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
Tuesday, February 13th
Brian Burke stated a long time ago that the biggest hockey mistakes are made on NHL trade deadline day than on any other of the 365, and sometimes 366, days of the year.
He made that statement long before he became President of Hockey Operations for the Flames.
Burke’s preference would to trade over the next week of so to improve the Flames rather than wait until the February 26 deadline.
Rest assured that message has been conveyed often to the guy negotiating trades, General Manager Brad Treliving.
Burke’s inference is that waiting until the last minute more-often-than-not produces a trade that is regretted.
Ideally, one suspects the Flames would like to add a scoring winger to the roster for the stretch run. The lack of offensive depth is obvious.
When the #1 line of Sean Monahan centering for Johnny Gaudeau and Michael Ferlund isn’t producing very few wins have been generated.
Matthew Tkachuk with his 20 goals has made the second line better than it was a year ago but it’s guessed coach Glen Gulutzan would prefer more scoring from the #2 trio.
The coach over the past weekend offered his assessment of how lacking he feels the third line is noting after Friday’s loss in New York to the Rangers, “Our third line…I didn’t see them.” Clearly Sam Bennett isn’t living up to expectation after being the fourth overall NHL draft pick in 2014 whether he’s playing his junior position of centre or on a wing. Rookie centre Mark Jankowski after a great start when called up from AHL Stockton hasn’t been the same for some time. Veteran Troy Brouwer hasn’t been close to expectation in over a season-and a-half since being signed as an expensive free agent and now his sidelined with an injury.
The fourth line on a number of nights has been better than the third unit lately but is essentially noted for their checking prowess.
Also, adding a scoring winger could help the floundering power play which hasn’t been the same since Kris Versteeg was injured on November 23.
When Versteeg returns from his injury around trade deadline day it’ll be like adding a player without giving up anything.
Still, adding from the trade market where a number of veteran wingers with scoring histories are available mostly as rental’s with expiring contracts needs to be explored. However, quite a few teams in playoff contention are seeking that commodity.
Do the Flames have the necessary assets to pull off such a transaction? Perhaps not.
The selling teams are looking to the future wanting assets in the first two rounds of the 2018 draft, young roster players or prospects.
The Flames top two picks in the upcoming June draft were dealt last summer to help this year’s group into contending territory with the acquisition of defenceman Travis Hamonic from the New York Islanders. Burke and Treliving have both publicly stated they aren’t interested in trading their top picks in the 2019 draft.
However, a bargaining clip could be goaltender Jon Gillies, the #1 guy in Stockton. He’s having a pretty good season in the minors and other teams seeking netminding help may be interested in the 23-year-old. However, Sunday’s injury to Mike Smith could alter any plans of offering Gillies in a trade should the #1 goalie be gone for a lengthy term.
If all is good with Smith then the Flames may be in a position to move him since David Rittich has performed so well backing him up and getting the occasional start. Tyler Parsons is another goalie the Flames feel has the potential to be a future #1 after more seasoning since this is his first pro campaign.
It would take more than Gillies for a Flame deal to come to fruition garnering a potential scorer but it would be a start.
Talks toward that end may have already started but frequently selling teams wait until just before the deadline to act looking for steals from buying teams looking to enhance their playoff chances.
Thus, Burke’s intelligent penchant for making a deal sooner-than-later may not materialize.
Monday, February 5th
Hockey at the Winter Olympics starts in less than a week and it’ll be interesting to see how we in Southern Alberta combine watching Team Canada and the Flames.Hockey at the Winter Olympics starts in less than a week and it’ll be interesting to see how we in Southern Alberta combine watching Team Canada and the Flames.
At the last five Winter Games there was no such dilemma. The National Hockey League’s best players were carrying their country colors and the league was shutdown for 17 days.
The Flames will play eight games during the Olympic period from February 11-26. Depending on the day, the non-NHL Canadian Men’s team will play its preliminary round games on television at either 5am or 8am Calgary time from South Korea. The Flames their play games in the evening so there won’t be any conflicts. In the prelim round Canada plays Feb 15, 16 and 18. The Flames play on Feb 16 in Nashville but are off the other two days.
When Olympic play enters the Qualifying and Medal Rounds the scheduling haven’t been determine yet. The Gold Medal game is slated for Feb 24 starting at 9pm our time. The Flames play at home that day but it’s a 2 o’clock afternoon match.
Hockey fans I’ve chatted with, at this point, have only so-so Olympic interest given the absence of NHLers plus the start times for games but that likely will pick up closer to the event.
Of course, performance in the Games could swell the interest as it moves along should the no-name Canadians have success. Canadian men won gold at the last two Olympics with an array of superstar talents, which in 2014 in Sochi played a defensive style under coach Mike Babcock to attain success. It’s not clear what tactics this Team Canada, under bench boss Willie Desjardins, will employ with a lower skill level but playing with the same amount of pride.
In fact, the Canadian games could more entertaining to watch this time should a less structured defensive system be utilized.
Regardless of style, winning will dictate higher television ratings.
TAKE A BIG CALGARY EVENT TO EDMONTON ???
At the top of page 3 in last Friday’s Calgary Sun the headline read “Olympic vet offers advice.”
John Furlong, who was CEO when Vancouver hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics and is now chairman of Own the Podium and head of an advisory group created by the Canadian Olympic Committee, offered tips to the Calgary group considering placing a bid to host the 2026 Games.
Furlong pointed out that Calgary’s ongoing concerns about the cost of hosting the Games in eight years from now can be met head on by inviting help from other cities, provinces and corporations across the country.
While perhaps some of Furlong’s points could help reduce costs but spreading venues to a variety of Western Canadian locations, one of his comments clearly didn’t resonate among numerous Calgarians. Stated Furlong, “There’s a massive new arena in Edmonton, why not use it.”
If Mr. Furlong had spent any amount of time talking to passionate Calgarians he’d know that the rivalry with the provincial capital is such that having our city as prime hosts then taking one of the major events to Edmonton would sacrilegious.
Men’s hockey, especially if NHL players are competing, and figure skating are premier events in the Winter Olympics. Taking one of them to Edmonton would be gigantic turn off in our Stampede city.
Common sense should dictate that if Calgary were to host the Winter Games in 2026 that the main hockey games be played in the needed new arena and the figure skating be staged in the Saddledome. The Saddledome can seat over 19,000 people and it’s presumed a new arena would facilitate close to that many spectators. Thus, with those venues the foremost competitions would generate tremendous revenue. Actually, much more dollars than this year’s Games will reap since capacity for the medal round hockey games in South Korea is 10,000 and for figure skating 12,000.
True, it costs many hundreds of millions of dollars to erect a new arena. But whether its now or in a few years, Calgary is going to have to build a new arena. The sooner it’s constructed the less it’s going to cost.
Perhaps, if Calgary bids and gets the Game some events can be taken outside of city proper but it would never pass the popularity test to move a high-profile event to Edmonton.
Monday, January 29th
New club records and close to club records were all Flame features as they took the All-Star weekend break.
When they lost last Thursday in Edmonton it marked the first time the Flames had lost seven-straight games to their provincial rival. The previous mark was six in the Gretzky, Kurri, Messier and Coffey era of the 80’s. The Flames will get a chance to end that streak March 13 at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
Since that 4-3 setback came in a Shootout it was the fourth straight game in which the Flames were beaten in extra time thus gaining the loser point – a club record. The previous standard of three was established in 2012.
The four-straight games with points combined with the seven-game win streak which preceded it gave the Flames an 11-game point streak. The record is 13 games generated in November-December 1988 made up of wins and ties in succession, which was before the loser point was consummated.
Other than the run of losses against the Oilers, the other streaks all go on the line on Tuesday against Vegas Golden Knights.
If the playoffs had started at the All-Star break, the Flames would have qualified as the third-place team in the Pacific Division. That would have mean a first round series with second place San Jose with the Sharks having home ice advantage if it’s the same at the end of the campaign. The Flames and Sharks have been playoff opponents three times previously including 2004 when Our Guys won in six games.
The last time Alberta hosted an NHL All-Star Game was 1989 when Edmonton entertained the event. Prior to that, the only other time was in 1985 when during the Saddledome’s second season Calgary hosted the game’s greats
I bring this up because this year’s Dream Game was in Tampa, which also was host to this game in 1999. Furtherly, next year’s contest will be in San Jose, which also had this game in 1997. So, in the 30 years since hockey hotbed Alberta last had this game, two sunshine cities will have twice presented the game, or weekend, as its now call. In the 80’s when Calgary and Edmonton had the event it was just the game, no skills competition and held on a Tuesday night both times.
Hosting the All-Star Weekend means a team (city) must bid for it and my guess is that the Flames haven’t asked to have this event since 1985. In more recent years they’ve been reluctant waiting (hoping) to get a new arena. The Oilers have likely investigated being host for a future dream weekend now that Edmonton has a beautiful new hockey edifice. Thus, you can look for the Alberta to finally get an All-Star Weekend in the near future – perhaps as soon as 2020. Maybe not. Lately the NHL has had a penchant for having the game in warmer climates with Los Angeles and Nashville hosting the two years prior to this one.
A player from an Alberta team, though, is the overall top scorer since the NHL adopted the 3-on-3 format for the All-Star Game three years ago. The Flames’ Johnny Gaudreau has 10 points on four goals and six assists in the tournament-like competition. He’s followed by Los Angeles defenceman Drew Doughty and San Jose blueliner Brett Burns, who have nine points each. Gaudreau had a goal and two assists helping the Pacific Division win the event this year.
How ironic is this for Johnny Hockey? Last year he won the Lady Byng Trophy as the NHL’s most gentlemanly player. In this season’s first half voting of writers for the award he’s #1 again. Yet in the All-Star Game Sunday he was the only player to get penalty when he was called for tripping in the final contest.
Interestingly, the NHL brass decided not to send its players to the upcoming Winter Olympics citing not wanting to shutdown the league for two weeks or extend the date when the playoffs would end.
Yet, this season when you combine the four-day Christmas break some teams got (including the Flames), the five-day bye week and the six days some teams got without games for the all-star weekend that tallies up to two weeks. The NHL not getting money from the International Olympic Committee is a more palatable reason for not participating for the first time in six Winter Games.
When Canada, without NHL players, plays its first game in Pyeong Chang, South Korea, on February 15 it will be against Switzerland. The starting goalie for the Swiss squad likely will be Jonas Hiller. Hiller is one of a succession of Flame goalies given a shot at being the team’s #1 goalie after the departure of Miikka Kiprusoff in 2013 and the arrival of Mike Smith this season. Canada isn’t in the same Preliminary Round pool as Finland but they could meet at some point later. The Finns #1 goalie is Kari Ramo. Hiller and Ramo were the Flames goaltending tandem they last time the team advanced beyond the first round of Stanley Cup playoffs in 2015.
Tuesday, January 23rd
If the Flames are to make the Stanley Cup playoffs for the second consecutive season they need to finish among the top three teams in the Pacific Division or garner one of two wild card positions in the Western Conference.If the Flames are to make the Stanley Cup playoffs for the second consecutive season they need to finish among the top three teams in the Pacific Division or garner one of two wild card positions in the Western Conference.
This is the fifth season since the National Hockey League introduced this playoff format designed to foster rivalries. Under this arrangement the Pacific and Central Divisions could both have a balance of four teams each included or one could have five qualify and the other three.
In the first four seasons, only once has the Pacific Division had more than three teams competing at the end of the 82-game regular-schedule. That was last season when each side at four entrants with the Flames nabbing the first wild card slot.
The other three campaigns have all seen the Central with five teams making the grade with the Pacific having the minimum three.
Thus, the Flames best chance to compete in post-season play for a second straight April is snaring one of the three positions in their own Pacific Division where as of Wednesday they rank in third place just one point ahead of Los Angeles and Anaheim.
Following Tuesday’s action, the Flames are among a group of seven teams separated by five points vying for four spots – two places in the Pacific and two Wild Cards.Much can change, of course, between now and April 7 but games against Western Conference team will have huge importance.
The Flames starting this week with back-to-back games on Wednesday and Thursday against Los Angeles and Edmonton play 21 of their last 36 games against Western foes. That includes four against the Vegas Golden Knights, who despite this being their baptismal season lead the entire Western Conference and are second overall. The Knights make their inaugural appearance in the Scotiabank Saddledome next Tuesday and while usually first year teams don’t generate much excitement for road games, ticket sales are brisk for this game.
Although not having played the Golden Knights yet, the Flames have done pretty well against Pacific Division squads. So far, they’ve compiled an 8-5-1 mark in the division with two of the losses against Oilers, who aren’t close to a playoff spot. Overall against the West, Glen Gulutzan’s group has a 13-10-3 record.
The Flames haven’t made the playoffs in back-to-back years since Mike Keenan’s two campaigns as coach – 2008 and 2009.
When the Mayor of Seattle, Jenny Durkan, met with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman on Tuesday it brought that city another step closer to becoming the League’s 32nd team. It also moved the League another step closer to a potential dilemma.
Prospective owners of the Seattle franchise still haven’t submitted a formal application to the league but it’s said to be coming and likely to be accepted.
If all goes well and the newbies make the $650-million payment the projection is that they’ll start operation in 2020.
If no existing team is moved by then, Seattle would give the League a balanced alignment – 16 teams in the Eastern Conference and 16 teams in the Western Conference.
But a decision would have to be made about the Division the Flames compete in – the Pacific.
Currently the division has seven teams while the other West conference division – the Central – has six.
Seattle would be a natural geographically to join the Pacific Division. But who moves to the Central?
The Flames, Oilers, Vancouver, Los Angeles, Anaheim, San Jose, Arizona and Vegas make up the Pacific now. Arizona is the one weak franchise in the group. Bettman has steadfastly refused to concede that the Coyotes are doomed despite the team’s persistent low attendance and no success in getting a new arena. Sources in Houston have made rumbles about wanting an NHL team. It appears the Texas city will be shut out when it comes to securing an expansion squad.
If over the next three years the Coyotes continue to have woes, Houston might be the logical destination in a franchise transfer. That would solve the Pacific Division quandary too. Houston would be perfect for the Central Division with Dallas, Nashville, Colorado, Chicago, St. Louis and Minnesota.
Still plenty of time for maneuvering.
Monday, January 15th
Thanks to a ‘bye-week’ and the All-Star break, the Flames will play more games in the year’s shortest month, February than they will in any of the hockey season’s longest months – October, December, January and March.
Glen Gulutzan’s group will played 15 games of the 28 days in February with 10 of those contests on the road. Correspondingly, they’ll play just 11 games in January and then 14 in March. Both months that consist of 31 days. The other 31-day months on the schedule are October where they played 12 games and December in which they had 14 matches.
Ideally, the Flames would like a few more games in January and a few less in February but the ‘bye-week’ that all teams are taking in January this year creates the imbalance.
The ‘bye week’, which the Flames are now enjoying, was instituted by the National Hockey League three years ago when the league wanted the All-Star Game to be a 3-on-3 competition. In exchange, the players asked for and were granted, a four-day break without any team events like games, practices or meetings. An opportunity to get away from the game and unwind.
So, after stretching their winning streak to seven games with a 4-1 triumph on Sunday afternoon in Carolina, the Flames don’t practice again until 4pm on Friday and then host Winnipeg Jets on Saturday at 1pm to start four games in six days before they get the All-Star Break. The Dream Game stoppage brings four days with no games but the coaches can schedule practices for the players not going to Tampa for the game.
Only Johnny Gaudreau will go to Florida for All-Star Weekend.
…And while there is no disputing Gaudreau being the Flame representative, he hasn’t been the team’s best player thus far.
While Johnny Hockey is on pace to have a career year and his line mate Michael Ferlund has already achieved a career best, the Flames most valuable player to date has been goaltender Mike Smith.
It’s possible when all is said and done on the regular-season it will be a career high-water mark for the 35-year-old goaltender.
…And the aforementioned breaks, plus the five days between games over Christmas, could help attain it.
Smith’s best season was his first in Phoenix in 2011-12 when he played 67 games winning 38 of them while posting a 2.21 goals against average and a .930 save percentage.
Already this season Smith has won 20 of his 38 starts with a 2.46 GAA and .924 save %. He’s faced the second most shots of any #1 goalie in the NHL. He’s stolen more games for the Flames already this season than any netminder since Miikka Kiprusoff departed. Incidentally, Smith is on pace to play 70 games. No Flame goalie has played that many since Kiprusoff did it six years ago.
During that 2011-12 campaign in Phoenix, Smith backstopped the Coyotes to as pair of playoff series wins with a .944 save percentage before losing out in the Western Conference final.
A similar, or better, conclusion to this season would be the Flames best since 2004.
Flame defenceman Doug Hamilton wasn’t pleased earlier this month when his older brother, Fred, was placed on waivers and subsequently claimed by the Coyotes. However, the 23-year-old blueline hasn’t let it affect his performance. As the team went to the ‘bye week’, Hamilton had points in 5-straight games including two goals on Sunday since his brother departed for Arizona.
Monday, January 8th
With their season, perhaps, headed in the wrong direction the Flames took some affirmative action last week and promptly went on a three-game winning streak.
In the NHL’s ultra-close Western Conference multi-team scramble for playoff spots, the Flames approached mid-season wallowing.
They’d won only four of 13 games and had fallen four points away from a playoff position when the off-ice maneuvering began leading to the departures of Jaromir Jagr and Fred Hamilton, who had become distractions.
First, Hamilton, who for a season-and-a-half was with the team but rarely playing, was placed on waivers and picked up by Arizona. Hamilton’s presence here seemed like a favor to his more talented defencemen – younger brother Doug.
Losing his older, very close sibling didn’t go down well with the blueliner but he got over it and reacted positively scoring the winning goal with 16 seconds left in the game in a 3-2 win over rival Anaheim on Saturday.
While that third straight victory was being achieved word surfaced that the Jagr experiment with the Flames was ending. Injuries had him in-and-out of the lineup for over a month and when he was playing it was on the fourth line essentially. When this happens with a legend player it’s a diversion.
In the meantime, young forwards were coming up from the minors and asserting themselves well getting a chance to perform in the NHL. Mark Jankowski, Garnett Hathaway and Andrew Mangiapane had been high scoring line mates in AHL Stockton, and while not scoring as proficiently among the big leaguers, definitely belong.
Room was made for them at the same time eliminating some commotion.
Although coach Glen Gulutzan provided some amusement amid it all last Friday at practice. Less than 24 hours after a key win over Los Angeles, the coach wasn’t pleased with his players practice performance. First he went into a verbal on-ice tirade before firing his stick 13 rows up into the Scotiabank Saddledome seating area. Soon after he ended the practice.
The next evening (Saturday) Gulutzan’s players reacted with the impressive win over the Ducks including Hathaway and Sam Bennett fighting Anaheim tough guys going to the aid of star goalie Mike Smith, who had been roughed up. That triumph extended the winning streak to three games before heading out of the road for four games this week.
Meantime, Jagr moves on looking for playing time elsewhere not in the manner either side anticipated. Perhaps the experiment with one of the NHL’s all-time great players was doomed from the beginning.
The sure-fire first ballot Hall-of-Fame right winger when he didn’t have an NHL job as training camps commenced in September abandon his workout routine. Thus, when he signed his one-year contract with the Flames on October 4, the day the regular-season started, he was well behind in conditioning.
Playing catch-up at age 45 was difficult and being anxious to play with his new team amid, much Calgary excitement over his arrival, he perhaps got into game action too soon.
He got opportunities on the top lines early. He displayed great strength protecting the puck and playing in tough areas like in the corners and in front of the opposing team net but his lack of speed was a hindrance.
Jagr clearly left an influence on the team’s young players with advice and example and that could produce some long-range benefit. His number 68 will be in the Scotiabank Saddledome for a while with hundreds of fans purchasing his jersey in the three months he was with the Flames. Enough to likely pay a good portion of his salary.
For his former teammates they forge ahead in the knowledge they need a much better second half of the season than the first if the campaign is to be salvaged.
They get the chance with fewer distractions.
Tuesday, January 2nd
“O Canada” is sung prior to all National Hockey League games in the seven Canadian cities.
“Woe Canada” is a cry coming from some Canadian hockey cities as 2018 commences.
A year ago, our Canadian teams in the NHL were doing pretty well with five of the seven on their way to making the playoffs after none qualified in 2016.
Half of this season’s regular-schedule needs to be played out but through the first half only two Canadian squads are in playoff positions. The Winnipeg Jets are in good shape as the top team in the Western Conference and the Toronto Maple Leafs are battling Boston and Columbus for second place in the Atlanta Division.
Some off-ice business is also casting a pall over a trio of Canadian cities including Calgary.
The Flames, on-the-ice, are the immediate concern. After qualifying for post-season play last year as a Western Conference wild card team, they were expected to advance higher ground this time around.
…And, perhaps, they will, but after winning their almost-annual home New Year’s Eve game their record of 42 points in 39 games is exactly the same as it was a year ago on January 1.
The difference? Glen Gulutzan’s group was in a playoff spot then but now is two points off the pace. Not an insurmountable deficit but more consistency is required.
If any consolation, their provincial rivals, Edmonton Oilers, have been worse. Clearly a massive disappointment after many NHL experts in September were picking the Oilers to be at the very least Stanley Cup finalists. Instead they are tied with Vancouver Canucks for the second worst record in the West. The Oilers have five fewer points than the Flames and are seven points from a playoff spot.
The Canucks position isn’t surprising since most predicted they’d be a bottom-feeder when in fact they’ve done better than expected despite numerous injuries to key personnel.
While none of the Western Canadian teams have been counted out, the same can’t be said of a couple of lowly Eastern squads. Ottawa Senators, an East finalist last spring, didn’t pick up on that impressive performance and are basically out of the playoff race already. A few more losses and Montreal Canadiens will fall into the same category. As it is, the Canadiens are eight points in arrears amid rumors of possible trading of key players.
But at least Montreal has a solid NHL franchise. The same can’t be said for Quebec’s capital city less than a three-hour drive away.
Quebec City hasn’t had an NHL team since May of 1995 when the franchise moved to Denver and became the Colorado Avalanche.
The citizens in Quebec City have done everything they’ve been told in hopes of bringing a team back to the city. They were advised to get an NHL building and be patient. Almost $400 million in public money was spent on building the Centre Videotron, which opened in 2015. Right now, it’s home rink for the Junior Remparts, who don’t sell out, and get the odd NHL exhibition game. An owner with deep-pockets, Quebecor Inc, is prepared to invest when, if, the nod comes from the NHL.
In mid-December, Quebec City’s aspirations appeared to drop dramatically when Seattle was informed it could apply for an NHL franchise with a price tag of $650-million US which is $150-million US more than Vegas Golden Knights paid to enter the league this season. A weak Canadian dollar makes it a pretty heavy price tag even if Quebec City were invited to bid for an expansion team, which doesn’t seem likely since adding Seattle would make it a 32-team league with perfect balance – 16 teams in the East and 16 teams in the West.
Quebec City could also be a candidate for a troubled current NHL franchise but the NHL Governors poured cold water on that last month as well when approving a new owner for the problematic Carolina Hurricanes. The new owner has a no-movement clause until at least 2026.
Arizona Coyotes aren’t in great financial shape either but Houston, with the largest U.S. television market without an NHL team, is now listed as a possible landing spot for a floundering Western Conference franchise.
Calgary, of course, is in the West. The Flames and the city ceased talks six months ago regarding a badly needed new arena said to be far apart on who pays for what.
Given the landscape, get an arena deal done. Otherwise, Calgary could become another Quebec City.
We don’t want that woe.
Monday, December 18th
As the Holiday Season hits, some hockey habits have changed but an old Flame fans favorite returns this week after a length absence.As the Holiday Season hits, some hockey habits have changed but an old Flame fans favorite returns this week after a length absence.
After Friday’s home game at the Scotiabank Saddledome, Flames get three full days off to be with family for Christmas without games or practice.
The old standard was two days off for the Yuletide Season – Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The extra day allows North American players to return home for the respite.
Back in the old days when it was a two-day Sabbatical at this time of year, the Montreal Canadiens would be Calgary visitors for a game around Christmas and New Year’s.
On Friday, the Canadiens, always a popular guest here regardless of when, are back for an ultra amped-up holiday game for the first time in 15 years.
From 1990 thru to 1993 the Canadiens and Flames faced off annually in the Saddledome on New Year’s Eve. That four-year tradition ended with a National Hockey League work stoppage in 1994 which wiped out half the ’94-95 season. The Habs would be back again for NYE games in 1997, 1998, 2000 and 2002. The 2002 game is the last visit the Canadiens made here at this time of year.
This year’s match isn’t on the last day on the calendar but three nights before Christmas brings back the holiday tradition for the teams that have twice clashed for the Stanley Cup. The Canadiens winning in 1986 and the Flames turned the tables in 1989.
It’s possible neither team will be in a playoff spot when they hit the Saddledome ice on Friday but close enough to rectify that situation.
The first three-plus months of this season have seen the Flames, perhaps, best described as a team with a host of great pieces but haven’t figured out how to put it all together, yet.
If the ‘yet’ is to be attained, Glen Gulutzan’s group needs to be much more consistent on the positive side.
The goaltending of Mike Smith and the scoring prowess of the #1 line have been the lone consistent positives thus far.
Smith has had to be outstanding with the team’s pre-season highly rated defence corps not functioning any where close to its build-up although in recent games the shots against total has come down. A sign that perhaps better things are on the horizon including a season- low 17 shots in Sunday’s 6-1 triumph in Vancouver.
The top line of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Michael Ferlund until recently had accounted for almost half the team’s offense. A slow down in production since Nov. 25 with not a great amount of secondary scoring had seen the Flames win just four of 11 games before Sunday when five of the goals came from non-first line personnel. Another indication more balanced scoring may be ahead.
The team’s power play needs to regain early season form. Since the departure of veteran Kris Versteeg following hip surgery, the specialty team has generated just four goals in 44 changes including a number of 5-on-3 failures. They need to improve without Versteeg, who is likely gone for the balance of the season.
However, a PPG on Sunday ended a 0-for-23 famine and perhaps igniting a resumption of proficiency.
Solid defence, secondary scoring and a productive powerplay — all valuable areas, if the Flames are to keep the habit of playoff hockey continuing for a second straight season.
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.