On Tuesday morning, Calgary Flames players returned to the office one last time. On their 'to do' list today were three separate meetings.
1. With general manager Brad Treliving.
2. With coach Bob Hartley.
3. With the lovely and adorable (and plentiful on this day) local media.
For media members, 'Garbage Bag Day' as it's become known -- although I never saw one player exit carrying an actual garbage bag -- is a lot like a game of hockey.
For one, the action can come in spurts. You could have two or three players all emerge from the dressing room at nearly the same time (typically wearing a backwards baseball cap unless you're a European goaltender). This results in instant chaos.
If you're fortunate enough to be there in numbers like the Calgary Herald (Scott, Kristen, George), the Calgary Sun (Wes, Randy, Eric, Scott), Sportsnet960 Radio (Pat, Rob, Ryan, Josh, Derek, Peter), or CalgaryFlames.com (Ryan, Aaron, Torie, JJ, Kristin), you have the luxury to divide and conquer.
If you're like me, it feels like you're suddenly defending a 5-on-3. Who do you cover? Where do you go? Active voice recorders are a must in this moment as you bounce from scrum to scrum, hoping to catch the best parts and avoid being that guy that asks the exact same question that was just asked a minute earlier.
By the way, if you haven't partaken before, every scrum begins like rush seating for an Aerosmith concert -- everyone racing into position, jockeying for the best vantage point. One wrong turn, any hesitancy and all, and you're dead. You'll end up trampled over and stuck on the outside of the pack, watching the Johnny Gaudreau interview going on 10 feet away from you through the viewfinder of the TSN camera that's blocking you.
Of course, scrums diminish in size as the minutes pass, usually the TV cameras are the first to pull out and that's great news for me for a couple reasons. For one, I can rest my hyper-extended elbow by getting way closer to the interviewee so I can actually hold my voice recorder comfortably. Secondly, this is the 'gold' time for quotes. When the glare of the TV camera lights go off and it's just a handful of us print scribes remaining, I've always found players loosen up and you get the better quotes. Heck, I even waited out everyone and got a couple one-on-one's today, a rare coup.
Between those bursts of action, there are these long, agonizing lulls where nothing is going on. It's a bit like the intermission but without the sumo suits or the Zambonis.
With laptops crammed onto folding tables near the dressing room area, down time is opportunity to transcribe some quotes while always remaining at the ready. As soon as more players emerge, then it's go-time once again.
The ol' Kipper Routine
Today, the longest wait and the last player to emerge (excluding Jiri Hudler, who pulled the ol' Miikka Kiprusoff and slipped out the back door) was also the most anticipated player -- Sean Monahan.
Once we were done asking a variety of cleverly-worded questions in a failed attempt to get him to confess to playing with a broken, sprained, dislocated, about-to-be-amputated shoulder injury (all of the above being wrong, although he said he did have a sore leg for a while), the final order of business is the coach/GM duel press conference and for that, we retreat to the Ed Whalen Media Lounge and a far more conventional and civil set-up.
Overall, I found it to be a real interesting and enjoyable day. There will be a lot of stories over the next couple days as all the above news outlets pound out copy.
To tackle things a bit differently, I thought I'd package up in chronological order some random highlights from my travels today. I didn't get everyone, missing the likes of Sam Bennett, Micheal Ferland, Kris Russell and Dennis Wideman, but I got most everyone else -- and all four of the aforementioned players did come up in conversation with others.
20 Takes on 20 Topics
1. Jonas Hiller - On Splitting Time in Net
Hiller admitted that while it worked great for the team, splitting time in net is not so great for the goalies.
"Sometimes it was tough because you felt good about your game and then you didn't play for a while so it wasn't easy," he said.
Hiller said getting pulled in game 1 against Anaheim and then not getting back in again was an example of when it gets frustrating.
"You always want to play. It was tough because I thought I had a really good series against Vancouver and I never got the chance again to play against Anaheim."
2. Mason Raymond - On His Frustrating NHL Season
Playing his eighth NHL season, Raymond called it the most frustrating of his career. He got off to a fast start with five goals in his first seven games and then got hurt and missed six weeks. He never really got on track after that, a few times sitting out as a healthy scratch including the first game of the playoffs.
"One of my worst years statistically," said Raymond. "You think you're learned so much and then another year goes by and you've gained so much more experience. I've been through experiences this year that I haven't really experienced at all. You take those and hopefully learn from them."
While inconsistent ice time and no set role played a role, Raymond said he points the finger at himself for not being able to work through that.
"It's a combination of a lot of things, but anybody is in the wrong if they don't look at themselves first and take it upon themselves that they can be better."
3. Joe Colborne - On Being More Like Backes
"You look at a guy like (St. Louis Blues 6-foot-3 captain) David Backes, that's the type of player I want to be. The type of player that can go against top players on the other team and be hard to play against and have guys that don't want to play against you," Colborne said.
On his to-do list for the summer, in addition to getting his ailing wrist and thumb healed, is getting bigger by putting on the "right amount of weight" and also working on his leg strength. He says he learned a lot from watching the Ducks.
"That top line of theirs was dominant out there. When you get three guys of that size going and playing that way, it's hard to play against and that's something we want to build here."
4. Matt Stajan - On Mentoring the Young Centres
Monahan, Bennett, Markus Granlund, Josh Jooris. All young men, who spent at least a little bit of time at centre this season. All in either their first or second NHL season.
"I just try to be myself. I look at veteran guys I was lucky enough to be around when I was young," said Stajan, 31. "Mats Sundin was obviously one guy, but I was lucky enough my first year to have Joe Nieuwendyk as my roomate. So not only was he a centreman on my team, he was my roomate all year. He was in his late 30s and I was 19 or 20 years old so it was a big age gap but it was great. I could ask him anything and he would help me out a lot."
Stajan says he appreciated the opportunity really helped out
"At the time, you don't realize how much that year helped. It helps you as a person, as a player. You just try and watch people around you. That's how I learned the most, just by watching the way these guys handle themselves.
That same absorbing took place this year only this time with Stajan in the role of the elder.
"You want to help young guys, particularly with face-offs and supporting the puck in the middle of the ice. It's so important as a centre man," Stajan said. "So we talk and I try to be there for the guys. But they're all like sponges. They all listen and they all gained a lot of experience this year and that's the number one thing for learning quickly at this level."
5. Johnny Gaudreau - On Going Back to School
You could say the last eight months -- first year in the NHL -- has been like being in school for Gaudreau but he returns to actual school later this month. Yep, back to Boston College, where he left fled after three years to sign with the Flames last spring.
"Mom's going to make me go back to school and get my degree," said Gaudreau. "She was pretty keen on me going back to school."
Flying back to Boston on Thursday, he'll sign up for his classes on Friday.
"Classes start pretty soon. I need to get back into school mode," said Gaudreau, who is also looking forward to seeing his old buddies. "My senior class is still there and they're graduating on the 18th so I'll be able to be there and watch them graduate."
What is he studying? Communications! That got a roar from the assembled media.
"I might need an internship with one of you guys," Gaudreau quipped.
6. Paul Byron - On His Medley of Injuries
Now we know why Byron fell off the radar late in the year and also why when asked, Bob Hartley only referred to Byron's ailment as a "body" injury.
"Sports hernia started with a tight groin, right after the father's trip. Game against Boston, I got hit from behind, jammed my wrist, broke my toe. It was a mixture of all three injuries that hit me at the same time," Byron said.
The 5-foot-7 winger had surgery a few weeks ago for the hernia. He's also going to have Arthroscopic surgery on his wrist to see if it also needs to be repaired.
"To see your season end that way when you're day-to-day for two-and-a-half months, it's tough."
7. David Jones - On His Down and Up Year
The season got off to an awful start for Jones with the indignity of being made a healthy scratch for the season-opening game against Vancouver.
"I had a good camp then I was scratched the first game of the season. I was pretty choked about that. It's tough. As a veteran player to come in and not have a spot on the opening roster, especially when you think you had a pretty good year the year before," said Jones. "They obviously wanted more and they got it out of me afterwards. The first 20 games, I had a tough time finding where I fit. I was up and down the line-up a little bit."
But after he got some clarity with his role and consistency in his linemates, his season turned around.
"Once I got settled, myself, Boums and Backs were a strong line for us down the stretch," said Jones.
He enjoyed similar success skating on a line with Ferland and Stajan in the playoffs. Jones says playing opposite a big, banging winger is perfect.
"Just knowing when the puck goes on the other side of the ice, you know that guy is going to put someone on their ass, it's nice," said Jones. "You don't have to run over there and try to get a hit yourself. But you have to keep your head up too. A few times (Ferland) almost caught me there trying to hit the same guy. It was so much fun playing wih those guys and having that impact."
8. David Jones - On the Potential of Micheal Ferland
"Sky's the limit for him. It's incredible the way he came into the playoffs," said Jones.
Jones laughed as he reflected back on a conversation Ferland had with him prior to game 1 against the Canucks.
"He told me before the playoffs started, he's like, 'I'm going to be running around out there and hitting everything that moves'. I'm like all right buddy, I'm excited to watch it."
It was quite a show and Jones says you can see why he instantly became a fan favourite.
"You just listen to them announce him before the game, they love him here and he's got a bright future if he keeps playing that way."
9. Karri Ramo - On the Situation He's Looking For
"The most important thing for me is I'm wanted. that the team wants me to be there, that the team thinks that I can be part of the group and I would be a big part of the team. You want that responsibility," said Ramo.
Ramo did say he doesn't put too much stock in a team's goalie situation realizing that it can change quickly.
"What I have learned is in the NHL, things that are set today are not set tomorrow. Everything changes so quickly. It doesn't matter if at the start you're not even the goalie in the line-up. In a couple weeks, you may end up playing every game."
He says he'd certainly consider Edmonton just like he's consider any team if he doesn't end up back with Calgary.
"Obviously, they've had struggles but I'm sure they're going to go the right direction sometime soon," Ramo said. "They've had a few bad years but it's not a bad place. There's no bad places in the NHL"
10. Deryk Engelland - On What he Saw From TJ Brodie
After Mark Giordano's season-ending injury, Engelland jumped up to the top four to play alongside Brodie. That puts him in a pretty good position to evaluate the Flames rising star blue-liner.
"He's great. He can skate forever. He's fast. He makes plays. He's good defensively as well. He can play in both ends and that's the biggest thing for him. He's not just a one-dimensional guy," said Engelland.
He adds that Brodie's conditioning is something else.
"He's usually out there a little longer and he's jumping a lot more than me. Every time I come off the ice, he seems to have more wind than I do. It's amazing," Engelland said. "We definitely haven't seen the top of his game. He's a great player, he's still young, has a lot of years left and he'll just keep growing as a player. He'll be a dominant force for many years here."
11. Mark Giordano - On the Team's Three Young Stars
"The reason we made the playofs this year is because we had young guys step into our line-up and have such an impact and that's what you need now with all the moving parts and the salary cap every year," said Giordano.
"You need to have young guys develop in your organization that are impact players. We feel really good about ourselves because Johnny and Mony are there already, they're basically first-line guys for a lot of the year and the way Benny came in at the end and jumped straight in to the playoffs, that's a tough thing to do. In a lot of those playoff games, he had a big impact. Right away in that Vancouver series, he created some needed depth for us whether it be second or third line."
Giordano says their ability to deliver in the clutch and handle the spotlight is also huge.
"Johnny, you can just see it in his played. He wants the puck in those big moments. Benny as well, he has it. Mony is the even-keel guy who never gets too high, never gets too low. People were wondering if he'd get back to 20 goals this year and he got 30."
12. Mikael Backlund - On His Good Playoffs
"I'm happy with my season but I know I can play better," said Backlund.
Of course, a big contributor to that was missing all of November and December due to an abdominal injury suffered while training in the summer.
"I played way better in the playoffs," Backlund said. "I felt the playoffs I was playing the game that I know I can play at and it's the level I want to play at all year next year."
That included playing with an edge. It made for an enjoyable post-season run.
"I'm going to try and find a way to play with the same physicality and be just as aggressive as I was in the playoffs, I love those games. The playoffs is the best time of the year. It was the most fun I've ever had in hockey."
13. Lance Bouma - On Proving He Is What He Is
As an RFA last summer, it took Bouma a long time to sign before he settled for a $775,000 one-year deal. After scoring 16 goals, he's in line for a bit pay raise this season after showing the consistency that was asked of him.
"Just that I can do it for a full year. Obviously, the goals are a nice bonus. but at the same time, I played the same game that I played last year. I was more physical this year. Blocking shots and I was still doing those things. I played the same way and got rewarded," Bouma said.
The popular winger hopes to sign a long-term deal.
"I'd love to stay here as long as I can, for sure."
14. TJ Brodie - On Playing so Much Down the Stretch
After Giordano went down, Brodie along with Dennis Wideman and Kris Russell played huge minutes. That amounted to a lot of mileage and scads of ice time over the final three months as Bob Hartley played them a ton.
"It was a little tough at times. Finding a balance between jumping up and knowing when to stay back and try to conserve some energy was big," Brodie said. "Obviously the other guys helped too. Guys stepped up."
Although all Brodie would reluctantly reveal was that he had a minor "lower body" injury, GM Brad Treliving later on confirmed it was a sprained ankle.
"The body feels good," Brodie said. "Rest for a bit and get back to training."
15. Sean Monahan - On the Difficulty of the Playoffs
Much was made about the drop-off in production from the Flames top line but Monahan points out it's hard to find space come the post-season.
"It's obviously a big difference. You're playing a team and you could play them seven games in a row. Guys are on top of you and they want to get a hit on you to make sure they leave a mark," Monahan said. "When you have the puck in the playoffs, it's much different than in the regular season. Space closes, gaps close and you need to get things done a lot quicker."
It took some prodding but Monahan eventually admitted he took a lingering injury (or two) into the playoffs.
"Ya, maybe a little but I would say everybody's hurt. I had a sore leg for a little bit and a couple other bumps and bruises but nothing too severe."
16. Brad Treliving - On his Biggest Priority this Summer
"Mark Giordano is the No. 1 priority for this summer," said Treliving, without hesitation.
With one more year left on his current deal, extending Giordano can't take place until after July 1 per the CBA but it sure sounds like if he has his way, it won't be too long after that when it happens.
"Everybody in this room knows what Mark means to this team both on and off the ice," said Treliving. "He's a culture-setter for our group. You can't win on the ice until you have the right culture off the ice and he sets that up for us. He's the priority. We plan to get to work at it. We've done some preliminary work at it. That is one that we hope to get wrapped up very, very quickly this summer."
17. Brad Treliving - On Benefits of Playoff Experience
"There are things you can prepare people for but there are certain things that you have to experience," said Treliving. "You can prepare guys for how hard that is but going through the playoffs, those are experiences you can't garner any other way other than going through it."
Treliving said it sets up the team nicely for next post-season.
"The deeper you go, the later you go in the season, the game changes. The rink becomes smaller, there's less room. There's all sorts of things you have to deal with," Treliving said. "You can sit and talk about that and Bob can show it on video but until you live it, you haven't lived it."
18. Brad Treliving and Bob Hartley - On Getting Bigger
Treliving said that once Ferland and Bouma got back in the line-up in game 4 against the Ducks, he liked the size of his team. They could still be bigger but those two additions made a huge difference. He also said you have to exercise caution when pursuing size.
"You have to be careful with size. We'd all like them to be 6-foot-4 and skate like the wind and shoot it a million miles-per-hour. You can't just get lost in size for the sake of size. They still have to be able to be players and be good players," Treliving said.
Treliving said speed is most important.
"Look at the teams still playing, there's one characteristic -- foot speed. The game is not getting any slower," Treliving said. "We would like to combine good speed and size. You can't just get bigger without getting better. You have to be careful. You can't just get a big guy because he's a big guy. He has to be the right player."
Hartley says the game and that prototypical fourth line isn't what it used to be.
"Whether it's 7, 9 or 12 minutes that your fourth line is going to get, we're in a game right now where they need to be quality minutes, they can't just be clock killers," said Hartley. "The days in the NHL to have a tough guy sitting on the bench just for one job, those days are over. They need to be able to skate."
19. Bob Hartley and Brad Treliving - On Tyler Wotherspoon
Wotherspoon kept getting called up this season, but it took forever to get in his first game and when he did play, he didn't play much.
Many were alarmed considering Wotherspoon had played well in 14 NHL games last year. What had gone wrong? As it turns out, nothing went wrong. It was as simple as last year, the Flames were out of the playoff race, it was a different situation. This season everything was on the line and Hartley preferred to go with a veteran.
"The maturation for a goalie, for a defenceman, is a lot longer than for a forward because of the responsibilities that go with that position," said Hartley. "He's right on track, following the curve and we're very happy with him, but obviously like every young player, training camp will be a big one next year."
Treliving added that don't overlook the impact of the major shoulder surgery Wotherspoon had last year. It kept him out of training camp and as a result, Treliving said it took him a while to get up to speed in the AHL.
Treliving said that in his exit meeting with Wotherspoon, he challenged him. He said next year in camp as a guy that's been here a few years now, he has to come in and take charge.
"You're coming in to earn a job, not star gaze and take home underwear for the summer that has a Flames logo," Treliving said. "That's what I told him, you have to come in with the mentality of winning a job. You have a full summer to get bigger stronger and all the things that young players have to do but you have to come in here like you're ripping one of these seven spots away. He'll be ready."
20. Brad Treliving - On the Flames Two Weaknesses
While Hartley shrugged off the question of what his team's weakness is -- saying it's his job to cover up those weaknesses, Treliving was more forthright on two areas he'd like to address.
First is depth on the blue-line.
"We need to become deeper in that position. To go deep in the playoffs, we need to upgrade there," Treliving said. "An upgrade might be Tyler Wotherspoon coming in and stealing a job. It might be like how David Schlemko came in and did a good job for us, that's something we'll look at it. Maybe it's something that comes from the outside be it an acquisition or something. Those three guys (Brodie, Wideman, Russell) looked like drowned rats most of the year, they played so much."
The other area, which would also help the blue-line, is to have the puck more.
"Need to spend more time in the offensize zone and that's holding on to pucks, protecting pucks," said Treliving. "Defencemen can play 27 minutes if 10 of those minutes are standing at the offensize blue-line and not defending behind your goal line."
Only good things can happen from more puck possession.
"Being a team that can hold onto pucks, play more time in the offensive zone, obviously limits the chances you're going to give up and will create more offence."
By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Go there and do so now. It's just another way to be alerted to new Calgary Flames articles that I've written.
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