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Peter Maher’s Hockey Blog
Monday, December 10th.
The word ‘elite” crept into Flame coach Bill Peters media availability prior to Sunday’s 1-0 loss in Edmonton.
The first year Flame mentor wasn’t saying his squad was an ‘elite’ NHL team, but felt they “could prove to be elite over the next 51 games.”
Peters comments brought me back to a time many years ago when a fan asked me, “what is an elite NHL team?”
The question kind of stumped me a moment before commenting, “it certainly is the Stanley Cup winner each season.”
Peters when asked what an elite team is, offered, “when you look at elite you look at teams in the top 10 of all prominent categories. Teams in the top four in the East and top four in the West. Teams that are hard to play against at home. Teams that can win on the road. Those are teams that are elite.”
At this point, based on Peters assessment, a few teams could qualify for elite status. As for his Flames, “we could become elite if we follow the process and continue to make steps each and every month.”
Despite a slow start to the season, Peters skaters reached the 30-game mark with 40 points being the number one team in the Western Conference and third overall behind Tampa Bay and Toronto.
A lofty standing for a team that didn’t make the playoffs last season while 19 teams had more points than the Flames attained.
Clearly Peters deserves much credit for transforming the team into what Edmonton Oiler coach Ken Hitchcock calls, “one of the best transition teams in the NHL.”
Still, as Peters pointed out, over half the regular-season has to play out.
Amassing 40 points in their first 30 games marked just the third time in Flame history they attained such an impressive start.
It comes with a historic caution.
Hopefully, the finish will resemble more the first time the Flames had 40 points after 30 matches. Definitely not the second time.
In 1988-89, the Flames, coached by Terry Crisp, were the NHL’s best team with 21 wins and 46 points. They would end finishing #1 overall and then capturing the Stanley Cup – definitely an elite team.
However, in 2009-10, it was an impressive beginning under first year coach Brent Sutter. After 30 games that Flame squad had 41 points and were tied for first place in the old Northwest Division. Soon after, the wheels came off and that squad didn’t make the playoffs missing out by five points.
Clearly, the wish is that the fate from nine years ago doesn’t occur for the current collection.
There are signs it won’t.
The goaltending appears solid now with Mike Smith re-gaining his form and David Rittich looking like a could be an NHL goalie for a long time. The defence is much improved from last season under Peters system, which really took hold after the first 10 games.
Plus, the Flames have scoring depth. After 31 games, five players have as many points as games played. The last time that happened was 25 years ago. Now Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Elias Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk all have more points than games played while captain Mark Giordano has 29 points in the 29 games, he’s performed in.
On top of that, the team’s big off-season acquisition James Neal has taken awhile to find his game. A perpetual 25-plus goal scorer the winger has only three goals in 31 games.
Should Flames solid balanced play continue and Neal, who has played in the Cup final each of the last two years, re-find his scoring touch these Flames could well emerge as an elite team.
Monday, December 3rd.
That the William Nylander saga concluded Saturday in the closing minutes before he wouldn’t have been able to play this season in the NHL came as no surprise.
As it turned out, what took so long for the resolution?
It made cents (and, of course, dollars) for the 22-year-old to play and not forfeit millions he wouldn’t get back.
It also made sense for the Toronto Maple Leafs to sign Nylander to add depth in what may be their best chance to bring the Stanley Cup back to Toronto for the first time in 52 years. The Leafs were a solid contender prior to signing the forward to a six-year contract with an average value of $6.9-million per. Now odds on the Leafs winning it all are increased.
The manner in which the deal is structured, Nylander really didn’t lose any money after sitting out almost two months of the regular-season.
Where the Maple Leafs could lose is how long it takes Nylander to catch up with his teammates and opposing players around the NHL after being idle for so long.
When former executive and now broadcaster Brian Burke commented on Hockey Night in Canada that if the Leafs were going to give Nylander as much money as they ultimately did why didn’t they do it in September.
It was a very valid point by the former Flames President of Hockey Operations. It’s been proven numerous times in the past that if a player misses training camp plus time during the regular-season he usually doesn’t have a good season.
Locally, one need only to look at the Johnny Gaudreau situation in 2015-16. Being involved in a contract dispute after coming out of his entry level contract. The Flames star left winger missed camp before signing just before commencement of the regular-season. He started behind all other players in conditioning and timing. It turned out to be Gaudreau’s worst season netting 61 points in 72 games. Last season starting with everyone else he had his best campaign with 84 points in 80 games.
Can Nylander be an exception? That will play out over the next bunch of months. The odds and history dictate he won’t.
Burke’s other point was that the Leafs over-paid for Nylander, who he calls “Toronto sixth or seventh best player.”
If Nylander is still with the Leafs next season his contract will clearly be an issue when they have top players Austin Matthews, Mitch Marner and others to sign while keeping the gang together under the salary cap. The value of those players increased with Nylander’s new contract.
The Maple Leafs, now battling Tampa for first place in the Atlantic Division, need all the ammunition they can muster to win it all. If they hadn’t signed Nylander the chances of it happening decreased. Had Nylander not signed on Saturday the Leafs wouldn’t have had him or assets they could secure for him in a trade.
A number of people around the NHL assess that if Nylander does finish this season with Toronto, he likely will be traded in the off-season when the Salary Cap becomes an issue.
Meanwhile, from a Flames perspective, Gaudreau and centre Sean Monahan are now under paid by the new pay standard. That’s a big plus considering they are signed through the next three and four seasons respectively.
However, Matthew Tkachuk figures to benefit greatly from the Nylander contract. The right winger will be a restricted free agent this summer. Scoring-wise, he’s on pace to better Nylander’s numbers from last winter when he notched 61 points. Plus, Tkachuk is a more valuable player considering that he’s better defensively that Nylander and is the master of irritation and agitation on opposing players being a major difference-maker in games.
When Mark Giordano signed his current contract in 2015, it was noted that no Flame player would make more than his $6.75-million average salary. It was a factor and maintained in the negotiations with Gaudreau and Monahan three years ago. It isn’t likely to stand after Tkachuk’s deal is done.
His agent now figures to recommend that Tkachuk ink a long-term contract well south of $7-million per.
He may even be prepared to advocate his client sit out to get what he wants at the start of the 2019-20 campaign with the message – Nylander did it and didn’t lose any money.
Monday, November 26th
The past weekend started with Black Friday and ended with a Sunny Sunday for Calgary fans.
Black Friday again was a great day for shopping bargains. Sunday brought big sports cheers as the Flames took over sole possession of first place in the Pacific Division and more importantly, the Stampeders captured the Grey Cup.
It afforded the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Group, owners of both teams, an opportunity to bask in the shining glory of their products. A fitting spotlight for a dedicated group of businessmen who keep major sports alive in the city while at the same time generating millions of dollars for local charities.
The Stampeders, winning in Edmonton where a large portion of the crowd was cheering against them, will wear their Canadian Football League crown at least until they host the big game at McMahon Stadium next November.
The Flames challenge to be a first-place team will rage on for hopefully the next four-and-a-half months as they attempt to capture the franchise’s first regular-season pennant in 13 years.
The current Flame squad may be the most balanced team they’ve had since the 2005-06 group led by then General Manager-Coach Darryl Sutter took the Northwest Division pennant by amassing 103 points. That season was also the last time a Flame team netted 100-plus points. The present Flames are on pace to have a three-digit point total.
Mike Smith finally got back in the Flame nets on Sunday authoring a 28-save performance in a 6-1 win in Phoenix.
It was the perfect spot to get the 36-year-old goaltender back into action. He had watched four games while David Rittich perform strongly as his replacement with Smith working on his flaws before the team was shutout 2-0 in Las Vegas on Friday. Sunday was a game against Smith’s former team, which is the second lowest scoring club in the NHL. It was a big help in Smith re-gaining his confidence and it showed. He was more relaxed and controlled. He wasn’t lunging at the puck as he’d done in earlier games.
Smith lost his bid for a shutout with six minutes left in the game after a bad giveaway by defencemen Travis Hamonic but now coach Bill Peters can give him more starting assignments as the Flames look to offer a solid net minding combination.
Most of us have wondered for years how the NHL can keep a team in Phoenix and Sunday’s game brought the question to light again.
The announced attendance was 12,823. The actually number in the building was much less. On top of that, over half the crowd was cheering for the visiting Flames.
The Coyotes average home attendance is second lowest in the League and it seems to be getting to the players. Right from the beginning Sunday, the Coyote players lacked emotion and it didn’t help when that posture got them behind 2-0 quickly before ending in a 6-1 setback as they lost four of the five games in the November homestand.
Supporters of having a team in Phoenix have frequently stated that the Coyotes arena in suburban Glendale is a deterrent for the team since its alleged fan base live a great distance away in Scottsdale and area. Perhaps if the Coyotes iced a competitive team that argument could be tested.
This will be the seventh consecutive season the Coyotes won’t qualify for the playoffs. It’s the type of futility that would keep fans living across the street from home arena from attending.
Perhaps it’s finally time to clean the management slate and move the franchise to Houston.
It would give Texas a rival team for the Dallas Stars while at the same time balance the Pacific and Central Divisions when Seattle joins the NHL in a couple of years. Seattle would be placed in the Pacific replacing Phoenix and with the Houston team in the Central, the Western Conference would have eight teams in all of it’s four divisions.
Monday, November 19th
For the Flames it’s the right time. The right division. The key is getting it right on the ice.
A quarter of the way through this season Bill Peters skaters are in the first-place race in the Pacific Division.
…And first place is the best route to gain at least a spot in the Western Conference final come playoff time.
It’s a position attainable for the Flames.
In fact, if they had just-better-than-average goaltending over the first quarter they being leading the division at this juncture.
The Pacific isn’t the toughest of the NHL’s four divisions. At the quarter pole the leader, San Jose, has the fewest points of all the first-place squads.
Regardless of potency or lack of same, at least three teams from the Pacific will qualify for the playoffs. Last season’s Pacific pennant-winner and playoff survivor, Vegas Golden Knights, went on to the Stanley Cup final before bowing out in six games to Washington.
The goaltending position withstanding, the Flames have a pretty good line-up. The defence corps is an upgrade from last season and the forward depth better as well with the potential to improve as the campaign progresses.
On paper, the Flames aren’t as strong as Toronto, Tampa, Boston, Winnipeg, Nashville or Washington but none of those top teams reside in the Pacific Division.
The key to attaining first place in their own division is that they get great, or at least good, goalkeeping.
Whether it comes from Mike Smith or David Rittich. That pair as a tandem or a netminder not with the Flames now. Should the goaltending continue as it did over the first quarter then the best the team can hope for is a bottom wrung playoff position. Even that may not be attainable.
Rittich’s performance against Edmonton on Saturday warrants more starts in succession to see if he can do it on a consistent basis. Meanwhile, Smith’s time away from game action hopefully allows him to regain his form and confidence.
If neither of those scenarios evolve then General Manager Brad Treliving will need to search the trade market for a goalie where the picking isn’t great. Help from elsewhere in the organization doesn’t appear viable. Both Jon Gillies and Tyler Parsons haven’t been good in the early going in AHL Stockton with both presently injured.
The 23 points the Flames attained over the first quarter is actually one less than amassed over the similar 20-game period a year ago but other than goaltending this group has been getting steadily better.
The pre-season trip to China may have been beneficial for goodwill, promoting the game and some team bonding but did little in getting a grasp on a new style of play with a new coach and eight new players. The trip cost them valuable practice time.
In recent games, thanks to more practices, the fast-paced system with pressure Peters wants is taking hold and producing results.
Following Saturday’s exciting come-from-behind 4-2 triumph over Edmonton the Flames have outshot their opponent in 11-straight games while in the last 10 keeping the shots against under 30. That is definitely progress and considering its brought success makes it easier to sustain on a consistent basis.
Now the goalie position needs to get solidified. Should that transpire, the Flames could attain a division pennant for the first time in 13 seasons.
Monday, November 12th
Flame fans couldn’t help but have some sour thoughts with Martin St. Louis being inducted into the Hockey Hall-of-Fame this week.
He’s definitely deserving of the honor but he could have been a star with the Flames and perhaps Calgary could have celebrated a second Stanley Cup in 2004 if he’s been with the team.
The right winger, who won two NHL scoring championships, began his career with the Flames after then General Manager Al Coates signed the never drafted St. Louis as a free agent in 1998 following a stellar career at the University of Vermont.
St. Louis would spend two seasons in the Flames organization playing 69 games with the team notching four goals and 20 points. Coates and then coach Brian Sutter felt St. Louis had the potential to be a good offensive player in the NHL. Sutter wanted him to improve defensively during the 1999-2000 season employing him in mostly defensive roles.
Following that ’99-00 campaign both Coates and Sutter were fired with St. Louis having a year left on his contract. New GM Craig Button didn’t have as much as confidence in St. Louis and let him go gaining nothing in return. The feeling was at 5-foot-8 and 170 pounds, St. Louis wouldn’t be a productive NHLer.
He provided that assessment vastly wrong, signing with Tampa Bay Lightning where he played almost 13 seasons before being traded to the New York Rangers where he played another full campaign and part of another.
Twice with the Lightning St. Louis won the Art Ross Trophy as top point-getter finishing his 16-year NHL career playing 1134 games netting 1033 points to earn his first ballot HHOF status. He also was the league’s most valuable player in ’03-04 and Ted Lindsay Trophy winner that season as voted on by players. As well, three times won the Lady Byng Trophy for excelling with gentlemanly play.
But St. Louis inflicted his greatest damage on the Flames in their memorable 2004 playoff run when he scored the winning goal in game 6 of the Stanley Cup final in the Scotiabank Saddledome. It came in the second overtime period giving the Lightning a 3-2 victory which sent the series back to Tampa Bay for a seventh game where the Lightning won 2-1 to capture the Cup.
Flame fans have long maintained that the sixth game should never have gotten to overtime since evidence would later show that Martin Gelinas scored a goal for the Flames late in the third period but it wasn’t counted. If it had, the Flames would have had a 3-2 lead with six minutes left in the third period.
St. Louis has long since forgiven Button for letting him go but Flames fans haven’t forgiven the officials for not counting what they felt was a Stanley Cup-winning goal in front of the ‘C’ of Red on June 5, 2004.
Monday, November 5th
Just as Bill Peters was funnelling the Flames into first place in the NHL’s Pacific Division, the guy guiding the team at the bottom became the first coach in two years to get fired in-season.
For a number of reasons, the Los Angeles Kings firing John Stevens just over one/eighth of the way through his second season was unfair.
In fact, hiring him in the first place may not have been sound thinking on the part of Kings management.
The Kings direction started fading soon after they won their second Stanley Cup in three seasons in 2014 with a trip to the Western Conference final during the in between campaign.
Most of the stars from those three strong seasons were tendered new long-term contracts with high salaries. It was a nice reward for anchoring the franchise’s glory seasons. However, the birth certificates of those players indicated that their modern-era prime seasons were close to ending.
In the meantime, NHL teams were getting faster and younger while the Kings were getting slower and older.
Last season was Stevens’ first as head coach after being Associate and Assistant Coach to Darryl Sutter in the aforementioned zenith years. With their Cup window closed, the Kings barely made it into the playoffs in 2017-18 and then lost out in the first round in four-straight games to Vegas Golden Knights. This season the Kings had four wins in 13 games when Stevens was let go with management seemingly thinking they are still contenders.
In the NHL’s modern era, generally when an Associate or Assistant Coach from the same team is promoted to the main position success doesn’t follow. The problem is when Stevens was #2 to Sutter, he was the ‘nice guy’ following up the head coach’s player blasts to soothe the shattered egos. Then when he comes in as the head man his posture changes. Now he’s the ‘bad guy’. Players who witnessed the other side of him don’t know what is real and what is phony. Not a recipe for success.
Neither is a roster where the top players are past their primes in most instances and with #1 goalie Jonathan Quick sidelined indefinitely after knee surgery last week.
Looking to rebound from last season’s disappointment, the Kings added to their lack of speed and age by signing free agent Illya Kovalchuk. The 35-year-old returned to the NHL after playing five years in his native Russia. With 11 points in 13 games the left winger is the Kings top scorer. He hasn’t been a burden in the early going. But can he keep it going and will other veterans well below him on the team’s scoring chart get their performances back to where they used to be.
The betting is the majority of them won’t although bringing in Willie Desjardins as Interim Coach may get some results short-term as it generally does when a coaching change is made.
The player roster isn’t ideal in LA now but it’s a dilemma their management and other successful teams often don’t have much of a choice in their decision-making.
In the NHL’s Salary Cap era when teams experience the major triumphs the Kings have had they don’t have prime drafting positions to find top young talent of star calibre to follow up.
Keeping the stars that brought the team good fortune and, with it, bigger crowds at games means giving them lucrative long-term contracts knowing that down the road their play will decline. Former General Manager Dean Lombardi is responsible for much of that. However, If you don’t sign them to such deals another team will. Letting them go and undertaking a lengthy re-build doesn’t appease your fan-base that has been spoiled and the crowds dwindle. Although, eventually a re-build is inevitable.
Despite Sunday’s coaching shuffle, the Kings are a long way from being power again. Chicago is in that same boat now and soon Pittsburgh will be as well.
Wednesday, October 31st
They ended up collecting six of a possible eight points but the Flames likely weren’t pleased when they saw their schedule for the just completed last two weeks of October.
The slate had them play games October 21-23 in New York and Montreal. Come home for two tilts. Then head back East for contests on October 29-30 in Toronto and Buffalo.
You can be sure that when General Manager Brad Treliving and company saw the draft of the schedule in early summer they weren’t amused. A plea to have it changed to make one trip East playing four games put forth but rejected to their chagrin.
Putting together a schedule to satisfy 31 National Hockey League teams isn’t an easy chore. Many teams share their home arena with a National Basketball Association club which may have scheduling priority plus facilitating concerts and other events.
All scheduling information is fed into a computer and a schedule produced with teams having very limited opportunities to make changes.
So, the Flames soldiered on doing as best they could with two separate trips East while playing six games in 10 days.
Bill Peters squad didn’t perform well in the first venture away but managed to steal a win over the Rangers in New York thanks to great goaltending by back-up David Rittich but two nights later lost in Montreal.
Then they came home and suffered one of their worst losses ever in the Scotiabank Saddledome being blasted 9-1 by Pittsburgh. Then lost in a shootout to Washington but managed a single point before hoping on a plane again. Two solid performances brought a 3-1 triumph in Toronto and then a 2-1 overtime success in Buffalo, which vaulted the Flames into first place in the Pacific Division.
Now it’s another two-game homestand with games on Thursday and Saturday to end this week followed by a trip to California where they’ll play three games in five evenings before the Flames finally get an extended four-game homestand November 17 to 21.
Before the regular-season ends on April 6 they’ll have other scheduling glitches they’ll need to work through.
The Flames, this season will travel more kilometers than any other team – 84,882 – and that doesn’t include the venture to-and-from China where they played two pre-season games in September.
They get some breaks, however, in that they play the fewest times in the NHL on back-to-back night (10). While most consider this a benefit, Flames top scorer Johnny Goudreau says he loves playing on consecutive evenings. By comparison, Florida Panthers and Carolina Hurricanes play the most back-to-backs with 17 apiece.
Where in past seasons, homestands of six or even seven games were part of the schedule, the longest in 2018-19 is the four-gamer in November. Correspondingly, the longest road trips are two four-game excursions – one in January and another in mid-February. These points contribute to the team’s large kilometer total.
Only twice does the schedule provide extended breaks for the Flames. They get four days off without games for Christmas and then they go nine days without a game in late January facilitating the NHL All-Star Break and the five-day mandatory CBA break.
Between those stoppages, the schedule-maker keeps Our Guys plenty busy.
Thursday, October 25th
It’s much, much too early to anoint David Rittich as the Flames future number one goalie but his performances in this week’s quick two-game trip East gained team attention.
A 43-save show in a 4-1 win at New York on Sunday followed by a 37-stop performance in Tuesday’s 3-2 setback in Montreal had his teammates thanking him and coaches offering praise.
Alternate Captain Matthew Tkachuk ripped into himself and his skating teammates after Tuesday’s defeat noting “our efforts haven’t been great lately and our goalie (Rittich) bailed us out in the last 2 games.”
Tkachuk went on, “it was an embarrassing effort against the Canadiens. We leave our goalie out to dry for the whole game.”
Coach Bill Peters offered, “we relied on our goalie in New York and we leaned on him too heavily again.”
Rittich’s brilliance allowed the Flames to steal the win over the Rangers. Then kept the game close in Montreal.
It was the first time in his Flame career that Rittich started consecutive games when number one-man Mike Smith was a healthy backup.
Peters, who rewarded Rittich with those starts, maintained that the 36-year-old Smith was still his main netminder.
Still Rittich, who is very popular with his teammates with his out-going personality and the humorous manner he butchers the Canadian language, is earning more of the coach’s trust with the sterling play he’s authored in his three starts plus one relief appearance. The 26-year-old from the Czech Republic has a 1.83 goals against average and a .950 save percentage.
Should Rittich continue to shine when called upon he’ll get more assignments plus give team management and coaching staff increased feeling that he could be the team’s goalie of the future.
Any current excitement though should be cautioned given the very small sample size strong play he’s exhibited.
Still the outlook is better than it was a month ago.
Now the players in front of the goalies need to show more positive consistently if the Flames are to be back on the playoff track.
Monday, October 15th
Hockey analytic people concluded at the end of last season, the Flames had the worst third and fourth lines in the National Hockey League.
That’s not the case this season.
The campaign is barely two weeks old but General Manager Brad Treliving’s off-season work has beefed up the front lines with needed forward depth.
Proof of that came on Saturday in Colorado when veteran right winger Michael Frolik was a healthy scratch. Without him, the Flames won 3-2 in overtime giving them two wins in the three games on the road.
The 30-year-old Frolik didn’t miss a game last season amassing 44 points finishing sixth in team scoring playing on the second line with Mikael Backlund and Matthew Tkachuk.
Having scored one goal in the club’s first four games this season, coach Bill Peters benched the Frolik against the Avalanche. That would not have happened last season.
Frolik’s absence allowed for Garnet Hathaway to play his first game of the season after logging 59 contests in 2017-18. Centreman Mark Jankowski also drew back in Saturday after sitting out a couple of tilts.
The trip also saw Sam Bennett elevated to the number 3 line and the first-round pick, fourth overall, in 2014 responded solidly. The winger may have been the team’s best forward in the three matches. The 22-year-old Bennett had a goal waived off in Nashville, authored a key assist in St. Louis and scored the goal in Colorado which started the team’s rally after a 2-0 deficit.
Bennett is a player the Flames touted as a possible standout. At times over his first three seasons he’s demonstrated a star quality but not nearly often enough. His lack of consistency has been a cause for concern. Perhaps now, with maturity, he’ll reach his potential.
Of the team’s newcomers among forwards, Elias Lindholm forged his way to the top line with stalwarts Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. While many felt James Neal would be the third man with Johnny and Mony, coach Peters indicated over the summer that Lindholm, who played for him in Carolina for three seasons, could be the right winger. The native of Sweden started the week tied with Monahan for the team lead in goals. Both have four. His six points have him behind only Gaudreau and Tkachuk in the team scoring parade.
Neal, meanwhile, after going to the Stanley Cup final last season with Vegas, is taking time to hit his scoring stride with a goal and an assist in five games. Neal has averaged 25 goals over the past 5 campaigns. A number of NHL analysts have wonder why he’s been playing on the third line thus far. The fact is another off-season newcomer Austin Czarnik, a free agent signing after 10 games with Boston last year, has been a better fit with Backlund and Tkachuk.
Much can, and will, change in the remaining 77 games. But this time, the coach has options.
Wednesday, October 10th
When I retired as Flames play-by-play broadcaster I was asked about writing a book and quickly answered, ‘no’.
Now four year later my name is on a book as co-author.
It’s collaboration with pal and long-time Calgary sports writer, George Johnson. The title “If These Walls Could Talk – Calgary Flames”. It’s put out by Triumph Publishing as part of a series of books with play-by-play broadcasters of National Hockey League, National Basketball Association, National Football League and Major League Baseball teams.
I agreed to do the book with George since he was part of the media following the Flames through almost my entire 34 seasons calling the team’s games. The feeling being that George was familiar with team developments following the Flames as closely as I was over that time. Plus, George is an outstanding writer.
Being involved in writing a book requires much time consumption and George along with his wife, Rita, put in huge amounts of time in helping put it all together. I had the easy part, talking stories into my smart phone and then sending them off to the Johnson’s where they transcribed my babbling, editing and selecting the parts best suited and the writing.
It’s a hodgepodge of stories from my career with primary focus on my time following the Flames but also touches on my early entry into broadcasting as well as my time broadcasting Toronto Maple Leaf games both on radio and television.
The book isn’t controversial, which was the first condition I expressed to the publisher when approached. It is a collection of behind-the-scenes narratives about Flames’ memorable seasons, games, trades, events, trips, characters, etc.
The highlights are the three seasons the Flames advanced to the Stanley Cup final with behind-the-scenes looks at the runs in 1986 (upsetting Edmonton), 1989 (winning it all in Montreal) and 2004 (shocking the hockey world by going to game 7 of Cup final in Tampa Bay with the Game 6 controversy).
Insights from trades involving top players like Lanny McDonald, Joe Nieuwendyk, Doug Gilmour, Miikka Kiprusoff, Theoren Fleury, Jarome Iginla and others.
Broadcast insights including how covering the Flames changed greatly over the three-plus decades reflecting back to a time when half the team’s games weren’t on television. I also mention how I turned down an offer to return to Toronto in the 80’s. As well as how my signature yell “Yeah Baby” came to the airway. Plus, the great assistance I got from others including the three colormen with the Flames –Doug Barkley, Mike Rogers and Peter Loubardias.
It was an awesome plus having Jarome Iginla write the book’s foreword considering that he was the player playing more games than anyone with the Flames and who I had the pleasure of watching and calling all 16 seasons he toiled with the team.
On Wednesday when discussing the book for the first time on XL103 in my ‘Maher in the Mornings’ segment with Buzz, Coach and Heather, it was suggested by Coach that the book would add Pulitzer Prize winner to my Hockey Hall-of-Fame credentials.
“If These Walls Could Talk – Calgary Flames” isn’t of that stature but hopefully Flame fans will enjoy the stories included in the 300-plus page paperback.
NOTE – The book is now on sale in Calgary and throughout Southern Alberta at all the popular book stores like Chapters, Indigo, Cole’s, Owl’s Nest Books in Britannia, Calgary as well as Amazon.ca/ifthesewallscouldtalk
Wednesday, October 3rd
I won’t repeat and here’s hoping the Flames won’t either.
A year ago, on the opening week of the National Hockey League season, I wrote in this blog that the Flames and Edmonton Oilers would be the top two teams in the Pacific Division.
Since, perhaps it jinxed both Alberta teams who finished out of the playoffs and nowhere near the top, I’ll refrain from predicting this time around.
But, I’ll hope.
Hope the Flames bounce back and gain a playoff spot.
The Oilers? Who cares? Of course, it would be nice if the provincial rivals both had good seasons and the Battle of Alberta came back to what it was a couple of decades ago. Again, a hope.
The key to the Flames hope transforming itself is that the moves made by General Manager Brad Treliving during the off-season turn out to be as good as they look on paper.
As Treliving himself told me, “on paper I like how our team looks but it’s on the ice where it needs to produce.”
Clearly, the addition of James Neal, Elias Lindholm, Derek Ryan and Austin Czarnik gives the Flames added depth on the forward ranks for new coach Bill Peters, who is preaching a more up-tempo, puck pressure style.
It’s intriguing that two rookies impressed enough during the pre-season to be in the Flames opening night line-up. Defenseman Jussi Valimaki and forward Dillon Dube were so good that blueliner Brett Kulak, who played 71 games here last year, was traded to Montreal and winger Curtis Lazar, a 3-year NHL veteran, was assigned to Stockton.
The coach feels he has three solid scoring lines and strong checking fourth unit. If that materializes it’ll be a huge upgrade from last season when the Flames had the worst third and fourth lines in the NHL and really had only one line and part of another generating acceptable offense.
It was that lack of productivity, a questionable defense and suspect goaltending after Mike Smith was injured that led to the departure of Glen Gulutzan as head coach after two years.
Last season commenced with many assessing the Flames had the second-best defense collection in the league. It concluded near the bottom prompting the departure of top scoring defenseman Doug Hamilton to Carolina in the package that brought Lindholm and this season’s high expectation blueliner Noah Hanifin to the fold.
Instead of lofty anticipation this time the defense corps comes in as uncertain. Hanifin with three seasons of NHL experience at the age of 21 affects two other rearguards. He’ll team with Travis Hamonic as one defense pairing looking to help the former New York Islander have a bounce back season. Hamonic’s partner most of last year, T.J. Brodie, is now back
with captain and stalwart Mark Giordano after a two-year absence. The optimism is Brodie will revert to top form after two campaigns below his earlier standard.
Valimaki, the team’s first round pick in 2017, starts on the third pairing with veteran Michael Stone.
The most important position on the team is goaltending and if 36-year-old Smith stays healthy and performs as he did over the first half of last season then it’s in good hands. Otherwise, it’s conundrum as neither David Rittich or Jon Gillies stepped up when Smith went down missing a month last February. Neither had strong pre-seasons this year either. Riitch got the upper hand to start as Smith’s backup while Gillies goes to Stockton.
As with all teams there are question marks. For the Flames, if hope comes to fruition playoff hockey will return to the Scotiabank Saddledome in April.