In Need Of A Heart Transplant: Major Re-Tooling Needed

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The supposed elimination of the NHL “tough guy” is apparently premature. This prototype is also in short supply on the Calgary Flames, as witnessed pretty much the last two seasons, and highlighted Saturday March 31 against the Edmonton Oilers. There are players on the team that fans should expect to step up when called upon. This however seems to happen way too infrequently.

 

The one player you don’t expect to have to stand up is your all-star goaltender. Yet this is exactly what we witnessed when Mike Smith took exception to the treatment dished out to Captain Mark Giordano by Edmonton’s Milan Lucic.

In case you missed it, Lucic took a swat at the calf of Giordano as play was leaving the Calgary zone and heading towards Edmonton’s end. Smith, seeing t

his, reacted with a slash of his own to Lucic in retaliation. This led to three shots in a row to Smith’s head from Lucic before anyone else – including the officials – had a chance to return to Smith’s aid. At least Mike was able to get one hit into Lucic before everyone found a dance partner.

 

So, where was everyone when this action took place? Fans have been asking this since it happened. Well, here’s the minor wrinkle in all of this: The Flames were at the time nursing a lead over Edmonton, and one thing a team does not do in a close game is give the opposition any sort of chance to get closer or pull even. But in this situation, someone should have skated back and tackled Edmonton’s #27.

This entire scene is emblematic of the core problem with this version of the team. There are no tough guys willing to take matters into their own hands. This is not to say that the Flames have no tough guys: Witness Tanner Glass willing to step out of his weight class to go toe to toe with Lucic on the very next shift after the penalties awarded from the goal crease melee had expired.

Are there too many passengers on this team? Or do the physical players not know when to be physical? Its one thing to talk about a player being physical, throw the body, tussle with someone, and its another thing altogether to be that player and know you have to do or not do what the coach says.

Too many times in the last two seasons, we’ve seen too much talent on this team and not enough toughness: Too often players have not engaged opponents physically, choosing instead to skate away or avoid contact altogether. There are a few who are regulars on the ice night in and night out who won’t hesitate to play physically. To name a few of them: Travis Hamonic, Mark Giordano, Troy Brouwer (until his facial injury), Tanner Glass, and Matthew Tkachuk. Glass has ridden the pine most of this season in the AHL. Brouwer has been horribly mis-used all year and his physicalty was shelved thanks to a puck to the face that broke his jaw. Hamonic is currently in sick bay with an “upper body injury”. Same with Tkachuck. Also in case yo haven’t noticed, the Flames dove head-first into that horrible tail-spin that ended their season the night Chucky got hurt.

This summer will be one long one for Brad Treliving. Despite everything and anything he has said in praise of his current coaching staff, Gulutzan and company will not be returning. They aren’t the only ones he will have to replace. There are several more talented individuals on this current team who will not be back next season, except as opponents.

Whatever wheeling and dealing Treliving does this summer, one thing is certain: He has to find players not afraid to get their noses dirty – players who play with an edge, an attitude. The age of the goon – Hunter, Semenko, McSorley, Milbury, Barnaby, Churla – is long gone, but that doesn’t mean an NHL team can no longer be tough. Toughness is the heart of a team, not goal scoring. The Calgary Flames need to find a heart.

In Praise Of Kelly Hrudey

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At one point in time I despised Kelly Hrudey. As a hockey fan, I did everything all fans of the game do. I would attempt to put a hex on players from other teams playing against my beloved Calgary Flames. Mr. Hrudey was no exception. It wasn’t always that way, and it of course didn’t last.

As a kid from Calgary (who cheered for the Montreal Canadiens exclusively up until 1972 when Atlanta joined the NHL), I had a passing knowledge of who Kelly Hrudey was when he played for the Medicine Hat Tigers.

In 1980 my excitement hit the roof. It was the announcement of the Atlanta Flames being bought by Nelson Skalbania, who was flipping the team to an ownership group in my hometown. For me this overshadowed the 1980 draft that saw Hrudey picked by the New York Islanders. I knew enough about Kelly by this time – I was 15 – that I would have been happy to have seen him drafted by Montreal, or even by the new Calgary-Whatevers (none of us knew what they’d be called yet). Still, going to the team that won the Cup that year (their 1st of 4) meant that he’d be in the company of some of my more favorite individual players in the league and I knew I’d be keeping up on the Islanders, culminating in cheering for them for Cup win numbers 3 and 4 and hoping for 5. Once a Calgarian, always a Calgarian, and I could never bring myself to cheer for the Oilers.

Like most of my friends, I collected hockey cards, the best of course being O-Pee-Chee. Like most of my friends I also played hockey, and being a forward (I played right wing) my favorite cards and players were guys like Guy Lafleur, Mike Bossy, Lanny McDonald. Yet one of my most favorite hockey cards was this one of Kelly.

Being only a few years younger than Kelly, in 1987, he looked – in this photo – like one of the “cool kids” I hung around with on a regular basis after work and on weekends (We may have been in our early 20’s by this time, but we were The Cool Kids, maybe not in fact, but at least in name, belief, and attitude).

I don’t know many fans around my age who aren’t familiar with the Easter Epic, one of my all-time favorite and one of the best playoff games ever. For those of you reading who don’t know about it, the short version is game seven, four overtimes against the Washington Capitals, Kelly Hrudey in net for the Islanders facing 75 shots on net, stopping 73 en route to a 3-2 victory. That game exhausted me completely, and I was only watching it! Oh, and of course, I was cheering for New York.

I can technically blame Wayne Gretzky – again – for ticking me off not too long after that season. If I’m not mistaken, he was the driving force behind the trade that sent Kelly to the LA Kings. So now I had to despise a hockey player I didn’t hate, all because I am such a dyed-in-the-wool Flames fan! If you were a fan of Calgary’s hockey team back then, you just hated any team The Great One would have played on just as a matter of principle.

The 1993 NHL Stanley Cup Final was not fun for me. Half the fans of hockey thought that the Kings “got away with one” on a missed call in the Conference Finals, mad that it wasn’t a best of 7 between Montreal and Toronto. But here Kelly Hrudey was, in the finals with a chance to get his name on the Stanley Cup. He was also Wayne Gretzky’s team mate, and the two almost negated each other for me. Add to that their opponent, the Montreal Canadiens. I was not a fan of Patrick Roy, and there is a reason for this that I won’t go into on record.

It was a true conundrum for me as we hosted viewing parties at the nightclub I was DJ’ing in at the time on the 11th Avenue strip in Calgary once known as “Electric Avenue” – a huge concentration of bars and nightclubs all on one block, and a practical guarantee that you would run into NHL players on a game night after a game. We were almost being forced to pick a team to cheer for by management so we could encourage a sense of fan rivalry in the bar. Of course as we all know, the Canadiens won and became the last Canadian-based team to hoist the trophy.

FILE — 22 Apr 1998: Goaltender Kelly Hrudey of the San Jose Sharks in action during a game against the Dallas Stars at the Reunion Arena in Dallas, Texas. The Stars won the game, 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Dunn /Allsport

Kelly ended his pro career with the San Jose Sharks, retiring after the 1997-98

season, but he wasn’t done with hockey. Before his retirement, he would join the Hockey Night In Canada broadcasts if his team had missed the playoffs. It was at this time I came to appreciate his knowledge not of just the game, but the players and coaches and referees as well. I always looked forward to Behind The Mask to hear Kelly’s analysis of that particular game or any of the other games that were played on those Saturdays.

Hard to believe that 2001 was so long ago, but I was excited to discover that Kelly Hrudey would finally wear the Flaming “C”, even if it was just a CBC feature taking viewers through the Flames’ training camp. I grabbed the Calgary Sun daily to read each entry penned by Kelly.

This brings me to the heart of this blog: Kelly Hrudey’s position as color analyst on regional broadcasts of the Calgary Flames’ games. There are times he will be critical of the team to the point he upsets a few “more blind” fans. What people need to do is appreciate the fact we have Kelly as the color guy for the Flames. I have heard too many other broadcasts of other games around the league, either radio or TV, that are atrocious and have no basis in any form or reality. Not to mention cities, teams, or individuals that certain color analysts have painted the home team as impervious to mistakes: Anything that happens is the other teams’ fault, or the reffing is always wrong, etc. This is a very tame description of some things I have heard on radio and even regional TV broadcasts for certain rivals of the Calgary Flames in the past, and still do to this day, if I ever decide to catch those cities’ local broadcasts.

Kelly deserves recognition for fair and fairly unbiased colour commentary and analysis nine times out of ten. Nobody is perfect and there is the odd occasion where he might sound either a bit biased or overly critical, but this is a rare event, where other commentators seem to utilize this type of commentary as a rule rather than the exception. When listening to other colour commentators, I appreciate all that much more the fact the Kelly was hired to provide colour for the Flames’ regional broadcasts.

When I see on Twitter the rare instance of someone bashing Hrudey’s commentary, I wonder if those people have ever caught a broadcast on some Fox channels, the Vancouver regional games, or ever listened to Edmonton Oiler radio broadcasts. This city is blessed to have Hrudey riding shotgun for the Flames’ games on Sportsnet. This is not taking anything away from Cassie Campbell-Pascall or Louie DeBrusk (in my opinion DeBrusk looks like he could be Kelly’s kid brother by the way), but Kelly brings something to the broadcasts that seems missing when he’s otherwise obligated or engaged and unable to work certain games. The good news is he appears on the panel during Hockey Night In Canada on Saturdays. This is a good counterweight and needed balance to Nick Kypreos (again, this being an opinion column, that is my opinion).

Kelley Hrudey’s book on his time in the NHL, with Kirstie McLellan-Day

I can’t wait to read Kelley’s book, Calling the Shots. I’ve hinted to my son (also a goalie) that this would be a great gift for his old man. Fathers’ Day is upcoming and as a result, I am holding off buying the book myself to give Owen one last chance to get the hint. After that, I will get it on my own. (I’ve actually read the book already, but I’m not telling my son that). If you are one of the few hockey fans yet to read this tome, i strongly encourage you to do so.

 

In closing, Thank you Kelley Hrudey for the insights and the commentary on Sportsnet Flames broadcasts. As this failed season comes to its inevitable denouement I take solace in knowing Kelley will be appearing on HNIC playoff hockey broadcasts. A lot of us will be looking forward to the onset of the 2018-2019 season with a hopeful rebirth of the Calgary Flames – and the return of Kelley Hrudey alongside Rick Ball for the new season.

Should He Stay Or Should He Go Now? Glen Gulutzan On The Hotseat

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If you’re a follower of any sports-related social media in Calgary these days, you will notice fans of the Calgary Flames are asking questions and demanding answers. Looking at the Flames on paper before the current season started, it looked like the team should have been formidable on the ice this year; a powerhouse with the potential to make a lot of noise in their division, in the conference and league-wide. Up front the team boasts players such as perennial 30-goal scorer Sean Monahan, top points-getter Johnny Gaudreau, one of the best two-way forwards in Mikael Backlund and 2nd year disturber Matthew Tkachuk. Names such as Captain Mark Giordano, TJ Brodie, Dougie Hamilton, and Travis Hamonic would patrol the back end with the promise of delivering a combination of physical play and added offensive depth. Add to this the last line of defense, All-Star and elite goalie Mike Smith, and most fans and hockey scribes around the league had pegged this year’s version of the Flames as a dangerous upper tier team.

Right out of the gate however, this team exposed its collective weaknesses starting with game one of the season against the Edmonton Oilers. This continued for the majority of the season with mediocre play right when they needed to show they were “in it to win it”, as the saying goes.

This isn’t to say there weren’t flashes of brilliance: The team finally broke the Honda Center curse in Anaheim, not only beating the Ducks in enemy territory, but doing so by garnering goalie Smith his first shut out as a Calgary Flame. Tkachuk (or “Chucky”) has pretty much cemented himself in the eyes and hearts of Calgary fans as #1 favorite overall with his aggressive and sometimes chippy, agitator play combined with his becoming the #2 goal scorer on this team. “Johnny Hockey” dazzling yet again this season en route to becoming an actual contender in the NHL scoring race. The team has shown they can hang with the elites of the league such as the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.

The disappointments however outshine the accomplishments. The team has consistently iced an abysmal power play that only improved slightly once Dougie Hamilton was finally put out on the ice, yet it still underperforms nightly. In referencing said power play, certain players are stubbornly put out in man-advantage situations that should stay glued to the bench. Coverage in the defensive zone is weak, leading to too many shots directed at Smith and too many goals against. Shortcomings in the offensive zone are led by missed shots. This team leads the league in missing the net by almost 100 shots. There are too many physically capable players not playing pysically. The wrong players are lined up with each other or put into the wrong situations on the ice.

It’s true the players are the ones on the ice playing the game, not the coaching staff. However, it is the coaching staff that assigns players, lines, units. It is the coaching staff that tells the players how to perform their jobs. Past incarnations of the Calgary Flames have gone further with less talent than this year’s edition possesses – and that, dear reader, is because of the coaching.

Glen Gulutzan has consistenly refused to shorten the bench in critical situations – generally when the team is down by a goal in the last minutes of a game. This would be the time to keep the fourth line stapled to the bench and ice the best chances of tying said games. Players who should play exclusively in defensive situations and who are good at protecting the lead wind up on the ice when the team needs to score.

Of all the games played to this point in this season, we fans have been treated to some very entertaining games from the Flames. However, the best game they played all season took place on March 13. On this night, the Calgary Flames finally beat the Edmonton Oilers for the first time in over 2 seasons. The final score of 1-0 may not sound monumental – and it wasn’t a drubbing by any means- but it was the actions on the ice in the last half of the third period that showed this team could have been so much more this past year. The Oilers, led by Connor McDavid, were kept to the outside up against the boards. Both the forwards and the defencemen were properly blocking shots, dropping to the ice and letting Mike Smith see and square himself to the shooter, just in case the puck did get through. It was Smith’s second game back from injury. It has also been his only win since returning.

Since coming back from injury Mike Smith has had exactly one weak game. Even then, pucks beat him thanks to screenings and deflections off team mates. He’s even been spotted during games giving his defense the evil eye after failing to stop the puck here and there. The jaundiced looks have been earned but they are also troublesome. The chemistry this team has is at its most fragile in almost a decade and at times the tension is almost palpable between certain players.

Add to this the underachievers on this team and you have a recipe for disaster. but where to lay the blame? Leadership, that’s where. Not the leadership on the ice – Giordano, Monahan, Brouwer – but the leadership that guides this team: The coaching staff.

As a whole, this group at times gives off the impression that they have given up on Coach Gulutzan and Dave Cameron. The majority of fans are also expressing that sentiment, though not in so many words. This blogger actually questioned this in December of 2016. The team gave up on Bob Hartley. It was during the exit meetings in the spring of 2016 that they expressed their dislike of playing for the Jack Adams winner, and their play most of that 2015-16 season certainly reflected this. It will definitely not come as a shock if they have similar complaints at the end of this season.

At this time, a playoff run this year seems unlikely, if still possible. With that outside chance to get into the post-season, the Flames would likely be swept again in the first round like last year. If this happens, Gulutzan and Cameron should be fired. If the more likely scenario – no playoffs this year – occurs, then Gulutzan and Cameron should be fired the day after the last regular season game ends. The only way the head coach has a shot at keeping his job would be guiding his team to a very surprising, deep playoff run. In any case, Dave Cameron needs to go no matter what. The problem is the high turnover rate the coaching staff has gone through since even before Darryl Sutter was initially hired on. Averaging a new coaching staff every 2 years is not exactly a good thing.

If the Flames pull the trigger and finally spend a few dollars on a proven coach like they did with Darryl Sutter – a well-known name – then the team had better respond accordingly. If not, then a wholesale set of changes on the ice should take place, and it should take place in the middle of next season, not after it ends.

Succeeding in 2018 – The One Thing

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As of right now, there are a lot of expectations laid on the shoulders of the 2017 – 2018 edition of the Calgary Flames. After righting the ship mid-season, they coasted into the playoffs, only to get swept in 4 against their arch-nemeses, the Anaheim Ducks. Despite the consecutive losses, the series was actually closer than the final outcome actually dictated. Since the season ended, GM Brad Treliving has not sat idle. The team has definitely upgraded over last season’s edition.

The goaltending issue of last year has been addressed. Brian Elliott was allowed to walk and back up goalie Chad Johnson was traded to Arizona. Rather, Elliott was not offered a new deal after his current one expired, and fellow free agent Johnson had his rights traded – in addition to defensive prospect Brandon Hickey and a conditional 2018 3rd round draft pick – to Arizona for Mike Smith. The Coyotes also wind up absorbing 25% of Smith’s $6.6 million dollar annual cap hit (that’s approximately $1.7 million in savings). There was a lot of initial speculation that Johnson would eschew an offer from the Coyotes and re-sign as a free agent with hometown Calgary. An offer never materialized and Johnson signed with Buffalo.

Additionally, Flames GM Brad Treliving was able to nab Eddie Lack from the Carolina Hurricanes, not only for Keegan Kanzig and a 2019 draft pick, but he managed to save money – again – by having Carolina retain 50% of Lack’s salary. (Doesn’t it almost seem weird to have another team pay a portion of your player’s salary?)

Not only did the Flames (arguably) upgrade seriously in net, Treliving then went out and acquired Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic, along with a fourth round pick in either the 2019 or 2020 NHL Draft. The cost? Calgary’s first and second round picks in the 2018 NHL Draft and a second round pick in either the 2019 or 2020 NHL Draft. While the team loses possibly valuable picks, they do not give up any current keeper players or prospects. Hamonic will replace the departed Dennis Wideman, and ask any fan of the Flames, he will not be missed.

While all this change and upgrading is good, fans need to be cautioned that although the team has signalled that it is now ready to contend for the Cup, there is one thing it absolutely has to accomplish this upcoming season to be taken as a legitimate threat.

Beat. The. Curse.

 

Calgary has upgraded significantly from last season and the moves Brad Treliving has made has sent the signal that the team is now ready to go all out for the post-season. No more sneaking in through the wild card door, the team is going to go gunning for seeding. Calgary can be expected to jockey for position with the likes of the Edmonton Oilers, the San Jose Sharks and the Anaheim Ducks.

Throughout the years, the Flames have traded even blows with the Sharks and, up until last season, they basically “owned” the Oilers for the better part of a decade and a half. While the Oilers took all the games last season, Flames fans didn’t lose sleep over the losses: All the Battle of Alberta games took place during various Calgary slumps and the fanbase was happy to point this out to the smug and arrogant Oilers’ fans who finally had something to cheer about after eleven seasons.

One team they have not had any success against happen to be the Ducks. With one regular season win in Anaheim in 13 1/2 years, any time these two teams are scheduled to play each other, fans watch almost resigned to the eventual outcome. There is always the support of “we’ll beat the curse tonight!”, but while the hope has always been there, it has always seemed half-hearted. This upcoming season though, feels a bit different.

Herein lies the key to not just a successful season but success in the playoffs as well. The Calgary Flames have to build around a game plan to beat the Ducks. Only when they figure out a way to stand up to the Pacific Division bullies will they be considered true post-season threats.

This is not the first time the team has had to figure out a way to beat a nemesis opponent. It happened in the 1980’s. “Badger” Bob Johnson and “Trader” Cliff Fletcher built a team that could finally knock off the Edmonton Oilers. Once that happened, the league took notice of the small market team from Southern Alberta. In 1984, the team took Edmonton to seven games. In 1986, the Flames knocked the Oilers off in seven games, winning a tightly contested series which ultimately propelled the team into its first Stanley Cup appearance against the Montreal Canadiens.

The point is, this is not new territory or a new idea. It has happened before. It CAN happen again. It can all start as early as this season, as all eyes focus onto the Honda Center in Anaheim on October 9 in anticipation of finally putting an end to The Curse.

Curses! Foiled Again!

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Twenty-eight.

That’s the current number of consecutive losses the Calgary Flames have now amassed at Honda Center in Anaheim. That number includes game one of these 2017 playoffs between the Flames and Anaheim’s Ducks.

The irony is that this game was eminently winnable for Calgary’s team. If not for one brief moment of what can only be called a brain-freeze, the Ducks would not have had a 3-on-0 spearheaded by goalie John Gibson, and would not have scored a gift-goal on Brian Elliott who was left all alone as the Flames attempted a complete line change. Until this point, the Flames held a 2-1 lead and had outplayed the Ducks for most of the game. the tying goal changed that by causing the team’s play to become disorganized long enough for the Ducks to capitalize one more time for the go-ahead – and game winning – goal with Brian Elliott screened on the scoring shot by one of his own team-mates.

A total of two simple blunders cost Calgary game one Thursday night. Otherwise, they played well enough to win. Their game wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t textbook, but it was working. The look on every Flames’ face when they tied the game was in the first one of optimism and the look they all shared with the 2-1 goal was one of belief: From Johnny Gaudreau to Troy Brouwer, they appeared to believe they could kill The Curse on that night. That lasted right up until that line-change goal, when belief in winning turned into a belief in bad luck.

Give Gibson credit: If he hadn’t been on his toes and noticed all five players were leaving the ice at the same time, the outcome could have been quite different.

Time to deal with the fact that The Curse might just be a real thing. Curses however were made to be broken, and tonight is another chance to do so. The Flames have to play a near-perfect game. It won’t have to be their best game (though that would be nice), it just has to be mistake-free while taking advantage of every opportunity they can get. If they stick with their system, they have a real shot at winning tonight.

If one simple little goof-up translates into a goal and a loss, it might be time to call in Major League‘s Cerrano Jones to invoke a little voodoo in favor of the Flames in the form of sacrificing a chicken or – preferably – a Duck.

Uphill Battle: Underdogs Face Monumental Task

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Here it is, the 2017 NHL playoff matches were solidified on Sunday (April 9) and with it seemingly impossible tasks for at least two teams.

The Toronto Maple Leafs, led by Austin Matthews, face the league juggernaut Washington Capitals in a battle that many are predicting will be a sweep of the Blue Buds. The other monumtental task faces the Johnny Gaudreau-led Calgary Flames. While these two teams should match up closer on paper than they do on the ice, nobody is predicting a 4-game series in this one. However a vast majority are still predicting a Ducks’ victory, in five or six games.

This certainly has the Calgary Flames fan base seething and – pardon the pun – seeing red. After the final two regular season games between these teams, coupled with “the streak” in Anaheim, the play of certain Ducks’ players and Ducks’ GM Bob Murray’s comments calling Flames’ Captain Mark Giordano a “dirty player”, a great many people spoken to admit they want to see the team get at least a modicum of revenge on the team seen as most fowl (yes, I used a really bad pun) in the city of Calgary.

One thing is certain: If the Flames wind up being drawn in to the Ducks’ game, the series is over fast. Players like Matt Tkachuk, Micheal Ferland, Deryk Engelland and Sam Bennet will have to walk the line in this series, avoid taking stupid penalties and at the same time be the quartet to get under the skin of the likes of Perry, Getzlaf, and Kesler.

For the Flames to have a real chance, they need to force the turnover, embrace puck possession, stand up at the blueline, keep the ducks out of the middle of the ice and up against the boards, and make life unpleasant as possible in the crease for Anaheim’s John Gibson. Additionally, “the curse” has to be laid to rest once and for all.

While I do not expect to see Toronto win more than one game this year (sorry Leafs fans, but I am being objective here), I think that Calgary can stretch this series to either six or seven games. Of course this means they have to learn to win again at the Honda Center. Their last win there did come in the playoffs – in 2005-2006. If they can win one game in Anaheim, then they will have to run the table in Calgary at the Saddledome.

As far as true first round upsets go, there are only really two that would be considered shockers: Toronto upsetting the Capitals, and The Flames upsetting Anaheim. The best chance of an upset starts Thursday in California. As long as Brian Elliott stays hot and keeps playing the way he has the last eight weeks, Calgary’s chances improve dramatically.

While it is a definite uphill battle, the Flames can beat the Ducks as long as they play Calgary Flames hockey. Remember the 5 goals in 6 minutes scored back in December of this season:

Go Flames go!

Battle Of Alberta: Delay This Match-up

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With the way things could shape up heading into the 2017 playoffs, there is increasingly a chance that the Battle of Alberta will resume this year. Social media is abuzz with the possibility of this happening in round one.

I remember fondly all the match-ups and series of the 80’s between the Calgary Flames and the Edmonton Oilers. This was arguably the best hockey I have ever seen in my life, and some of the roughest and meanest. The only rivalry I have ever witnessed that has ever come close happened in the 1970’s between Montreal and Boston. Of course in the 1980’s between Calgary and Edmonton, no fans were ever attacked with their own shoe by a player climbing into the stands off the ice.

However, the 80’s had Tim Hunter, Nick Fotiu, Dave Semenko and Marty McSorely. Fans were treated constantly to the reason why Hunter’s nose was so big and misaligned: Dave Semenko had a bad habit of kneeing Hunter in the face whenever he was losing in fights between the two. Of course this happened a lot.

With Nick Fotiu I remember his legendary attempt to get to Edmonton coach Glen Sather or the non-fight he had with the Oilers’ Marty McSorley: The two skated in circles, each waiting for the other to throw the first punch. McSorley knew about Fotiu’s martial arts background and was simply not going to be the first to throw down while Fotiu was just waiting for it to happen.

Aside from the goons, Calgary had Hakan Loob, Joe Mullen, Joel Otto, Gary Suter, Al MacInnis and Lanny McDonald. Edmonton had Jari Kurri, Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, Glenn Anderson, Mark Napier and of course Wayne Gretzky. Lanny led Calgary, Wayne led Edmonton. Both these players highlighted the difference between the two teams: Lanny was the prototypical power forward, and Gretzky was the smooth-skating superstar of the entire league. the Flames weren’t afraid to play a tough, mean game and a few of their wins can be attributed to intimidation of other teams. However, with a roster of more than just the players listed above, the Flames could also beat their opponents with skill.

The Edmonton Oilers of the 80’s were a mirror image of the Flames: They would destroy opponents with skill, but could also win the rough-and-tumble affairs with their own heavy hitters. The Oilers had a penchant for running up scores in games and embarrassing their opponents, an action that made them overall the most hated team in the NHL outside of northern Alberta. It gave the blue-collar city full of Oiler fans a chance to look down their noses at their rivals to the south, the white collar city of Calgary. The one thing fans of both teams would agree on: Whenever they met in the playoffs, that series should have been for the Stanley Cup.

Those under the age of 30 have only experienced faint shadows of what once was: A bitter rivalry with heated debates in a never-ending cycle where the only thing that mattered in an NHL season was beating the other team. When one attended or watched any regular season or playoff game between these teams, one packed a lunch. A game that should have lasted no more than 2 1/2 hours could take close to four hours from opening face-off to the final buzzer. Calgary and Edmonton weren’t the only reason the rules changed as far as fighting and having enforcers on your team, they were just the main reason.

Today, with three teams within a single point of each other, its becoming more likely that Calgary and Edmonton will face each other in round one of this year’s post season. The Flames have a fantastic opportunity to finish as high as 2nd with home ice advantage. So do the Oilers. It’s very possible these two teams can finish in 2nd and 3rd, which immediately puts them on a collision course in round one. This is not the most desirable of match-ups to kick off the playoffs.

The intensity would be great, both between the teams and between the fans, but the winning team would definitely experience a let-down going into round two. It would be inevitable. Additionally, one Canadian team is guaranteed to be eliminated in the opening round.

More than bragging rights are at stake: Edmonton is currently aware of having swept the Flames in their regular season series. Calgary, meanwhile, is fully aware that all the games played took place well before the Flames went on their impressive streak: 7 wins, 4 losses, and 1 overtime loss. While the Oilers have been in the middle of the pack for wins and losses since that last meeting in January, the Flames look to have found their game. Edmonton will want to prove hockey supremacy in Alberta, Calgary will want sweet revenge.

By the same token, provided the stars all align correctly, there is even a slim chance that these two teams could meet in the West Division Final, with the winner going on to vie for the Cup. This would be the best case scenario however unlikely. The absolute earliest these two teams should meet is round two, like it was back in the 1980’s.

Alberta fans desperately want these two teams to collide in this year’s playoffs. The league will benefit greatly from it. The hockey will be the best seen by everyone since the heyday of the 1980’s. This can be a main event match-up that will likely steal the show. It would be tragic on many levels for them to become the opening act: The rest of the post season would just feel like a letdown.

Troy Brouwer Needs To Step up

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Welcome new columnist Joel Mann! This is his first submission, a quick analysis on Flames' forward Troy Brouwer

I’m Joel, I have been watching the Flames since I was 5, been blogging and covering Flames for almost 2 years. Always trying to get Flames fans fast reliable coverage/news. Follow me on twitter: @CFlamesNews

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Its no secret Troy Brouwer has under-performed this year. He surely isn’t playing like somebody who makes $4.5 million annually. Brouwer has 10 goals, 11 assists, 21 points in 58 games this year. He is also a -10 on the year, 9 of his points have come on the powerplay, but just recently Michael Ferland took over his powerplay spot.

Brouwer missed 8 games because of a broken finger from a slap shot from Kris Versteeg. Brouwer has been all over the Flames lineup. He used to be on the first line with Gaudreau and Monahan, then he was moved to the Fourth were he only played a few games, then he was put with Bennett and Versteeg where he has been for the 7 game win streak.

With the Curtis Lazar trade and Michael Ferland’s play of late, it has opened up many questions about if the Flames have any plans to protect Brouwer in the upcoming expansion draft.  If the Flames use the format of 7-3-1 (which I think they will) One of Brouwer, Lazar or Ferland will be left unprotected, and Treliving wants Lazar to stick around.

Whether Brouwer is protected or not will rely on his performance in the final stretch of the season and possibly the playoffs. He has had success in the playoffs, scoring the series-winning goal against Chicago in the first round of last years playoffs. In St Louis’s playoff run last year, Brouwer had 8 goals, 5 assists, 13 points in 20 playoff games, which are pretty good numbers. Still, Troy Brouwer has not played up to expectations in Calgary this year, so if he wants to stick around, he needs to up his game a lot in the final 16 games.

Should Jarome Iginla Return To The Flames?

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Jarome Iginla is arguably the second-best known Calgary Flame in the franchise’s 37-year existence. Only to the man with the moustache, Lanny McDonald, would rank higher with Theoren Fleury in third spot.

Lanny retired as a Calgary Flame, the summer after the team won its first – and only – Stanley Cup. Theo retired a Flame after rejecting a contract by the team in a comeback bid that has been seen by many as a publicity stunt for his autobiography. Jarome Iginla was traded at this year’s deadline to the Los Angeles Kings from Colorado, reuniting with coach Darryl Sutter. The move was made to give Iginla one more chance at reaching the Stanley Cup finals in his career. The Calgary Flames have recently thrown a wrench into this trade.

Currently on an incredible run, the Flames continue to distance themselves from the Kings as well as other teams vying for one of two wildcard spots. The Kings are in mortal danger of missing the 2017 post-season dance while Calgary is threatening to overtake third in the Pacific from Anaheim.

Leading up to the trade deadline, social media was awash with wishful and hopeful fans wanting Calgary to bring Jarome back into the fold. As wonderful for the fans as this might have been, it would not have helped the team and in fact might have caused harm.

The current dynamic in the dressing room is the best this team has had since their unlikely run in the playoffs two years ago. While minor tweaks here and there wouldn’t – in fact didn’t – hurt their chemistry (Stone and Bartkowski), adding such a major name would definitely upset the balance of this team just learning to trust in themselves and each other.

Iginla is at the end of his career by this point and his best producing days on the ice are behind him. He’ll be hard-pressed to score 10 more goals this season, while Calgary has enough depth both on the main roster and in Stockton to more than beat that total on right wing. The team is currently averaging 2.67 goals per game this season. Admittedly this is on the low end of respectable but that stat is for the entire season: Since losing 5-1 against the Montreal Canadiens back in January, the team has gone 12-2-1, an incredible run. In that time, they’ve been scoring at an average clip of 3.2 GPG, a very respectable stat.

Had the Flames brought Iginla back into the fold, the biggest thing he would have provided, besides a disruption to the chemistry they have found and are solidifying, is nothing more than a distraction. He would have been the main focus of the fans and the media with the unfortunate effect of having an extra burden placed on his shoulders. Management and coaches would feel obligated to a point to place Jarome in a position to fail.

Iginla is now part of this team’s legacy, which is where he belongs. However, he should one day return as a Calgary Flame – by signing a one day contract with the club then announcing his retirement. It simply not worth tarnishing his legacy at this point in time.

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