Monday, March 31, 2014

Mom, I'm Home! New and Improved Giordano Returns to Toronto

Mark Giordano is coming home and the Flames captain can't wait.

The Toronto-born defenceman will play at the Air Canada Centre for only the fourth time in his career on Tuesday night when Calgary takes on the Toronto Maple Leafs.

"I love playing for the friends and family so I'm excited for that one, for sure," said Giordano, prior to the Flames departing on their Eastern road trip. "It's going to be an intense game and it's going to be a really fun game because they're fighting for their playoff lives."

While it's been over seven years since he made his first NHL appearance in Toronto, he remembers it like it was yesterday, which is not surprising considering how the night unfolded. A raucous Saturday night at the ACC, the featured national game on Hockey Night in Canada, and not only was he playing in front of his friends and family for the first time, he also scored his first NHL goal. In fact, he scored twice -- a feat he surprisingly hasn't duplicated since.

"I don't think that's one I'll ever forget, it was a great night," recalled Giordano, who had just turned 23 at the time and was playing his 12th NHL game. "I was really happy. I got to stay over night in Toronto and hang out with my buddies and my family afterwards. It was a fun time and probably one of the most memorable games of my career."

Tons of Tickets Needed

Giordano says Tuesday night will once again be a chance for all those Ontario folks to see him play live, something they haven't had the chance to do very often.

"First of all, my parents and my sister haven't been out much this year so they'll be there. As well, tons of friends, aunts, uncles, and everyone. There will be a lot of people at the game and hopefully we have a good one," he said.

Getting back to that night on Oct. 14, 2006.  His two second period goals came in a span of three shifts and in less than seven minutes.

The first one at 4:52 got the Flames on the scoreboard after they trailed 2-0 after the first period. Watch it right now through this link (it occurs around 13:25 if the video doesn't open to that point automatically) and you'll see it is a goal that is not unlike some of the goals he's scored this year. Assertively pinching up into the slot, Giordano took a centring pass from Matthew Lombardi and snapped a perfect shot over Andrew Raycroft. It's the kind of heady play we've seen from Giordano all year in a season in which he's set career highs for goals (12) and points (44).

"I've been feeling confident offensively, obviously. Just trying to jump in when you can," says Giordano, second among NHL defencemen in points-per-game, behind Ottawa's Erik Karlsson. "The league's all about that now. A lot of defencemen are putting up good numbers because that's where all the offence is generated from. It's a really tough game to score 5-on-5 or off the rush for forwards so you need that second wave."

Giordano also compliments the rest of the team for affording him the luxury of pinching up as often as he has. As exhibited a couple times on Sunday night in Ottawa, it's not unusual to see No. 5 battling for the puck along the end boards in the offensive zone.

"It's having an aggressive mindset but you also need to have a great group of forwards, who back check and cover for you when you do get caught. That eliminates a lot of your mistakes."

After Lombardi tied the game 2-2, Giordano's second goal at 11:26, which you can view here (it occurs around 18:20 if the video doesn't open at that point automatically), came on a slick power move out of the corner after a cycle with Jarome Iginla that temporarily put the Flames into the lead (and sure caught the attention of the broadcast team of Bob Cole and Cassie Campbell). Calgary ended up losing 5-4 in overtime on Mats Sundin's dramatic third goal of the night and 500th of his career.

Back in the Third Pairing Days

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about that game -- and it's nearly impossible to fathom considering how much Giordano plays now as part of the Flames top pairing with TJ Brodie, is Giordano's ice time that night was just 7:45. No, that's not a typo. Seven minutes and 45 seconds is all he played. Goodness, he routinely plays that much in a period now. In fact, in 442 career games, that remains his third-lowest ice time ever -- and one of the other two below it was a game in which got injured in the first period.

"Pretty effective for those seven or eight minutes, I'd say," Giordano says with a grin. "I was just breaking in back then. I was the sixth d-man, so it was a little bit different. You really didn't see too much ice time. There were also a lot more penalties back then, a lot more special teams, so it was tough to get in any shifts."

Under the guidance of Jim Playfair in his one year as the Flames head coach, the defence back then was anchored by Robyn Regehr and Dion Phaneuf, who both played over 26 minutes in the role that Giordano and Brodie play today. That night, Roman Hamrlik came in at 23 minutes while Andrew Ference and Andrei Zyuzin were in the 16-18 minute range.

Giordano's most recent visit to Toronto was Oct. 15, 2011. Two-and-a-half years later, Giordano says the player he is today barely resembles the player he was in that last visit.

"I'm a ton different," Giordano admits. "In the NHL, you don't realize it until you do play so many games, but playing defence, a lot of it has to do with experience. For example, not running around out of position. I was a different player back then. I got caught more often."

New and Improved No. 5 

Any way you slice it, Giordano is in the midst of one heck of a breakout season.
  • His 25:07 in average ice time leads the Flames, ranks him 10th in the NHL, and is two minutes more than his previous career high.
  • His plus-12 rating leads the Flames and is staggeringly good if you consider he's facing the opposition's top lines on a nightly basis -- and mix in the fact that Calgary has a net minus-32 goal differential.
  • He's got three times as many goals (12) and points (44)  in 57 games this year as he did last year when he had 4 goals and 15 points in 47 games.

With the stability Giordano brings to the blue-line, one can only hope that the Flames will be able to rebuild quickly and return to the post-season as it's been a while for the team, and it's been even longer for Giordano.

He has played only four playoff games in his career. They all came in 2007 when he played games 3-6 against Detroit. After a contract stalemate, he opted to spend 2007-08 in Russia. He missed the 2009 playoffs due to a shoulder injury. This year will be the fifth consecutive year Calgary has missed the playoffs.

When the Flames do make it back to the post-season, you get the sense that as good as he's going right now, Giordano will find yet another gear and further elevate his game. Now wouldn't that be fun to watch.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Flames Round-Up: Random Monday Morning Musings

It's been a pretty entertaining and eventful week around the Calgary Flames. Here are some random notes and observations that you may have read on Twitter although so often, 140 characters just isn't enough space to fully flush out a point.

Gaudreau/Arnold Watch – The draw for the NCAA College Hockey tournament took place yesterday morning. This 16-team tournament begins next Friday and just like the March Madness basketball tournament going on, it is a single knock-out format. Six Flames prospects are represented:

  • Boston College (Johnny Gaudreau, Bill Arnold)
  • Providence College (Jon Gillies, Mark Jankowski, John Gilmour)
  • Colgate (Tim Harrison)

A handy printable schedule with dates and times can be found here.

For those wondering, BC plays its opening game on Saturday, Mar. 29, at 2 pm MT against Joe Colborne’s old school, the University of Denver.  If the #1 seed Eagles get knocked off -- either Saturday in the opening game or Sunday in their second game, that’s it for Arnold’s college career and that could potentially be it for Gaudreau also if he chooses to bypass his fourth year of school and turn pro by signing with Calgary. It’s certainly something we will all continue to monitor closely. Conveniently, Calgary will be out East in Ottawa next weekend so not that far away.

Hobey Baker Award Ceremony Clash? – The Hobey Baker Award will be announced at 4 pm MT on Friday, April 11, from Philadelphia where the Frozen Four will be played this year. It is expected that Gaudreau will win it.  The unveiling of the Hobey Baker winner takes place on the day between the semi-finals on Apr. 10 and the final on Apr. 12.  Now, it is very likely Gaudreau will be in Philadelphia for that weekend as Boston College, considered the No. 2 school in the country, is the favourite to win both its games this weekend and reach the Frozen Four. Then again, it’s entirely possible Gaudreau will be in Calgary that day getting ready for the Flames final home date of the season against the Winnipeg Jets on that Friday night.

Hot Start for Poirier - For 48 teams across Canada, Major Junior playoffs opened up this past weekend  with the first two games in all 24 series taking place. Tied for the lead in playoff goals is Flames prospect Emile Poirier, who scored once in the opener and three more times in game two as Gatineau opened up with convincing 7-2 and 8-2 victories at home over Cape Breton. Poirier is one of three players in the country with four playoff goals so far.  The Olympiques play game three on Tuesday.  Poirier had 43 goals and 87 points in 63 regular season games.

One Month or One Year Too Late - Last year due to the late start and lockout-shortened 48-game NHL season, the trade deadline was on April 3.  Can you imagine the trade offers Flames interim GM Brian Burke would be fielding right now if the trade deadline day for this year had been April 3? It might very well have been a first round pick that is being offered the way he's scoring right now. Unfortunately, the scoring binge from No. 13 has come at the wrong time from the perspective of building up trade value.  The contrast in the 'right before' compared to the 'after' for Cammalleri in terms of the trade deadline is absolutely ridiculous.

  • Before trade deadline: 15 gm, 2-0-2
  • Since trade deadline: 10 gm, 9-6-15

The nine goals ties Cammalleri with Jarome Iginla for the most goals since March 5, one ahead of red-hot Gustav Nyquist.  His 15 points ties him with Tyler Seguin for the most posts since the trade deadline, two better than Claude Giroux and Mark Giordano.

Can’t help but wonder how many teams are regretting they didn’t ante up a little bit more back when they had the chance. Meanwhile, you sure have to wonder what the market actually was for Cammalleri three weeks ago. Considering he’s still in a Flames uniform, it couldn’t have been very good.

Defense: Wins Championships and Hastens Rebuilds – Watching the Flames rout the Oilers on Saturday night, a huge difference in comparing rebuild templates is Edmonton has no answer to Calgary’s top blue-line pairing of Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie.  These two -- a salty veteran and an established up-and-comer, who both finished the evening with career high +5’s, give the Flames a solid core to (re)build around and you get the sense that having these two integral pieces in place could expedite things in Calgary and get them back to being playoff-relevant a lot sooner than you might think.

Giordano's Amazing Run - The plus-minus rating has it’s detractors and I get that and there are advanced statistics that go much, much deeper into this type of analysis.  Nonetheless, no one can deny that if your team scores while you’re on the ice, that’s a good sign and if you're giving up goals when you’re on the ice, that’s not good.  We're now 70 games into the season so anomalies that do come up along the way have evened out by now. So, I'm going to go ahead and say it -- Giordano’s plus-11 is remarkable.

Compare that to others regularly mentioned in the top five NHL defencemen discussion like Shea Weber (minus-11) and Erik Karlsson (minus-20). Against Edmonton, Giordano also set a new career high for goals (12) and equaled his career high for points (43) -- which have come in 53 games compared to the 82 it took in 2010-11 when he first reached 43 points.

And how about the sensational month of March for the Flames captain?  Here are the NHL's scoring leaders for this month. It's absolutely stunning to think that Giordano went undrafted.

NHL Scoring Leaders - For March

1. Claude Giroux, Phi, 5-12-17
2. Mike Cammalleri, Cal, 10-6-16
2. Tyler Seguin, Dal, 6-10-16
4. Mark Giordano, Cal, 3-12-15
5. Jarome Iginla, Bos, 11-3-14
5. Sidney Crosby, Pit, 5-9-14
5. Ondrej Palat, TB, 5-9-14
5. Derek Stepan, NYR, 5-9-14
5. Matt Duchene, Col, 3-11-14

Evolution of TJ Brodie - Meanwhile, Giordano's defense partner, TJ Brodie, continues to rack up big minutes against top lines and do so very effectively and very quietly. For a glimpse into his past month, here are the NHL plus-minus leaders since the Olympic break. Would I use plus/minus alone to measure a player's worth? No. But in this case, it validates what we've been seeing with our eyes for a long time now.

1. Marc-Edouard Vlasic, SJ +17
2. TJ Brodie, Cal +13
2. Zdeno Chara, Bos +13
2. Kevan Miller, Bos +13
5. Patrice Bergeron, Bos +11

So far, the Brodie we’re seeing is the same Brodie that we saw last April and if he continues to elevate his game, he can expect to get a very nice long term deal next summer when his two-year bridge contract expires. In fact, might there even be a temptation to lock him up by offering him an extension right now?

Spoiler Week - These next 11 days for the Flames will provide a very nice test for the guys trying to raise their stock for next season. These are guys like Joe Colborne, Paul Byron, Lance Bouma, Sean MonahanKenny Agostino, Tyler Wotherspoon -- all still trying to establish exactly the type of player they are and how they may fit it into the organization moving forward.  Five of Calgary's next six opponents are currently in a playoff position so the Flames will be up against tough, motivated hockey clubs and at this point, I don’t think Calgary is going to sneak up on anybody – teams should know what to expect from the energetic, never-say-die Flames outfit.  This week at home in particular with the Sharks, Ducks and Rangers will be especially intriguing.

While I do subscribe to the theory of winning games now contributes to a “winning culture”, there are other bigger gains to be had from beating the NHL’s top teams down the stretch.  For one, it generates more positive building blocks for the aforementioned young players, as well as slightly older but still developing guys like Mikael Backlund and Brodie. You can’t bypass the development curve that all young players must go through before they become NHL stars but you can shorten it.  The better these players improve this season, the better players they’ll be to start next season, and the even better players they’ll be the season after.

Thoughts Around 'Burning' the First Year of a Contract - When Agostino signed his two-year entry level contract, negotiating that his contract begin this year instead of next year -- even though there’s only one month left in the season, is a bargaining ploy frequently pursued by the player. For one, that gets them into the NHL right away as CBA rules state that a player signing after the NHL trade deadline cannot be sent to the AHL. That also gives them an NHL salary through the end of the season (say good-bye to those student loans!).  It also ‘burns’ that first year of the CBA-mandated two-year entry level contract (ELC) getting them onto their next standard player’s contract (SPC) one year sooner and presumably -- in the player's eyes, at least -- into a bigger salary sooner.

While that’s a scenario that generally is viewed as an advantage for the players, a member of the Flames front office explained to me the other day that it also is an arrangement that works well for the teams. He pointed out that college players being older and further along developmentally – Agostino soon turns 22, you can usually get a sense after only one year of what those players are and if they are legitimate NHL prospects. If not, not being on the hook for two full seasons contract-wise is good as the team can move on from that player sooner if they wish, rather than keeping the player around for an extra year.

It is this precise situation that the club is currently in with winger Ben Hanowski, who signed a two-year deal at the end of last season. He’s now in the final year of that contract and is an RFA at the end of the season. The Flames have the option of resigning him but if they feel they’ve seen enough, they can also choose to move on and simply release him.

As long as the Flames still have at least one regular season game left this season, a college player can sign a contract that begins this year. Here's why I point that out. If, for example, Boston College gets knocked out on Apr. 10 in the Frozen Four semi-final, the Flames have two games left – Apr. 11 and Apr. 13. The desire by the player to burn that first year could expedite contract talks as they'd need to sign it right away.

Mark Messier Connection to Saturday Night - That Flames bashing of the Oilers on Saturday was not the biggest blowout in the Battle of Alberta.  The Oilers once defeated the Flames 10-1 on Nov. 26, 1996.  But, the seven-goal margin did equal the Flames biggest win over the Oilers, which had happened once before.  On Oct. 4, 1991, the Flames beat Edmonton 9-2 at the Saddledome. Calgary was led by Theoren Fleury’s two goals and two assists. Al MacInnis and Gary Suter had four-point games also.  Interesting about that game was it came on the day the Oilers traded Mark Messier to the New York Rangers in exchange for Bernie Nicholls, Louie DeBrusk and Steven Rice.

Joni Ortio's Friday Distraction – Had to feel sorry for Joni Ortio on Friday night against Nashville.  He didn’t look himself in giving up goals on the first two shots he faced, and eventually getting pulled after the fourth Predators goal in the second period.  I later learned that he had found out prior to the game that he was going to be going back to Abbotsford with Karri Ramo’s return and you have to wonder how much that played into it. Apparently, he wasn’t supposed to be told about the roster move until after the game. That said, I'd expect Ramo to play almost all, if not all of the Flames final games so having Ortio back in the AHL and be the No. 1 guy there is probably best in the long run and then the AHL playoffs after that will be another good opportunity for the 22-year-old Finn.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Gaudreau and the Flames: Conceivably How Soon Could It Happen?

As the Johnny Gaudreau watch picks up in earnest with optimistic fans hoping to see him in a Calgary Flames uniform soon, here is a breakdown of the different scenarios for how the remainder of Boston College’s hockey season could play out.

This will enable you to follow along in the upcoming weekends and have a better sense of whether suiting up for the Flames this year is a realistic possibility or not for Gaudreau, who will take a 29-game points streak (27-29-56) into action this weekend.

Of course, this is if he signs, which is still very much an uncertainty for ol' Johnny Hockey, who will celebrate his 21st birthday in August.

Also, I'm not suggesting Gaudreau would join the Flames and just like that, be in the NHL for the rest of his career. But I do think Calgary wouldn't mind getting him into a game or two if it worked out just to give him a taste. Also, such a cameo appearance would very much be a 'show 'n tell' moment for the organization and an opportunity to boast about what it hopes will be a bright future.

Note: This article and the timing around signing/playing would also apply to Gaudreau's Boston College linemate, Bill Arnold, also a Flames prospect.

FIRST UP: Hockey East Playoffs

After an opening round bye last weekend, Boston College hosts Notre Dame this weekend in a best-of-three quarterfinal. This series will be played at the Kelley Rink on the BC campus.  The eight teams remaining in the Hockey East conference playoffs will be whittled down to four by the end of the weekend.

Note that even if Boston College gets knocked off by Notre Dame, they are the No. 2 ranked team in the country so will still be a lock to receive one of the at-large bids and be invited to the NCAA tournament beginning Mar. 28. So, regardless of outcome, Gaudreau’s season won’t be over this weekend.

Game times:
  • Game 1 - Fri, Mar. 14, 5:00 pm MT
  • Game 2 – Sat, Mar. 15, 2:00 pm MT
  • Game 3 (if necessary) – Sun, Mar. 16, 2:30 pm MT

SECOND UP: Hockey East Championship Round

The surviving four teams play in a single-elimination showdown at TD Garden in Boston the following weekend. The Hockey East tournament winner will automatically receive an invite to the NCAA tournament. As previously mentioned, even if BC does not win the Hockey East tournament, they’ll still be going to the NCAA tournament anyway.

The only repercussion for the Eagles of getting knocked out of the Hockey East tournament early is a longer layoff before the NCAA tournament begins.

Game times:
  • Semi-Finals - Fri, Mar. 21 at 3:00 pm and 6:00 pm MT
  • Final – Sat, Mar. 22 at 5:00 pm MT

Selection Sunday

At 10 am MT on Sunday, Mar. 23, the 16 teams that will make the NCAA Division 1 Men's Hockey Tournament will be announced.  Automatically receiving a spot in the tournament will be the winners of the six conference tournaments. The other ten spots will (or should) essentially be the 10 best remaining teams as chosen by the selection committee.

Which teams will make the NCAA Tournament from a Flames prospects perspective?

Based on the pairwise rankings provided by College Hockey News (as of Mar. 12), here is the scoop on the four teams that have Calgary draft picks playing for them.
  • Boston College (Johnny Gaudreau, Bill Arnold) – For sure. Ranked No. 2 in the country, they'll be in the tournament one way or another.
  • Providence College (Jon Gillies, Mark Jankowski, John Gilmour) – Probable. Ranked No. 11 in the pairwise comparison ratings, one would assume they would receive an at-large bid if they don't win the Hockey East tournament.
  • Colgate (Tim Harrison) - Possible. Ranked No. 16 in the above ratings, their entry into the tournament -- if they don't win the ECAC tournament, will depend greatly on which teams win the conference tournaments and which schools are left over for the 10 at-large bids.
  • Yale (Kenny Agostino) – Doubtful. Ranked No. 18 in the pairwise comparison ratings, if Yale does not win their way in by capturing the ECAC tournament, they may end up one of the best of the rest and on the outside looking in.
  • Michigan State (Matt DeBlouw) - Very, very doubtful. Ranked No. 36, would need to pull off a mammoth upset and win the Big Ten conference tournament to get in.

THIRD UP: NCAA Tournament

Much like the March Madness basketball tournament, the NCAA hockey tournament is a single-game elimination format also. However, with hockey it’s comprised of 16 teams as opposed to 64. There are four regions and each region will play host to four teams that will play in a semi-final and then a final. The four regional winners will advance to the Frozen Four.

At this point, if you lose, you're done. So, this is when the Gaudreau watch will really get serious.

Game times:
  • Region Semi-Final – Either Mar. 28 or Mar. 29
  • Region Final – Either Mar. 29 or Mar. 30

LAST UP: Frozen Four

Taking place at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, it goes the weekend of April 10-12. It is once again a single elimination format consisting of the four regional winners from that opening weekend of the NCAA tournament.

Again, it’s lose and you’re out but given how far into April we are now, if Boston College makes it this far and with the Flames final regular season game on Apr. 13, I'd suggest the odds of Gaudreau signing and getting into Calgary's final regular season game in Vancouver are highly unlikely.

Game times:
  • Semi-Finals – Apr. 10 at 3:00 pm MT and 6:00 pm MT (approx)
  • Final – Apr. 12 at 5:30 pm MT

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IN SUMMARY: Answers to Popular Questions

Q. When is the soonest Gaudreau’s season could be over? 

Boston College will make the NCAA tournament so the soonest Gaudreau’s season could end is if BC loses its opening tournament game, which will either be Mar. 28 or Mar. 29, depending on the region they end up in (determined on Selection Sunday, Mar. 23).

Q. How many games does Gaudreau have left?

As few as three if they lose two straight in the Hockey East tournament and then lose their first game in the NCAA tournament.

Or, as many as nine if they go three games with Notre Dame to open the Hockey East tournament and then make it right through to the Hockey East final, and also go all the way to the Frozen Four final.

Q. How quickly could Gaudreau conceivably sign and report to Calgary?

These things have the potential of moving fast. More than anything, it all hinges on Gaudreau and how long he wants to ponder his options. I trust that on the Flames side, Brian Burke will be ready to get him on a plane should they succeed in getting his name on a contract.

Last year as an example, Ben Hanowski made his Flames debut four days after playing his final college game. So signing, getting to Calgary (or joining the team on the road, in this case) and getting ready to go can happen that quickly if not even quicker.

For reference, it was 11 days after Boston College's final game last year that Gaudreau announced via Twitter his intention to return to school for his third year.

Q. Could Johnny Gaudreau wear a Calgary Flames jersey this season?

Certainly possible.  While the all-important question of whether he’ll sign or not is still an unknown, the schedule would allow for him to play in Calgary if Boston College gets knocked out early in the NCAA tournament.

The soonest his college season could be over is Mar. 28. The Flames begin a five-game Eastern road trip on Mar. 30 that takes them to Ottawa, Toronto, Tampa Bay, Florida and New Jersey. How about this for a dream scenario. Given Gaudreau is from Carneys Point, New Jersey, wouldn’t Calgary's game on Apr. 7 against the Devils at the Prudential Center be the perfect backdrop? The kid's NHL debut comes in his home state with his parents and siblings in attendance. Goodness.

The only home games Gaudreau could possibly appear in would be against Los Angeles on Apr. 9 and when Winnipeg visits the Saddledome on Apr. 11.

If, on the other hand, Boston College makes it through to the Frozen Four final as expected, that would surely kill any chance of Gaudreau playing for the Flames this season considering the final is on a Saturday night in Philadelphia and Calgary's final game of the regular season is the Sunday night in Vancouver. If BC gets knocked out in the semi-final on Apr. 10 instead, it's still a stretch although a tiny bit less of a stretch.

Q. Could Gaudreau join the Abbotsford Heat?

If he signs a contract that begins with the 2013-14 season -- which is what Kenny Agostino did, then he would not be allowed to be assigned to the AHL because he will have signed the contract after the NHL trade deadline had passed. This is a provision in the CBA. He would be able to play in Abbotsford in 2014-15 but not be assigned there this season. This extends to when the Flames season ends, he still could not be sent to Abbotsford.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Flames Newest Offensive Weapon: Brian McGrattan 2.0

Introducing the new Brian McGrattan: Goal scorer, offensive catalyst and slap shot aficionado.

That might very well have been the strangest sentence I've ever written yet much like a court reporter, I'm merely transcribing the facts as they've been presented over the past few games.

The hulking six-foot-four, 235 pound winger -- a grizzly bear on the ice, but a teddy bear off it, has goals in consecutive games for only the second time in his career after lighting the lamp Monday night in the Flames 3-2 home-ice loss to the Los Angeles Kings.

Equally, if not more impressive, McGrattan led Calgary with a career-high six shots on goal against rookie goaltender Martin Jones -- that's right, S-I-X! The only other Flame with more than two was TJ Galiardi with three shots.

“It's good, even for me,” admitted the club's 32-year-old elder statesman. “I'm starting to get a little bit more ice the last couple weeks and getting more comfortable playing more minutes and showing the coaching staff that I can do a little bit more than fight.”

A Rare Feat by NHL Standards

Looking back over recent NHL history, what McGrattan accomplished Monday night was very, very rare.

In the last 14 years going back to 2000-01, only three players have scored a goal and had six or more shots in less ice time than McGrattan's action-packed and highly effective 8:31 against Los Angeles.

  • Shawn Thornton, Bos - Jan. 1, 2012 vs. Wpg, 1 goal, 7 shots, 7:04 TOI.
  • Jonathan Cheechoo, SJ – Feb. 21, 2003 vs Clb, 1 goal, 6 shots, 8:30 TOI
  • Pierre Dagenais, NJ – Dec. 26, 2001 vs Pit, 1 goal, 6 shots, 8:17 TOI

A Record Night by a 'Long Shot'

In typical McGrattan style, he didn't merely break his old record, he smashed it, clobbered it, bloodied it, just like one of his one of his patented overhand rights to the mush.

In his previous 290 NHL games, 'Gratts' -- as he's known around the dressing room, had racked up more than three shots in a game just once. That was over four years ago in his first stint with the Flames. Skating on a line with Fredrik Sjostrom and Brandon Prust, he peppered Devan Dubnyk with four shots in a 6-1 Flames victory over Edmonton on Jan. 30, 2010.

As for his goal, possibly the most dramatic of his NHL career (OK, there are only nine to choose from), it drew the Flames to within one with 2:22 left in the game. In an otherwise quiet night at the Saddledome as the Kings built an early lead then checked the young Flames into the ground, suddenly the building was alive again, having erupted after McGrattan spun in the slot and powered a slap shot off Jones' pad and in.

“It was big,” emphasized McGrattan. “Two goals right away got some energy in the building and all we needed was a little extra bounce to get a third one.”

McGrattan's third goal of the year and sixth in the last 67 games going back to last season, came just over two minutes after Mike Cammalleri's power play goal at 15:29 ignited the late comeback attempt and set up the furious final few minutes in which the Flames nearly tied it up a couple times.

Contributing Feels Great

“It is a payoff,” said McGrattan, best known for the 164 scraps he's had since turning pro -- 72 of them in the NHL. “Us guys in a fourth line or checking role, we're not guys that put up a ton of offence. When we can chip in with a goal, even back-to-back (games), it's always exciting and it is a reward for the hard work we do.”

Not to be forgotten, the late rally came against the 2012 Stanley Cup champions, the NHL's hottest team with seven straight wins heading into last night, and against a club that was a perfect 20-0-0 when leading after two periods.

In coming up one goal shy once again, the resilient Flames have played 39 one-goal games this season, tying them with the New Jersey Devils for the league lead. Their 13 one-goal losses in regulation is second only to Buffalo.

“The identity of our team is a team that never gives up and we work hard every night,” McGrattan said. “Minus a couple games this year, we've been in almost every game so that's encouraging going forward. We've got the last 17 or18 games here to play spoiler against some teams.”

McGrattan's next opportunity to continue his unexpected but awfully fun to watch offensive prowess comes Wednesday night when Calgary hosts Anaheim.

In the last four games, McGrattan's 12 shots on goal ties him with Mark Giordano for the team lead. But McGrattan's dozen have come in just 29:11 in ice time. Over that same span, Giordano has logged over three times as many minutes (102:51). The next closest forward to him over that span is Cammalleri with nine shots.

“We've got a lot of guys that are getting an opportunity to show the organization that they belong in the NHL. The young guys have brought some spark to our dressing room and they push the old guys because we don't want to lose our spots,” said McGrattan, who is the oldest player on the team other than back-up goaltender Joey MacDonald.

Three-Year Anniversary of his AHL Game of a Lifetime

While McGrattan's six shots was a career high for an NHL game, it's not his high as a pro – not even close. Playing for the AHL's Syracuse Crunch on Mar. 12, 2011, he scored twice and had a whopping 13 shots on goal in a 3-2 win over Rochester.

Interestingly, his linemates that game were Nick Bonino and Patrick Maroon, who are both expected to be in the line-up for the Ducks on Wednesday. That game will fall on the third anniversary of that wild night at the War Memorial Arena in Syracuse.

One thing you can bet on after his 100-footer found the back of the net behind Eddie Lack on Saturday, you know he'll keep on shooting as much as he can and brandishing that red-hot slap shot that has served him so well of late.

It was in the second period Monday that McGrattan, with Saturday's goal in mind, again let a long slap shot fly from way outside the blue-line.

“Yeah, I had another long one there,” McGrattan said with a chuckle. “I was at the end of a shift, I'm like, ah, I my as well try it again.”

Friday, March 07, 2014

Homegrown Talent: Most Flames Draft Picks We've Seen in Years

It's still the honeymoon period, I suppose, but the first flat-out, all-in, fully-admitted rebuild year for the Calgary Flames continues to be a resounding success. It makes you wonder what all the fuss has been about up the highway the past several years.

Flames Fans have enjoyed the team's surprising on-ice success -- more victories and much closer games than anyone was expecting. Calgary is currently on an 8-4-0 hot streak.

The city has embraced the club's tireless work ethic under veteran head coach Bob Hartley, which with only a few exceptions, has produced games that are more entertaining to watch than what we've seen around these parts for years.

The excitement has really ramped up in the last 10 days as the club has started slowly unwrapping some of its brightest prospects and putting them on display at the Pengrowth Saddledome for their NHL debuts.

Eight is Great

On Friday night against the New York Islanders, thanks to the call-up Thursday night of Tyler Wotherspoon from the Abbotsford Heat (AHL), the Flames will have eight of their own draft picks in the line-up for the first time in over five years.

This group is comprised of five draft picks selected while Darryl Sutter was at the helm, and three selected by Jay Feaster, who took over general manager duties after that.

From youngest to oldest, here are the eight players along with age today, where they were drafted and by whom:

  • C Sean Monahan - 19 (1st round of 2013, 6th overall – Feaster)
  • D Tyler Wotherspoon - 20 (2nd round of 2011, 57th overall – Feaster)
  • C Markus Granlund - 20 (2nd round of 2011, 45th overall – Feaster)
  • C Max Reinhart - 22 (3rd round of 2010, 64th overall – Sutter)
  • G Joni Ortio - 22 (6th round of 2009, 171st overall – Sutter)
  • D TJ Brodie - 23 (4th round of 2008, 114th overall – Sutter)
  • LW Lance Bouma - 23 (3rd round of 2008, 78th overall – Sutter)
  • C Mikael Backlund - 24 (1st round of 2007, 24th overall – Sutter)

While injuries to the likes of veterans Curtis Glencross, David Jones and Dennis Wideman have opened the door for some of them, it can also be argued that these eight players are here on merit also and fully deserving of the chance they’re getting. In particular, recent call-ups Reinhart, Granlund, Wotherspoon and Ortio have all had excellent seasons with the Heat – the latter three all doing so as AHL rookies, which is not easy.

In this respect, how different is this year's team from a year ago? Calgary’s line-up exactly a year ago featured just two of its own draft picks. Backlund would have been a third but he was injured at the time.

  • March 6, 2013 vs San Jose – Brodie and Sven Baertschi
  • March 8, 2013 at Anaheim – Brodie and Steve Begin

Rewinding the Clock to 2008-09

The last time the Flames had eight of their own draft picks in uniform was March 3, 2009, a 6-3 victory in Ottawa. However, one of the eight that night was back-up goaltender Curtis McElhinney, who didn’t play.

The last time the Flames actually “played” eight of their own draft picks in a game was two nights earlier. On March 1 at the Saddledeome against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Flames deployed the same line-up but what made the difference was McElhinney got in the game also.  He didn’t start, mind you, but three Tampa Bay goals on Miikka Kiprusoff in less than four minutes to the end the second period that turned a 4-2 Flames lead into a 5-4 deficit, was what prompted a goaltending change at the intermission. For the third, coach Mike Keenan inserted McElhinney and while the spark worked initially, Iginla tying the game 14 seconds into the period, the Lightning eventually won 8-6.

Here are the eight Flames drafted players that played both of those nights along with their age at the time, when they were drafted and by whom. Three were Sutter draft picks and five were chosen by Craig Button, who was the general manager prior to that.

  • C Dustin Boyd - 22 (3rd round of 2004, 98th overall – Sutter)
  • D Dion Phaneuf - 23 (1st round of 2003, 9th overall – Sutter)
  • D Adam Pardy - 24 (6th round of 2004, 173rd overall – Sutter)
  • G Curtis McElhinney -  25 (6th round of 2002, 176th overall – Button) 
  • RW David Van Der Gulik - 25 (7th round of 2002, 206th overall – Button)
  • C Matthew Lombardi - 26 (3rd round of 2002, 90th overall – Button)
  • LW Eric Nystrom - 26 (1st round of 2002, 10th overall – Button)
  • RW David Moss - 27 (7th round of 2001, 220nd overall - Button)

Last Time for Nine Flames Draft Picks 

From the same time period, the last time Calgary had nine of its own draft picks in uniform was Feb. 27, 2009.  That game -- a 4-1 home-ice win over Minnesota, was immediately prior to the other two and came with the same group of eight mentioned above along with one more addition:

  • LW Brandon Prust - 24 (3rd round of 2004, 70th overall – Sutter)

However, while that was an occurrence of nine draft picks in the Flames line-up, only eight played as once again, McElhinney was the back-up and did not see any action.

Gone in Three Years: How the Band Broke Up

So, what happened after that previous one week stretch in which as many as Flames nine draft picks were in uniform?

To start, on March 4, Sutter traded Prust and Lombardi and a first round pick in 2009 or 2010 (ended up being 2010) to the Phoenix Coyotes for Olli Jokinen and a third round pick in 2009.

During the next season, three more were shipped out of town: Boyd was traded to Nashville, Phaneuf was dealt to Toronto and McElhinney was sent to Anaheim.

The remaining four all left as unrestricted free agents. Nystrom and Van Der Gulik departed in the summer of 2010 on Sutter’s watch. Feaster was at the helm when Pardy left in 2011 and Moss exited in 2012.

Comparing Then and Now

It's easy to get caught up in the moment and the excitement of the current batch of home grown Flames talent. Knowing that three years after the last group played together, all nine players were gone from the organization, it’s also easy to conclude that the current group carries with it much, much more optimism.

But is that fair to say?  Upon, closer look, absolutely that’s fair.  Here are three reasons why you should be legitimately more excited about the current batch of Calgary youngsters.

  1. Youngest Players Are Younger - In that last group, the youngest at the time was Boyd at 22 years and 7 months. Of the current group, Monahan, Wotherspoon, Granlund and Reinhart are all younger than that.
  2. Oldest Players are Younger – Backlund, at 24 years and 11 months, is the oldest of the current group. That group in 2009 had five players older than Backlund and two more – Prust and Pardy, who were just a handful of days younger than Backlund is now. This means unrestricted free agency is a long way away so this group can form part of the nucleus of this team for a long time.
  3. More Star Power – The current group has four players picked in the top two rounds where that group in 2009 had just two players that were selected in rounds one or two.

Sit Back and Enjoy the Ride

When some of the veterans return from injury, some of these players will be returned to Abbotsford so this may be the highwater mark for this year in terms of homegrown draft picks in the line-up.  However, this is the direction the organization is moving and is a trend you can expect to see continued again in 2014-15.

By the time the Flames are playoff relevant again, it's very possible that the number of home grown draft picks they'll have is not seven, eight, or nine but could be as many as a dozen or so. And, having watched those players develop over the years through junior hockey or college, then the AHL, and then finally the NHL, it will be an awfully rewarding experience for Calgary hockey fans.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Chasing Danny Quinn: Historical Context to Sean Monahan's Great Season at Age 19

Excuse Flames fans for feeling a little bit giddy. After all, Sean Monahan is having the type of year offensively that to be frank, hasn't been seen much around Calgary in the last quarter century or so.

After scoring both goals in Calgary's 2-1 overtime win over the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday -- Monahan's first NHL multi-goal game, the Flames 19-year-old rookie has fired a team-leading 18 on the season. With 22 games to go, Monahan is flirting with becoming just the third Calgary rookie in the last 23 seasons to reach the 20-goal mark. The other two: Jarome Iginla in 1996-97 (21 goals) and Dion Phaneuf in 2005-06 (20 goals).

Speaking of Iginla, how's this for a very cool historical footnote. Monahan's first two-goal game comes 17 years to the day of Iginla's first (and only) two-goal game during his rookie season, which also came at the age of 19. On March 1, 1997 against the Dallas Stars, the team that drafted him 11th overall in 1995, Iginla scored twice in a 4-1 win at the Saddledome.

On the Verge of Being the Flames Second Most Successful Teen

Impressively, Calgary's sixth overall pick in last June's NHL Entry Draft is doing all this as a teenager, which isn't easy. (Read my recent feature for The Canadian Press on how Monahan's rookie season is going off-the-ice).

Monahan does not turn 20 until Oct. 12. If he can score four more times before his next birthday and that will include a handful of games at the beginning of next season, he will pass Jarome Iginla and Robert Reichel and become Calgary's second most prolific goal scorer as a teenager behind Danny Quinn.

Danny who?

If you're under the age of 35, you probably have little to no recollection of Quinn, the exciting 5-foot-11 centre, who was drafted 13th overall by the Flames in the 1983 NHL Entry Draft. However, if you are a female in your 40s, you quite likely had a crush on Quinn back in the day. Here's a quick backgrounder on him.

As happened back in those days, Quinn started the 1983-84 season playing major junior with the Belleville Bulls. However, after piling up a ridiculous 23-36-59 in 24 games to lead the OHL in scoring, the Flames called him up to the NHL.  He scored 19 goals in Calgary's final 54 games and then scored another 20 the next season as a 19-year-old. He was traded to Pittsburgh in 1986 where he eventually scored 40 goals on the same Penguins team as Mario Lemieux.

Top 10 Calgary Flames Goal Scorers - As a Teen

1. Dan Quinn (1983-84, 1984-85) - 39
2. Jarome Iginla (1996-97) - 21
3. Robert Reichel (1990-91) - 19
4. Sean Monahan (2013-14) - 18
5. Kevin LaVallee (1980-81) - 15
6. Richard Kromm (1983-84) - 10
7. Derek Morris (1997-98) - 9
8. Oleg Saprykin (2000-01) - 7
9. Robyn Regehr (1999-00) - 5
9. Brian Glynn (1987-88) - 5

Notable Others: Sven Baertschi (3), Al MacInnis (1)

Ranking Monahan's Rookie Season

While Phaneuf and Iginla are the only two Flames rookies to have recently reached 20 goals, there were eight others that hit that mark since the franchise relocated to Calgary -- the others all doing it back in the high-scoring glory years in the 1980s.

There could be a couple asterisks on this list, however. Jiri Hrdina in 1988-89 and Sergei Makarov the next season, were ages 30 and 31 respectively for their 'rookie' season. It was after Makarov won the Calder as NHL rookie of the year that the league amended the rookie criteria so to be eligible, players have to be younger than age 26 on Sept. 15 of their rookie season.

At 18 goals, Monahan currently sits 14th on this list, tied with Gary Suter. He should make it into the top 10 by the end of the year and if he can get scorching hot again like he did to start the season, he might be able to make it into the top five. Although I'd suggest Joe Nieuwendyk's 51 goals is looking pretty safe atop the list!

Top 25 Calgary Flames Rookie Seasons - Goals Scored

1. Joe Nieuwendyk (1987-88) - 75 gm, 51-41-92
2. Hakan Loob (1983-84) - 77 gm, 30-25-55
3. Paul Ranheim (1989-90) - 80 gm, 26-28-54
3. Brett Hull (1987-88) - 52 gm, 26-24-50*
5. Joel Otto (1985-86) - 79 gm, 25-34-59
6. Sergei Makarov (1989-90) - 80 gm, 24-62-86
6. Carey Wilson (1984-85) - 74 gm, 24-48-72
8. Jiri Hrdina (1988-89) - 70 gm, 22-32-54
9. Jarome Iginla (1996-97) - 82 gm, 21-29-50
10. Dion Phaneuf (2005-06) - 82 gm, 20-29-49
11. Robert Reichel (1990-91) - 66 gm, 19-22-41
11. Jonas Hoglund (1996-97) - 68 gm, 19-16-35
12. Dan Quinn (1983-84) - 54 gm, 19-33-52
14. Sean Monahan (2013-14) - 53 gm, 18-8-26
14. Gary Suter (1985-86) - 80 gm, 18-50-68
16. Matthew Lombardi (2003-04) - 79 gm, 16-13-29
16. Cory Stillman (1995-96) - 74 gm, 16-19-35
18. Stephane Matteau (1990-91) - 78 gm, 15-19-34
18. Kevin LaVallee (1980-81) - 77 gm, 15-20-35
20. Theoren Fleury (1988-89) - 36 gm, 14-20-34
21. Jim Peplinski (1980-81) - 80 gm, 13-25-38
21. Colin Patterson (1983-84) - 56 gm, 13-14-27
23. Perry Berezan (1985-86) - 55 gm, 12-21-33
23. Denis Cyr (1981-82) - 45 gm, 12-10-22
25. Wes Walz, Al MacInnis, Richard Kromm, Ed Beers, Dave Hindmarch - 11 goals

* His Calgary totals before being traded to St. Louis on March 8, 1988.

Closing Thoughts on Different Eras

Not only is Monahan and the Flames of 2013-14 playing in a different era from the high-scoring days of yesteryear, the players that surround Monahan are also not of the same calibre that many others mentioned in this article had the luxury of playing beside.

While Monahan may end up with a rookie season that in terms of goals, may just barely make it into the top 10, all things considered, the calibre of season he's enjoying might just be one of the five very best for a forward in Flames history -- or at least he's in the conversation with the likes of Nieuwendyk, Loob, Iginla, Fleury, Quinn and Hull before... well, you know.

Regardless of where you want to rank Monahan's season -- third best, fifth, seventh. The bottom line is it's an encouraging start to Calgary's rebuild and is the type of year that can help make a rebuild shorter rather than longer -- especially if the organization can strike gold once again this June at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.