paid coaches. Both have parlayed past successes into long-term contracts with Toronto and Chicago respectively. Neither Babcock or Quenneville appear to be big proponents of analytics but both have advanced statistical people on their staffs and refer to the input.
Flame coach Glen Gulutzan checks the contribution from Snow and company in his pre-and post game planning and assessing. So, he’s up-to-date with those trends.
Arizona Coyotes appear to be the NHL team stressing analytics more than any other. But it’s not paying dividends, at least initially. Prior to last season, the Coyotes made John Chayka the NHL’s youngest GM. The 27-year-old has a huge background in analytics, which was a major factor in his hiring. The Coyotes finished 24 points out of the playoffs in 2016-17 and this season have the worst record in the league so the concept hasn’t been embraced thus far.
But if one NHL team deeply engrossed into the hypothesis were to have huge success it could well be a game changer.
Tuesday, November 14th
Paul Kariya’s induction into the Hockey Hall-of-Fame on Monday brought mixed reaction for this blogger.
Pleased that the first great player for the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, who I personally liked, was enshrined. But wondered, if Kariya was HHOF worthy what about Theoren Fleury?
The Flames second all-time leading scorer was HHOF eligible a year before Kariya. Yet eight times he’s been overlooked.
Considering Fleury was passed over 376 eligible times before the Flames finally selected him in the eighth round of the 1987 NHL draft this snub is minor by comparison.
Except, then, Fleury was a 5-foot-nothing, 130-pounder who most felt was too small to play in the National Hockey League. Now, closing in on his 50th birthday, Fleury has not only rebuked those assessments but was a standout player in the world’s greatest league for 11 seasons as well as an impact on the International hockey scene.
Kariya played four more seasons in the NHL, yet Fleury averaged more points-per-game in both the regular-season and playoffs as well as winning a Stanley Cup plus Gold Medals at the Olympics, Canada Cup and World Junior Championships. Kariya also has a Gold Medal from the Olympics, World Championships and World Junior but none of the four NHL teams he played with on won the NHL title, which isn’t a HHOF criteria.
Kariya, who was plagued by injuries, thus didn’t play as many games as Fleury. Kariya didn’t play 1,000 games or get 1,000 points (he played in 989 regular-season games with the same number of points. Fleury was better than a point-a-game contributor 1088 points in 1084 regular games plus had 79 points in 77 post-season tilts. Kariya’s playoff record was 39 points in 46 games.
Neither player stood out in size and both were excellent scoring producers but the styles were the opposite. Kariya was twice winner of the NHL’s Lady Byng Trophy as most gentlemanly player. Fleury didn’t garner a single vote from voters selecting the Byng award amassing over 100 minutes penalties 10 times in his 11-year NHL stint.
Voters bestowed Kariya with the hockey’s highest honor this week. Next year it’s high time those voters extend Fleury the same tribute.
Monday, November 6th
Soon after the Flames acquired Mike Smith last summer I met up with one of his former teammates asking how he thought the goaltender would do here.
“He’s a really good goalie. Very intense. But I don’t know how he’ll handle all the scrutiny he’ll get in Calgary. It could be an issue”, was the reply.
It takes longer than a month on the job to get a true read but Smith thus far has been really good and handling the Calgary microscope very well.
All this to the delight of the Flames and their fans.
Without the solid work Smith has put in between the pipes the Flames season would be in real jeopardy.
The team’s defence corps in front of the goalkeeper has been slow to live up to the hype of being one of the top groups in the National Hockey League. They’ve had some trouble defending and getting the puck out of their own zone. Smith has had to bail them out countless times over the first 14 games.
On top of that, the squad’s scoring hasn’t been anywhere near as proficient as projected either although they scored four regulation time goals in Sunday’s 5-4 shootout victory over New Jersey.
The early-season flaws have been masked by Smith’s sensational play.
The argument could be made, that Smith is part of the team. True, but is it sustainable for him to be facing an average of 34 shots a game? That’s a heavy workload for the 35-year-old who likely assumed when he joined the Flames he’d have a lighter shot count than he faced with his former team Arizona Coyotes, who have been consistently one of the NHL’s worst clubs. With the Coyotes last season, in 55 games Smith faced an average of 33 shots per contest.
Entering Tuesday’s Scotiabank Saddledome date with Vancouver, Smith’s save percentage is .931, which is fourth best in the league. The Flames haven’t had a goalie with this kind of save numbers since Miikka Kiprusoff retired after the 2012-13 season.
Smith, who has started all but one of the Flames first 14 games is on pace to play in over 70. Kiprusoff played 70-or-more contest seven times while wearing Flame colors.
Its unlikely Smith will play 70 games. Last year Edmonton’s Cam Talbot was the only NHL netminder to play that many ending with 73.
Smith’s solid play is giving the players in front of him time to find their games without the team dropping too deeply in league standing.
Even with the early-season adjusting, the Flames are five points ahead of last season’s pace through 14 games.
Monday, October 30th
Two games into their longest homestand in 10 years, the Flames have split a couple of 2-1 games still seeking a more balanced scoring attack.
This run at home continues Thursday with a visit from the Pittsburgh Penguins.
It’s seven-straight games in the Scotiabank Saddledome keeping the players in the city for 19 days before heading out on the road again. By then, they hope to be back in a playoff position.
It’s rare for the Flames to have that many consecutuve games in their home building. So rare, that the last time in occured was in 2007.
Since then the longest homestands were six games which occured three times. By comparison, the longest homestands last year were four games, which happened three times.
Coaches don’t comment for public consumption but privately they’d prefer shorter homestands. They’ve also prefer road trips not be longer than a week as well. Often prolonged runs of games at home and on the road, bring about stagnant play especially near the end.
That may explain why 10 years ago, the last time the Flames were at home for seven games they started by winning three of the first four before losing two of the final three.
The players get to spend more time with their families during lengthy homestands, however, teams generally produce more camaraderie when on the road. Although, the Flame dressing room leaders generally try to incorporate team bonding events into extended stays at home. This week a team Halloween party figures to transpire involving players, wives and girl friends.
After this seven-game run of home games, the next longest is four games November 28 to December 4. After that, the longest to the end of the season is three games on five occasions.
Home ice wasn’t particularly benefical to the Flames earlier this season when they experienced brief stays in the city between games.
After starting the campaign with an ugly loss in Edmonton, they won their home opener against Winnipeg. Consecutive roads wins in Southern California followed, then the Flames returned losing to Ottawa in the Scotiabank Saddledome starting a four-game run of home losses which ended with Sunday’s triumph over Washington.
If the Flames are to make a regular-season impact they’ll need win much more regularly in front of the home crowd whether it be a long stay in town or shorter versions.
Regardless of where they play, scoring assistance from the third and fourth lines is needed. Through the first 12 games the bottom units have produced just one goal.
With the NHL season now a month old, Jarome Iginla remains without a team and still not retired.
In fact, right now the Flames all-time leading scorer isn’t able to play. Iginla recently underwent a medical hip procedure and is rehabilitating.
So much so that he turned down an invitation to play for Canada in an upcoming pre-Olympic warm-up tournament in Finland. Team Canada General Manager Sean Burke extended the invite to Iginla for the event which will see the Canadian squad made up mostly players playing this season in Europe including former Flames Rene Bourque and Mason Raymond.
The Canadian side has two more such tournaments in December.
While Iginla would like to sign on with an NHL team this season, the Olympic option remains for the rightwinger, who has two gold medals from the Winter Games when NHL players participated.
However, if he’s to be part of the Canadian squad in South Korea, Iginla likely needs to be playing on a regular bases for a couple of months prior for a squad in Europe. It’s unlikely that he could be helpful to the Canadian squad without being game-ready prior to the February 14-25 event.
Monday, October 23rd
A coach told me a long time ago not to put too much stock in veteran player performances during pre-season games.A coach told me a long time ago not to put too much stock in veteran player performances during pre-season games.
His point being for returning players assured of jobs that the exhibition matches are about experimenting, getting game ready and avoiding injury. On the other hand, players looking for a spot in the team need to make impressions on coaches and management but even at that these games aren’t accurate gauges. He noted the pace picks up greatly in the NHL with points on the line.
Now eight games into this Flame season that advice comes to mind.
Two young players that were impressive in the aforementioned pre-season warrant reviews – Mark Jankowski and Sam Bennett.
Jankowski was the best player in September with three goals in five games from his centre position. He was sent down on the eve of the regular-season start basically for business reasons – he could go to the American Hockey League without being placed on waivers where he’d surely be snapped up by another team. He didn’t sulk. Going to Stockton scoring five goals and eight points in six games. Now an injury to Jaromir Jagr opened the door for him to get his chance in the big league.
Last year, Jankowski, the Flames first round pick from 2012, got called to play one game. Now he figures to get more than that with a chance boost the team’s third line scoring, which has been non-productive through eight games.
A reason for that has been the poor start from Bennett, who stood out in the exhibition games with his playmaking and aggression.
Still plenty of time left to rectify things but Bennett has not been anywhere near as proficient in these games that count.
Bennett, into essentially his third season, came to camp bigger, stronger and sporting a beard that he has since shaved off. The centreman was sharp in the four preliminary games he played – offensively, defensively and physically.
In an earlier blog here, I noted that if the Flames were to challenge for first place in the Pacific Division, a key is Bennett eventually becoming the team’s first or second line centre which many projected when the Flames made him the fourth overall selection in the 2014 draft after he starred at centre with Kingston in Junior.
The 21-year-old has displayed flashes of that potential during the past couple of seasons but not consistently.
Bennett is being counted on to give the squad three solid centremen along with Sean Monahan and Mikael Backlund. That hasn’t prevailed over the first couple of weeks and change.
After eight games, Bennett leads the team only in penalty minutes where with 12 he’s tied with Matthew Tkachuk. He’s yet to garner a single point and has a mere five shots on goal while averaging just over 14 minutes of ice time. He’s been on the ice for more goals against than goals scored with a -3, tied for second worst on the team.
The Flames assess accurately that successful teams generally flourish having strength down-the-middle. The good teams now have three lines that can score spearheaded by good centremen.
Based on Monday’s Flame practice Jankowski gets a chance to be the team’s third centre long term. Bennett, as many media have suggested, now moves to left wing on a line with Jankowski in the middle. If things don’t work out that plan could be reversed.
Wherever he plays, the key for Jankowski staying here is performing as he in September.
Monday, October 16, 2017
As the Flames embark on the third week of this National Hockey League season it’s still too early to make an assessment on what the team is. Or any other squad for that matter.
I’ve long been an advocate of the theory don’t read too much into the first two weeks of a season. Pay attention after week three and book it after the fourth week.
Of course, there are always exceptions but generally it usually after basically the first month one can get an true read on a team.
Last season was one if those where the first month didn’t provide an accurate assessment. Our Guys won just five games through their first 14 matches in Glen Gulutzan’s initial year as coach. Then were 40-25-3 the rest of the way to quite comfortably make the playoffs.
The first couple of weeks this time around have brought varying performances with emotions going up-and down amid the Jaromir Jagr excitement.
The opening week brought the disappointing start – a 3-0 loss in Edmonton. Then a come-from-behind home opener win over Winnipeg. The second week commenced with back-to-back triumphs in Southern California for the first time in over 23 years including ending a 29-game losing streak in Anaheim. Then they came home and were trounced 6-0 by Ottawa before winning 5-2 at Vancouver on Saturday.
Holding down second place in the Pacific Division with six more points than rival Edmonton after winning four of six games with two-thirds of them played on the road is impressive. Still, remember it’s two weeks into the season so don’t read too much into it.
…And Coach Glen Gulutzan isn’t noting after Saturday’s victory that the team “was out of sync and at times chaotic” thus far. The squad will work on improving those areas with three practice days before hosting Carolina on Thursday and Minnesota on Sunday.
The coach plans to use the practices to work on the areas of concern.
The most alarming development with the Flames first four games was the high numbers of shots they were yielding. New goalie Mike Smith was outstanding while facing an average of 40 shots a game. Gulutzan voiced his displeasure and the shot totals went down to 22 and 27 respectively during the past two weekend contest despite being shorthanded seven times in each match. A tribute to the penalty killers but still a dangerous way to play.
Although the Flames are five points ahead of their season-starting pace of a year ago but it’s good the coach isn’t letting his players rest on their laurels.
Per early season usual, the Pacific Division first place race is off to a different start. Many predictors around the NHL feel the Flames, Oilers and Anaheim will be at the top of the heap when all is said and done. Currently, only the Flames are near the top of the standings. Los Angeles Kings, a non-playoff team last winter, lead with nine points while the first year Vegas Golden Knights are tied with the Flames for second. If the playoffs started today, the Oilers and Ducks wouldn’t be included. Remember, it’s just two weeks into the season.
When Mark Giordano scored the Flames first goal while the team was shorthanded on Saturday, he became just the fourth defenceman in franchise history to notch 100 goals.
It’s a most impressive achievement for the captain. The other three – Al MacInnis, Gary Suter and Paul Reinhart – all played here in the 80’s and early 90’s during the NHL’s high scoring era. Unlike the other three, Giordano was never drafted and since beginning his Flames tenure in 2006 has had to score in a much-more defensive-style of game with goals more difficult to attain.
It took Giordano 679 games to reach the milestone. MacInnis in his time with the Flames notched 213 goals in 803 games. Giordano won’t match MacInnis goal totals but could pass Reinhart’s 109 goals during the current campaign and in a year or two could also pass Suter’s 129 goals for second place.
Giordano’s first two goals came in his hometown, Toronto, on October 14, 2006. They came in a 5-4 loss to the Maple Leafs on night when Mats Sundin would notch a ‘hat trick’.
Tuesday, October 10, 2017
Will the first National Hockey League team Jaromir Jagr played against be the same team he plays his last NHL game for?
Only time will tell and since the future Hall-of-Fame right winger wants to play in the NHL until he’s 50 it may be quite a long time. There’s also a chance this could be his final campaign.
When the 45-year-old signed with the Flames last Wednesday, the witness was Mike Burke, the only member of the team’s manager group still with the team from 1989.
Burke is now Director of Hockey Administration. When Jagr played against the Flames 28 years ago Burke was the team’s Assistant Public Relations Director.
On September 11, 1989, Jagr was 17 years old and hadn’t been drafted. On that date he lined up with the Czechoslovakian National Team for an exhibition game against the Flames, who four months earlier had captured the Stanley Cup and where on a 6-game “Friendship Tour” playing two games in Prague before four games in Russia.
Jagr on that evening in the Czech capital city was wearing the #68 he’d later make famous in the NHL. He notched an assist in the game helping the Czechs to an upset 4-2 victory. It was the following June (1990) that he’d be drafted by the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins, a team he helped win two Cups.
His debut against the Flames wasn’t forgotten by Jagr, he recalls vividly the game reflecting how big and intimidating Flame winger Tim Hunter was and his facial feature “a very big nose”.
As of Tuesday, Jagr still hadn’t made his Flame debut in game action but that likely will occur later this week with his intimidating pedigree as the second greatest scorer in NHL history and sporting his own trademark – his mullet hair style.
This is Jagr’s 25th NHL season and it wasn’t until after all the teams had played their pre-games that he finally got contract offers. The Flames and St. Louis reached out looking to sign the five-time NHL scoring champ. The last being in 2000-01 when he captured his fourth Art Ross Trophy in-a-row. A streak ended the following campaign by former Flame superstar Jarome Iginla, who is still looking to sign with an NHL team this season.
Flame fans, caught up in Jagr Fever, were hoping he’d suit up in the team’s home opener last Saturday but the player who had just two practices with the team at that point felt he wasn’t game ready. He also sat out Monday’s 2-0 win in Anaheim ending a 29-game losing streak in that city. Despite the excitement of the iconic star, the decision to keep him on the sidelines until he’s ready is wise.
The Flames are the ninth NHL team Jagr has signed and the first based in Canada. He’s come a long, long way since that September evening in Prague all those years ago.
Monday, October 2, 2017
Johnny Gaudreau is the best leftwinger in the National Hockey League.
“Says who?” you might logically ask.
It’s the so-called hockey bible, The Hockey News, in its current Season Preview edition in advance of this week’s start of the NHL campaign.
Yes, on page 29 the Flames’ Johnny Gaudreau is listed #1 among the Top 25 projected leftwingers.
Yes, the same Johnny Hockey who received only two votes at the end of the 2016-17 in the voting for NHL All-Stars by position.
The Hockey News panel recognizes that Gaudreau was off the mark in ’16-17 offering the comment “He took a lot of abuse last year, but expect a big-time bounce back season with a deeper Flame team behind him.”
If THN prediction is correct the Flames will be elated. The assessment lists Gaudreau ahead of Brad Marchand and Artemi Panarin, who were voted the top two portsiders last season. He also was rated ahead of perennial all-star Alexander Ovechkin.
In fact, the Flames have two players among the Top 25 left wingers with second year man, Matthew Tkachuk, ranked #13.
The Flames are the only team placing two players in three different positional categories. San Jose Sharks and Carolina Hurricanes each had players in two groupings.
If strength down-the-middle is a requisite for success, the Flames also have two skaters listed in the Top 25 on defence and at centre.
Glen Gulutzan’s two defencemen highly rated blueliners are Doug Hamilton at #10 and captain Mark Giordano at #14.
No Flame centre is in the Top 20 but just below that they have two – Sean Monahan is listed at #21 and Mikael Backlund #24. The Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins rate the second and third best pivots in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. They are just behind Edmonton’s Connor McDavid ranked #1 for the first time.
Where the Flames lag in THN evaluation is at right wing and goal. They don’t have a player in the Top 25 on the right side while goalie Mike Smith is listed as 20th best in the league. That is based on his play last season in Arizona behind a Coyote squad that had one of the worst defence groups in the NHL.
Goaltending is a position the where Flames haven’t had superior netminding since Miikka Kiprusoff retired in 2013. Since then Flame goalies’ save percentage has been just 25th best among the NHL’s 30 teams.
This may be the reason THN predicts the Flames will finish third in the Pacific Division behind Anaheim and the Oilers. They furtherly forecast a Flames-Oilers first round playoff series with Edmonton winning and ultimately advancing to the Cup final before losing to the Penguins in six games.
THN odds of the Flames capturing Lord Stanley in 2018 are 20-1 which makes them ninth best.
Those are guesses. On Wednesday, the real counting commences.
Monday, September 25, 2017
The day Sam Bennett was drafted fourth overall by the Flames in 2014 he was compared to hall-of-famer Doug Gilmour.
Even though Bennett played Gilmour’s position, centre, and wore Gilmour’s Toronto Maple Leaf famous number 93 on a Kingston Frontenacs junior team that the ex-Flame was General Manager of, it was an unfair comparison.
It put unnecessary added pressure on a then 18-year-old at his first NHL camp. The Flames tried to reduce the burden on Bennett then by assigning him number 63. It was a year later he donned number 93 in Flame colors even though Gilmour wore number 39 when he helped the Flames win the Stanley Cup in 1989.
Many started to believe the contrasting evaluations when Bennett, following an injury, joined the Flames late in the 2014-15 season helping the team win a first round playoff series notching three goals.
He played enough games then, 12, to use up a year of pro hockey eligibility. That’s why after just two full seasons with the Flames – 2015-16 and 2016-17 – he needed to sign a new contract prior to the start of this campaign.
Bennett inked that two-year pact a week before training camp. He’ll be paid $1.9-million each of the next two seasons.
Over the last two seasons Bennett has displayed only flashes of his projected capabilities thus he didn’t get the multi-million deals that teammates Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau received last fall after their entry-level contracts expired.
That could be a good thing. If Bennett is to reach those financial plateaus when he’s up for a new contract after the 2018-19 campaign he needs to be big producer.
If he’s a big producer and steps up as the Flames first or second centreman it could propel the team to heights in the standing they haven’t attained since 1995.
Bennett’s positive progression is essential if the Flames are to be pennant contenders in the Pacific Division where many ‘experts’ predict Edmonton will prevail this campaign.
It’s very early, but Bennett has made an impact in the Flames pre-season. Collecting four assists in the first two games he’s played.
After spending a summer working out at ex-Flame Gary Roberts camp in Toronto, Bennett has added 10 pounds of muscle.
He’s also added a beard. That has drawn humorous comment from teammates and opponents. Flames General Manager Brad Treliving jokingly said he now looks like San Jose Sharks star centre Joe Thornton.
At least this Bennett comparison was made in jest. Seriously, if Bennett can have a career a quarter as good as Gilmour and Thornton the Flames will be delighted.