Friday, April 28, 2017

Stockton Playoff Primer: Red-Hot Heat Seek Upset of Top Ranked San Jose

Brandon Bollig brings experience to line-up. (Photo by Jack Lima)

Rolling for a couple months now, the American Hockey League's Stockton Heat entered the weekend hoping to topple the juggernaut San Jose Barracuda.

But after a 5-3 loss on home ice on Friday night, Stockton trails the best-of-five 2-1 and will face a must-win on Sunday in game 4 of the Calder Cup opening round series.

Ryan Huska
The Heat entered the playoffs red-hot. They had to be after a miserable stretch in the middle part of the season that looked like it had sunk their post-season aspirations.

"It felt like we had to play playoff hockey for about six weeks before we got to this point, so it's nice to be in," said coach Ryan Huska earlier in the week. "Good on the players for not throwing in the towel when things looked dim."

In his third year at the helm of Calgary's minor league affiliate, Huska's first trip to the playoffs comes in the final year of his three-year contract.

It's been a season that's had three distinct chapters. The Heat blazed out to a sizzling 16-6-2 start. That was followed by an awful 3-15-3 stretch from mid-December to mid-February. Then, coinciding with getting Garnet Hathaway back on Feb. 21, the Heat promptly snapped a 10-game losing streak and were dynamite the rest of the season, finishing off 15-4-4 to edge out Bakersfield (Edmonton Oilers affiliate) for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Pacific Division.

"There are a few things. Hathaway was one guy, for sure," Huska pointed out, when asked the reason for the turnaround. "Getting Brett Kulak back as well, helped us. Those were important factors for our group, getting them back. Hath in particular. He changed the feel of our room."


Something to Prove

This series pits the best team in the Western Conference in San Jose (43-16-9), who finished second overall, against Stockton (34-25-9), who was the lowest ranked team of the eight playoff teams in the West.

"We don't believe we were an 8 seed team coming into it, playing a number 1, we think we're better than that," said Kulak, prior to game 3.

A good team already, the Sharks demise in six games to the Edmonton Oilers in the Stanley Cup playoffs wasn't good news for the Heat, who have to face an even better team.

From the San Jose line-up that Calgary faced in the final game of the NHL regular season, four forwards have since been reassigned by the big club to the Barracuda -- Marcus Sorensen, Timo Meier, Kevin Labanc and Danny O'Regan, who edged out Mark Jankowski for the AHL's most outstanding rookie.

"They have a deep team and those guys are going to make them deeper," Huska admitted. "But it's not going to change how we're going to play against them. It just means another weapon on the other side that we have to be aware of when they're on the ice."


Recapping the Series so Far

Last Friday at SAP Center, San Jose won the opener 4-0, but Sunday was a different story. A nifty goal from Jankowski 90 seconds into the game was the first of four first period shots to beat AHL goaltender of the year Troy Grosenick, who had a 1.30 goals-against average and .946 save percentage against the Heat in the regular season. Additionally, he had turned aside all 28 shots he faced in game 1.

Garnet Hathaway
"After getting shut out the first game, to break that seal early in the second game just to show that we can do this, that we can get on him, that definitely gave the whole bench a boost," Jankowski says.

Austin Carroll at 12:22, Linden Vey at 16:23 and Hathaway at 17:07 also scored in that first period uprising. Hathaway's goal was a beauty. Sprung on a breakaway on a TJ Brodie-esque 100-foot pass from Kulak, the big right winger broke in off the sideboards and beat Grosenick on a slick deke to his backhand.

"A lot of people don't realize how skilled (Hathaway) is," Jankowski says about his linemate. "They obviously see what comes to the surface right away -- his grit and sandpaper game, he gets in the face of the other team -- but he has the skill to make plays when he has an opportunity."

Hathaway alongside rookies Jankowski and left-winger Andrew Mangiapane make up Stockton's No. 1 unit. They've been together for a while now.

"Two hard-working guys, who are really easy to play with," says Jankowski. "They're both very skilled. Mang, obviously, can make a lot of plays, he's a goal scorer. Garnet really likes to get in there, be first on the forecheck, muck things up and help get pucks. When he gets the puck, he can make plays too."

Friday night in game 3, O'Regan's slapshot from the blueline with 16 seconds gave San Jose a 2-0 lead after one. While veterans Mike Angelidis and Brandon Bollig got the Heat back to even at 2-2 after two periods, the Barracuda got goals 1:26 apart late in the third period to take a 4-2 lead and essentially put the game away. Mike Kostka scored with 28 seconds left and the goalie pulled to give Stockton some faint hope, but an empty net goal came right after.


Top Line Responds to Coach's Challenge

After game one, Huska said he went to his No. 1 line and challenged them, telling them that he needed more.

Mark Jankowski
"He came up to our line after and said it's playoffs, maybe in the regular season, you can get away with being OK or being just good enough, but in the playoffs, everybody has to elevate their game and you have to be that much better," said Jankowski earlier in the week. "We really stepped up our game for game 2."

Huska has been impressed by how Jankowski takes feedback and responds to it immediately and positively.

"I get to be with him every day and I'm a fan of the way he plays the game," said the coach. "He's an intelligent player and maybe my favourite part about him, you can challenge him to raise his level and I haven't been disappointed once when we've done that to him. He's always responded the right way.

"We challenged him and his line to be better after game 1 and we saw that in game 2. He had three points that night and logged a lot of really heavy minutes for us in a lot of different situations. It's good to see a guy like that, when challenged, raise his level, because we're going to need him to continue to do that along the way for us to have the success we want."

Finishing the regular season with 27 and 20 goals respectively to finish 1-2 on the team, Jankowski and Mangiapane became the first pair of Calgary AHL rookies to reach the 20-goal mark since Matthew Lombardi and Chuck Kobasew did so with the Saint John Flames in 2002-03. For what it's worth, Lombardi and Kobasew went on to log over 1,100 combined NHL games.


Relishing the Experience

Playing alongside Rasmus Andersson in the team's top four, Kulak is embracing the opportunity to play in some intense post-season hockey.

Brett Kulak
"It's playoffs, it's do or die so you want to leave everything on the ice. If you get knocked out, there's all summer to repair yourself," Kulak said. "Everyone seems to find some extra adrenaline. The pace of game and intensity picks up at this time of year."

Kulak is well aware there are changes coming this summer to the Flames blue line.

"There will be a lot of opportunity going into next year's camp and I'm excited about it. You just have to continue to work hard up until that time comes and everything will fall into place," said the 23-year-old, who got into 21 games with Calgary this season.

He noted that right now is a great chance to get a jump start on trying to secure one of those jobs that could be available. It's worth noting that in 2017-18, Kulak will also be waiver eligible so he can no longer be shuttled back and forth from the minors without being put on waivers and made available to the rest of the league.

"With Calgary out now, there will be extra eyes watching us," said Kulak, who isn't wrong. In addition to assistant GM Brad Pascall who is a regular spectator, president of hockey operations Brian Burke and general manager Brad Treliving have also stopped by. "Every management team likes winners so the deeper we go in playoffs, the better it is for everyone."


Ending a Five-Year Drought

Stockton is trying to give the Flames organization its first AHL playoff series win since the Abbotsford Heat defeated the Milwaukee Admirals 4-1 in 2012.

David Rittich
That team under the guidance of coach Troy Ward featured Paul Byron, Krys Kolanos, Greg Nemisz, Roman Horak and Leland Irving. Byron and a lot of meh reflects the sordid state of the organization's prospect cupboard at that time under GM Darryl Sutter.

The last playoff series win before that was in 2010, a team that Mikael Backlund was a part of.

The other key in Stockton's win last Sunday was the goaltending performance from David Rittich, who has been a really nice find since being signed away from the Czech Republic last spring. After San Jose scored three goals in less than five minutes in the second period, Huska immediately pulled Jon Gilles and inserted Rittich, who led the team during the regular season with five shutouts and a .924 save percentage.

"It's not an easy spot for a goaltender to come in, they had the momentum, but he came in and like he typically always does, the way he starts games, he just loves to play," Huska said. "Once he felt the puck a few times, he got himself quickly into the zone he's been in for most of the year and he made some real big saves for us to allow us to keep that lead."

Rittich stopped 11 of the 12 shots he faced to preserve the victory.

"He made one save, he threw in an old school pad stack that was just phenomenal. It was a timely save. When you look at David, it doesn't really matter how he made the save. His job is to keep the puck out. Sometimes it looks funny but he doesn't care, he's going to try and do everything he can to make sure it doesn't cross that line."


Veterans a Key Part of the Mix

Generally, to enjoy success in the AHL, it requires a mix of experienced veterans and talented kids. The make-up of the Heat is no different.

The aforementioned young prospects the Flames are hoping will graduate to the NHL someday are complemented by a solid core of veterans.

Speaking of 2012, three current members of the Heat played that season for the Norfolk Admirals when the AHL affiliate of the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Calder Cup. Those three are 31-year-old Kostka -- picked up from Ottawa in the Curtis Lazar trade, 27-year-old Keith Aulie -- Flames fourth round pick in 2007 that re-signed with the organization in November, and Angelidis, the team's 31-year-old captain.



There's also a Stanley Cup ring in the room with Bollig, the 30-year-old a familiar name for Flames fans. Bollig was a regular contributor this season, picking up 11 goals and 22 points for the Heat as the pending unrestricted free agent plays out the final year of his three-year/$3.75 million NHL deal.

To have more success this weekend, Jankowski says it has to be more of the same from his team.

"We need to stay on them and keep wearing them down. We're a big, heavy team and we play in-your-face hockey and we can't get away from that in this series," he said prior to game 3.

"We've got to take the body and hit whenever we can. It's a long series and that will take its toll. Just get to Grosenick as much as we can. A lot of pucks and bodies to the net. Tire him out and wear him down."


Line-up Notes

Forwards

For game three, Stockton tweaked its lines from the previous game as Morgan Klimchuk (upper body) was a scratch but veteran Matt Frattin returned to the line-up. Ryan Lomberg (undisclosed) remains out after being banged up in game 1:

Andrew Mangiapane - Mark Jankowski - Garnet Hathaway
Matt Frattin - Linden Vey - Matthew Phillips
Hunter Shinkaruk - Mikkel Aagaard - Austin Carroll
Jamie Devane - Mike Angelidis - Brandon Bollig


The injuries have opened up a spot for 19-year-old Matthew Phillips, coming off a 50-goal season with Victoria (WHL) and with the team on an amateur try-out. The 2016 sixth round pick made his AHL debut in the Heat's regular season finale against Tucson.

"We knew that he was a guy that can generate some offence from his track record and the game against Tucson, he handled himself well," says Huska. "Because of that, he gave us the confidence to go to him."


Defence

On the back end, pairings for game 3 were:

Tyler Wotherspoon - Mike Kostka
Brett Kulak - Rasmus Andersson
Oliver Kylington - Kayle Doetzel


The one change from the first two games was inserting 6-foot-3 ex-Red Deer Rebel Kayle Doetzel for veteran Keith Aulie, who got injured in game 2 blocking a shot.

Adam Ollas-Mattsson
Other blueline options include Kenney Morrison, who has been with the team all year, and 20-year-old Adam Ollas-Mattsson, who got into nine games with Stockton in March and April after his season ended in Sweden.

"We really didn't know how he would fare when he first came over. We threw him right into the fire his first couple games and the one thing that jumps out at you is he's got really good smarts," said Huska. "His skating ability is the one knock on him, but he's got a really high hockey sense where he's able to make up for a little bit of a lack of mobility by always making the right play and always being in the right position."

A Flames sixth round pick in 2014, Mattsson has been playing in the top men's league in Sweden. Having reached the end of his contract, he is a candidate to come over to North America to play next season.

"For a guy that came into our group, not really knowing anybody, he was blocking shots his first game, he's a real competitive young man and he's a guy that we wouldn't hesitate to put in the line-up right now which I think says a lot about what he was able to come in and do for us."


Goaltender

Huska opted to give Rittich his first playoff start on Friday night. After getting beaten twice in the first period, he was perfect on 13 shots faced in the second, but the Barracuda beat him twice late in the third before adding an empty netter. Rittich was credited with 28 saves.

"I don't think we can go wrong with whoever gets the start for us, but it is nice to know that if someone does have an off night, you have a guy coming in that can turn the tide of a game," said Huska. "We've been fortunate this year to have two really good goaltenders that we've had at our disposal all year."

With the season on the line, I wouldn't be surprised to see Huska go back to Gillies for game 4 on Sunday.



By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Do so now! It's another way to be alerted to new Calgary stories I've written, other articles from my colleagues I enjoyed and I'll also sometimes use that space to weigh in on the news of the day.

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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Pro Hockey Debut: Little Matthew Phillips Making a Big Impression in Stockton

Matthew Phillips in AHL playoff action. (Photo by Jack Lima)

He got his chance and Matthew Phillips nailed the audition.

As a result, the exciting Flames prospect has landed a supporting role in the Stockton Heat’s pursuit of the Calder Cup.

Ten days ago when Calgary’s American Hockey League affiliate clinched a playoff spot with one game remaining in the regular season, it presented an opportunity for Phillips, who turned 19 earlier this month.

With forward mainstays Mark Jankowski, Linden Vey and captain Mike Angelidis all given the finale off to get some extra rest ahead of the playoffs, Phillips got his chance to strut his stuff for Ryan Huska and the rest of his coaching staff.

“I thought that game against Tucson, I played pretty well,” says Phillips, who had an assist and four shots that night. “I worked hard and just tried to play the same game I’ve been playing my whole life.”

His debut came nine days after he arrived in northern California from Victoria on an amateur try-out (ATO) after his WHL season came to an end.

“It worked out well. I had a chance to get here, practice for a week, watch four games and get a better idea for the system and the level of play, so that was good,” says Phillips, a Calgary kid who played two years of bantam and two years of midget for the Calgary Buffalo Hockey Association.

“I felt a lot more comfortable before I even stepped on the ice. It was fun to get out there and see what it's like. It's definitely a whole lot faster than it looks from the press box.”


Seizing the Opportunity

While a meaningless game in the standings, it wasn’t for Phillips, who made the most of his opportunity to play by impressing the right people.

“He handled himself very well and gave us the confidence that we could go to him in a playoff situation,” says Huska.

It wasn't a first impression, mind you. Huska had the chance to coach him at the Young Stars rookie tournament in Penticton.

"In September, I think everybody at first was like oh wow, he is an undersized player, for sure," recalls Huska. "But you saw what he could do and how he always came out of scrums with the puck.

"For me, I was interested to see how he would do against the bigger, older players that we have here. The first couple practices, you paid attention to him to see how he's doing and he fit in fine. I go to the instinct where he's had to learn how to survive being a smaller guy. He understands how to use his body the right way, he understands how to position himself and he has the good work habits. After a few days here in practice, our players were comfortable with him and our staff as well."


Post-Season Beckons

Fast forward to last weekend and when scrappy forward Ryan Lomberg got banged up in the Heat’s 4-0 loss to San Jose in game 1, that created an opening.

Sure enough, it was Calgary's sixth round pick in 2016 that got the tap.

“Probably a little bit surprised to find out I was playing game two but it was great," Phillips says. "It was awesome that they showed that trust to dress me for that game."

While his line with Linden Vey and Morgan Klimchuk didn’t factor in the scoring, the Heat beat San Jose 5-3 at SAP Center to even the best-of-five series 1-1. Games three and four against the Barracuda go this Friday and Sunday in Stockton.

“We knew he was a guy that can generate some offence,” says Huska. “When you watch his game, because he is smaller, he understands where he should be on the ice. More often than not, positionally he's very sound.

“The other thing we noticed in short order with him is he's very direct in his play. If he loses the puck, he's stopping on it. He makes sure he comes back to get it quickly and doesn't go for the big skate.”


Short Remarks

Short order? While no pun was intended on this occasion, there has been the occasional quip about Phillips’ height which is something he has 'grown' used to.

“There have obviously been a few very hilarious jokes about how I'm one of the players’ sons or little brothers,” says Phillips with a sarcastic yet good-natured chuckle. “But I expected that. It's been good. First few days were a bit different, coming into a pro room where there are guys more than 10 years older than me, but I can't say enough good things.”

Does the 5-foot-6 right winger ever hear any new material at this point?

“Some guys get a little more creative than others, but it's all pretty similar,” he laughs.

After being ousted by Everett in the WHL playoffs in a game six that took a gut-wrenching and league-record five overtimes to decide (“It just went on and on and I thought nobody was ever going to score a goal.”), Phillips says the opportunity to continue playing – after first taking a few days to rest and re-charge -- was welcomed news when he got the call from Flames assistant GM Brad Pascall.

“It was disappointing to lose out but this is the type of thing that you look forward to, getting a good feel for pro hockey,” says Phillips.

Matthew Phillips, ready in the slot. (Photo by Jack Lima)


Preparing for the Next Level

Even just watching has been beneficial.

“I've never really had the experience of being a scratch and watching games from above. I've actually learned a lot from that,” says Phillips.

As a 1998 year of birth, he’s not eligible to play in the American Hockey League until 2018-19. Nonetheless, this stint -- however long it lasts – will help him know what lies ahead in 18 months time.

“(Jankowski) also did it and the next year he transitioned really well to this level,” Phillips points out. “You're curious what the next level is like and it's awesome that I'm getting the chance to experience it. Now the mystery is gone.”

While Huska says he hopes to get Lomberg back for game three, Klimchuk’s condition is uncertain for Friday night. He left Sunday’s game with an upper body injury.

Advanced notice or short notice, you know that Phillips will be ready to go if needed.

“If I get to play again, the more I play, the more comfortable I'll get,” he says.

Heck, if Phillips keeps impressing everyone like he has, forget about a supporting role for the 50-goal scorer this season, a starring role might be in the offing.



By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Do so now! It's another way to be alerted to new Calgary stories I've written, other articles from my colleagues I enjoyed and I'll also sometimes use that space to weigh in on the news of the day.

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Sunday, April 23, 2017

Change is the only Constant: Who Might be Back and Who Might Not, From This Year's Flames



Change, as they say, is the only constant.

Welcome to the business side of operating an NHL team.

If you have a successful season and post positive results, change is necessary because within your budget, you cannot afford to keep all your workers. Some that have earned raises with their performances will end up switching workplaces.

If your season doesn't go so well, change is necessary because you want to address any shortcomings. Inevitably, performance reviews will result in some contractors not being brought back.

So how much change should we expect from the Calgary Flames after a season in 2016-17 that started off disappointing, went through long stretches of tremendous success, before ending disappointingly?

Is there a normal number of changes?


Pack Your Bags

Sticking with Calgary, I went back over the last five years to see from one season to the next, how      many of the team's regulars or at least semi-regulars ended up not back with the team the following year.

What I learned is at minimum, at least five notable players have moved on annually. This number topped out at a whopping 14 exits from last season's team between a busy trade deadline and a summer in which Calgary moved on from several free agents.

For the purpose of this research, note that I define 'notable' as skaters that appeared in at least 15 games for Calgary and goalies that played in at least 10 games. I'll also add that last year's departed included two unique situations of players that didn't leave the organization, but were no longer on the NHL team. Prior to the start of this season, Ladislav Smid was placed on LTIR for the year and the team chose to also bury Brandon Bollig and his one-way contract in the AHL for the season.

I include them though because that's in the spirit of the type of change we're talking about -- on the NHL team one season and then not the next season.


Departures - Year after Year

  • 2016-17 (TBD) - D Jyrki Jokipakka... 
  • 2015-16 (14) - LW Brandon Bollig, RW David Jones, C Derek Grant, D Jakub Nakladal, RW Jiri Hudler, C Joe Colborne, G Jonas Hiller, G Joni Ortio, C Josh Jooris, G Karri Ramo, D Kris Russell, D Ladislav Smid, C Markus Granlund, LW Mason Raymond
  • 2014-15 (5) - LW Curtis Glencross, D David Schlemko, C Paul Byron, D Raphael Diaz, LW Sven Baertschi
  • 2013-14 (8) - D Chris Butler, G Joey MacDonald, RW Kevin Westgarth, RW Lee Stempniak, C Mike Cammalleri, G Reto Berra, D Shane O'Brien, LW TJ Galiardi
  • 2012-13 (9) - LW Alex Tanguay, RW Blake Comeau, D Cory Sarich, RW Jarome Iginla, D Jay Bouwmeester, G Miikka Kiprusoff, LW Roman Cervenka, LW Steve Begin, RW Tim Jackman
  • 2011-12 (5) - C Brendan Morrison, LW David Moss, LW Rene Bourque, D Scott Hannan, RW Tom Kostopoulos

As noted, we know there will be at least one player in a new uniform for next season because that player is already gone -- Jyrki Jokipakka was shipped to Ottawa at the trade deadline. But who else has played their last game in the Flaming 'C'?

Here are a dozen players from the organization in which there seems to be the most speculation. With each, I've included why I think they will or won't be back.


1. G Brian Elliott

Age: 32
2016-17: 45 starts, 26-18-3, 2.55 GAA, .910 SV
Contract Status: UFA on July 1, coming off 3Y/$7.5M deal ($2.5M AAV)

For a stretch of two-plus months starting Jan. 26 with a 3-2 overtime win in Ottawa, Elliott finally looked like the goalie the Flames were expected all along when they acquired him from St. Louis back in June. Winning 11 consecutive games at one point, he regained the starter's job he had lost before Christmas and put up some superb numbers. He was particularly sharp in March, which has been a pattern throughout his career. But then the playoffs happened.

In game two in Anaheim, it was two shaky goals allowed in the first seven minutes that put Calgary on its heels. Back home, all of game three was rough. As the Flames blew a 4-1 lead, the worst of the bunch was the soft goal that kickstarted the comeback from a sharp angle late in the second. After that shaky outing, there was uncertainty he'd even get the game four start. He did, but proof that any trust was gone, he was immediately pulled after the Ducks took a 1-0 lead on another bad goal. Three shots faced, just 5:38 into the game, Elliott was yanked. He wore his mask on the bench the rest of the first period.

While he gave the Flames some great goaltending in stretches, that playoff performance that contributed to Calgary begin swept in a series in which you could argue they outplayed Anaheim, has surely left a bitter aftertaste for the front office. Should Calgary re-sign Elliott and face the Ducks in the playoffs again next year, where would the team's confidence be at? He's played Anaheim 16 times in his career and beaten them once -- and that was in his first game against them in 2009.


Gut Feeling: Gone

Unless: Plans for UFA Ben Bishop and any other available established goaltenders (e.g. Marc-Andre Fleury) fall through and the team ends up putting public furore aside and bringing back Elliott. But you know the team likes Bishop as he was their plan 'A' last June.


2. RW Troy Brouwer

Age: 32 in August
2016-17: 74 gm, 13-12-25, minus-11, 44.50 SAT%
Contract Status: 3 years left on 4Y/$18M ($4.5M AAV)

In talking on Friday about the players that helped the team turn around its season in November, coach Glen Gulutzan mentioned Troy Brouwer's name among a few other veterans. Wearing an 'A', which he was given shortly after being signed, he is entrenched as part of this team's leadership group. Those type of qualities were expected from him.

However, also expected was a far greater impact on the ice. When they signed him last July 1, I'm pretty certain there more visions of him playing right wing in the top six rather than on the fourth line, which is where he finished the season and spent the playoffs. In physical games down the stretch against the likes of the Kings and Anaheim, he did not have nearly the impact I expected. Never mind goals, just use your size to lead the push-back. But you rarely saw the physicality and edge that were supposed to be included in the package.

He will be exposed in the expansion draft where one wonders if Vegas GM George McPhee will 'jump' at the opportunity (while perhaps being coaxed by Brad Treliving with the offering of a prospect as added incentive) to bring in a guy he traded for in 2011 when GM of the Washington Capitals. He acquired Brouwer from the Chicago Blackhawks for many of the same reasons Calgary signed him as a free agent on July 1. But he was turning 26 then. Now he'll be turning 32. But leadership will be needed in Vegas as they try to hit the casino floor running. They'll also need some big contracts to reach the salary cap floor. While three years left is a lot, there are more frightening terms out there. What I'm not putting any stock into was Brouwer on Friday declaring that Calgary was his home. We knew that. He was already building a house in Calgary when the Flames signed him. It may be his home alright, but his off-season home.


Gut Feeling: Gone

Unless: McPhee opts to select someone else from Calgary in the expansion draft due to having the same concern about the state of Brouwer's game that fans have and frankly, so did Gulutzan, who was the guy who dropped him to the fourth line.


3. RW Kris Versteeg

Age: 31 in May
2016-17: 69 gm, 15-22-37, minus-3, 47.52 SAT%
Contract Status: UFA on July 1, coming off 1Y/$950K deal

It makes you wonder how Versteeg nearly ended up out of the NHL last season. It was only when he ran into insurance issues regarding some past injuries that he ended up not signing in Switzerland. He signed a tryout with the Oilers, was poached just before the season began by Calgary, who inked him to a one-year deal, and he went out and had a terrific year. He was a key veteran in the dressing room -- he has two Stanley Cup rings -- but also a major contributor on the ice as part of the Flames No. 1 power play unit.

What we know is Versteeg and his young family really enjoyed playing close to home. What we learned is there is still plenty of game left for the veteran, who will be 31 next season. Also, listening to Treliving talk about him on Friday, it's obvious that he's a big fan also. Versteeg was pretty frank also about how much he enjoyed this season, liked playing for Mark Giordano, who he called one of the greatest leaders he's played for. He also talked glowingly about the coaching staff and about the team's bright future.

He won't be as cheap as he was last year but he'll be affordable and the need is definitely there from a Flames perspective. Are there wingers in Stockton ready to be promoted into a top nine role next season? Doubtful. Signing him before the expansion draft won't make sense from a player protection perspective but perhaps shortly after.


Gut Feeling: Back

Unless: Negotiations drag and Versteeg -- looking after his family first, like last summer -- jumps at a different deal from another team in order to lock down an NHL spot and avoid being left twisting in the wind.


4. D Michael Stone

Age: 27 in June
2016-17: 19 gm, 2-4-6, plus-5, 45.74 SAT%
Contract Status: UFA on July 1, coming off 1Y/$4M deal

Stone is an interesting situation as a guy that age-wise should be entering his prime and whose career was on an upwards trajectory before major knee surgery a year ago led to an off year and a perceived drop in his value. For nominal cost, his acquisition from Arizona made sense and it coincided with a red-hot run for the Flames and in particular, improved play from TJ Brodie. Once Stone replaced Dennis Wideman as his D partner, it looked like Brodie finally felt he had the freedom to play his normal, dynamic 200-foot game again knowing he had a reliable guy defensively beside him. Of course, Stone has a connection to Calgary having played with the Hitmen in junior and with his wife -- who just had twins -- being from Calgary too. Plus, there's the connection to Treliving, who was in Arizona when Stone was drafted.

That said, it was the 'having a more reliable D partner' part that helped Brodie. While a capable top four defenceman will be a necessity once again next year, it doesn't need to be Stone, especially if the cost to bring him back is too pricey given other needs (e.g. starting goaltender). There will be other and potentially more inexpensive options. With Brett Kulak knocking on the door, Rasmus Andersson coming soon, Oliver Kylington in the pipeline, Brandon Hickey too, do you want to go long term with a No. 4 D at a potentially hefty price tag? Remember, you already have Giordano, Brodie and Hamilton locked up and taking up a big chunk of cap space. So that's key for me, what is Stone looking for as a 27-year-old free agent (younger than most guys that hit the free market) this summer. Or are you more so looking for someone for just a couple of seasons, to keep the spot warm until one of the aforementioned kids is ready. If the latter, Stone might not be the best fit.
   

Gut Feeling: Gone

Unless: The market isn't there for Stone and he's willing to settle for a shorter one or two-year deal for less money than he made last year.


5. D Deryk Engelland

Age: 35
2016-17: 81 gm, 4-12-16, plus-2, 46.61 SAT%
Contract Status: UFA on July 1, coming off 3Y/$8.75M deal ($2.9M AAV)

I thought it, I've written it, and on exit day, Engelland admitted it. This season was the best of his career. Coming at age 35 too. Crazy. Who knew when he signed that deal three years ago and was the fan's whipping boy for the early part of it that he would end up endearing himself to the fan base like he has.

It hasn't made him a steal by any means. He's still a third pairing defenceman making close to $3 million and that's not very smart line-up construction in the salary cap world. But for what he gives the team. A physical presence that will step up for anyone, a guy that logs a lot of PK time, a good veteran presence in the room. To his credit, he's turned himself into a guy that you could certainly live with.

That said, if he re-signs with Calgary, it will have to be for far less. That's the reality. I've heard Vegas speculated as a landing spot as that's where he lives in the off-season but while that's a nice thought for Engelland, would Vegas have interest? Not sure a guy at the tail-end of his career makes the most sense for an expansion team that will inevitably be adding plenty of other veterans in the expansion draft to get to the salary cap floor. He said on Friday that Calgary would be one of his top choices and his good relationship with Gulutzan, whom he goes way back with, is surely a consideration. From a stability perspective, having him back for one more season as a veteran third pairing option would work just fine for a team that will have a few changes on the back end.
 

Gut Feeling: Back

Unless: He wants a two-year term and gets such an offer elsewhere. Would Calgary be willing to go two years with Engelland? Not sure that makes sense.


6. LW Matt Stajan

Age: 33
2016-17: 81 gm, 6-17-23, plus-3, 49.05 SAT%
Contract Status: 1 year left on 4Y/$12.5M deal ($3.125M AAV)

One of the better players early in the season. When you're not in uniform as a healthy scratch when the season comes to an end, that always makes you pause for thought, but Stajan coming out of the line-up for game four versus Anaheim wasn't necessarily a reflection of him looking back but Gulutzan wanting to insert fresh legs. Sure, one available option to the team is you could buy out Stajan if you really felt he had reached the end but then you're paying him over two years. Plus, I think he still contributes enough to be a depth forward.

Much like Engelland, Stajan's wage doesn't jive with what you want on the fourth line in this day and age. It's just far too much money to pay somebody that is playing minimal minutes. That said, you're down to one year left and he truly is a great guy to have in the room for many reasons including the youth at centre, youth which could include Curtis Lazar and Mark Jankowski next year. In his final NHL season, I'd expect him to be a great depth forward. May not play all the time, may play some wing, but is a great mentor for the many young players and a guy that's popular in the room and plays with his heart on his sleeve.


Gut Feeling: Back

Unless: Treliving feels the $1.3 million the team would save on the 2017-18 salary cap through a buy-out would be worth the $666K penalty they'd have to incur towards the cap in 2018-19.


7. G Chad Johnson

Age: 31 in June
2016-17: 36 starts, 18-15-1, 2.59 GAA, .910 SV%
Contract Status: UFA on July 1, coming off 1Y/$1.7M deal

In pursuit of an opportunity for more playing time and a shot to be a No. 1 goalie, Johnson has relocated NHL teams each of the last six summers. That has to be getting old.

As someone who grew up in this city, who married a girl from Calgary, tying the knot a week before signing with the Flames last July 1, there's obviously a fit to be had for him. He's about to turn 31, he's not coming off the type of year that is going to get him a No. 1 job anywhere else so why not Calgary?

When he went on a tear last November and December, he showed that he can play every day. Whether he can play 55-60 games, we may never know. If Calgary does pursue Bishop, who has an injury history, Johnson would be a great guy to pair him with given his ability to step in and run with the ball for a few weeks if needed.


Gut Feeling: Back

Unless: With goaltending on the way, Calgary is reluctant to offer term of more than a year. If Johnson does get a two-year offer from another team, he may prefer that added security.


8. D Brett Kulak

Age: 23
2016-17: 21 gm, 0-3-3, minus-3, 50.58 SAT%
Contract Status: RFA on July 1, coming off 3Y,/$2.45M ELC ($817K AAV, $70K in AHL)

At times early in the year, Kulak looked like a guy that should be put in the line-up and kept in the line-up. A guy that could definitely play on the third pairing, who some day could evolve into a second pairing guy. He skates well enough. He can defend. He does a little bit of everything. But just as you think he's here for good, his play falters a little bit and down to the minors he goes. I should add though that jettisoning him to Stockton this season was easy for the Flames as he was not waiver-eligible. Next season, he will be waiver-eligible.

With Wideman gone, potentially Stone and Engelland both gone also, there will be spots available on the blueline. From what we've seen and how he's been used, Kulak is the most ready of any of the prospects so after a summer of potentially significant change, next year could be the season he breaks through.


Gut Feeling: Back

Unless: Vegas likes Kulak's upside too and poaches him in the expansion draft. In selecting 30 players, one from every club, not all will be experienced NHL players, Vegas will need some that are young but high on potential.


9. D Tyler Wotherspoon

Age: 24
2016-17: 4 gm, 0-0-0, minus-2, 46.48 SAT%
Contract Status: RFA on July 1, coming off 1Y/$625K deal

He was the next in line on the blue-line for the longest time but his stock has fallen significantly since he made his NHL debut four years ago and played 14 games late in the season. In the three seasons since, he's played only 16 NHL games and has been passed on the depth chart by guys like Kulak. Even though he continues to be deployed as one of Ryan Huska's most relied upon defenders in Stockton -- and he has reportedly had a great season -- you really do start to wonder if his time with the organization is coming to an end.

Last year, he agreed to a one-year deal for near the league minimum. It was supposed to make him an affordable option and increase the odds of him sticking in the NHL this season. That never happened. He could be the Kenny Agostino of this off-season. Someone, who can definitely contribute at the AHL level but at age 24, if the organization has determined that's all he will ever do, it's time to move on and open up playing time and a contract spot for other, younger players.


Gut Feeling: Gone

Unless: Calgary loses Kulak in the expansion draft and they opt to hang onto Wotherspoon for one more season as organizational depth.


10. RW Alex Chiasson

Age: 27 in October
2016-17: 81 gm, 12-12-24, minus-6, 52.03 SAT%
Contract Status: RFA on July 1, coming off 1Y/$800K deal

I've learned that two things will drive a fan crazy. The first is a player that is overpaid for what he contributes. This was not Chiasson. The second is when a player is deployed in a role that is above his skill grade. This was Chiasson and for half the season as Gulutzan -- very familiar with the player from his time coaching him in Dallas -- stubbornly kept deploying him on the No. 1 line alongside Monahan and Gaudreau. Not only was it not working, but it seemed to negatively impact the other two, who are core players on the team and never got going until Chiasson was off their line.

The sweet spot for Chiasson is a bottom-six role and it was when he was used in that capacity that you finally had a useful player, who put up decent numbers with a dozen goals. The issue for the Flames is he's arbitration eligible this off-season so Treliving is back in that Lance Bouma/Joe Colborne situation again. Given how signing Bouma didn't work out, and walking away from Colborne did work out, I'd think that if Treliving has learned anything, there's a decent chance that Chiasson is not qualified with Calgary not wanting to ante up the $1.5 or $2 million he might be awarded if you go to arbitration.


Gut Feeling: Gone

Unless: Chiasson likes the set up in Calgary, enjoys playing for Gulutzan, and agrees to a deal at an affordable number to bring him back as a bottom six winger, who can kill penalties.


11. LW Lance Bouma

Age: 27
2016-17: 61 gm, 3-4-7, minus-2, 46.63 SAT%
Contract Status: 1 year left on 3Y/$6.6M ELC ($2.2M)

Any hope Bouma might get back to his form from 2014-15 -- or anywhere close -- went out the window this season when Matthew Tkachuk locked up the left wing spot with dynamic duo Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik. It was on a line with Backlund two years ago that Bouma racked up career-highs in goals (16) and points (34) that he has yet to equal if you add up all of his other five seasons.

Bouma plays an energetic, physical style, who is not bad in a checking role and can give you minutes on the penalty kill. That makes him a serviceable depth player. The problem is his scoring touch has evaporated entirely. He has five goals in the last two seasons. For what he's earning, having cashed in on that one big year, you need more. That, or you want someone else in that role that can make similar or greater contributions at half the price. Versteeg, for example, made less than half of what Bouma earned last season.



Gut Feeling: Back

Unless: Treliving can work some magic and include him as part of a larger trade over the summer. The other option is a buyout, which historically Calgary has done only rarely as paying players to not play has never been something the organization has been high on. Plus, they'll still be paying $1M for Mason Raymond next season. But it's possible. It would knock Bouma's cap hit down to $666K next season with an additional $766K charged to the cap in 2018-19.


12. D Dennis Wideman

Age: 34
2016-17: 57 gm, 5-13-18, minus-6, 49.91 SAT%
Contract Status: UFA on July 1, coming off 5Y/$26.25M deal ($5.25M AAV)

All season Gulutzan preached that he wanted his team to play fast. As the slowest player on the team, Wideman does not have that ability. His heavy shot is one of his best attributes, but he was not used on the power play. He ran out the clock on the five-year contract given to him by former GM Jay Feaster by playing on the third pairing whenever he did get in the line-up.

He was a $5.25 million healthy scratch for all four playoff games and 18 of the final 23 games of the regular season. Clearing that money off the books has been a long time coming for a team that has other needs to address.


Gut Feeling: Gone

Unless: Unless nothing. Now the subject of a lawsuit from linesman Don Henderson, Wideman's time in Calgary is over. So might his time in the NHL.



By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Do so now! It's another way to be alerted to new Calgary stories I've written, other articles from my colleagues I enjoyed and I'll also sometimes use that space to weigh in on the news of the day.

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    Sunday, April 16, 2017

    29 Lines About 29 Losses: A List of the Many Reasons Brad Treliving Should be Furious



    It should come as no surprise that in the aftermath of another night of Honda Center frustration, Brad Treliving was pissed off.


    Heck, I'm sure plenty of bar stools in Calgary met a similar fate and nobody has more invested in this team than this guy.

    Frustrated with the outcome? For sure.

    Mad about some of the decisions made by the players? Probably.

    Angry with the calls that went against his team? Of course.

    There are numerous reasons for the Flames general manager to be incensed after a 29th straight loss in that arena. In fact, here are 29, one for every setback over this decade-plus stretch of futility.


    1. The Non-Goal - This one has to top the list. A key moment in the game came midway through the second period when Sam Bennett fights off the check of Korbinian Holzer to get his stick on a centring pass from Kris Versteeg with the puck eventually trickling into the net in the midst of a frenzy of activity in the crease.

    Not called a goal initially on the ice, it went to a video review as the puck did end up in the net. After a lengthy review, it was ruled there had been goalie interference either by Alex Chiasson, who during the skirmish had come in and swiped at the puck and in the process, contacted goaltender John Gibson, or by Bennett (it was not clear), and in the view of the officials, Gibson was prevented from being able to make the save. It's that in-between rule where it's not severe enough to be a goaltender interference penalty, but the goal doesn't count either.

    If this sounds familiar, it was two years ago that Bennett also appeared to score in a playoff game against the Ducks, only for that one also to be disallowed.

    While it's certainly a play we could debate in this space for an article in itself and no doubt it will be a hot topic across Flames nation on Sunday, it was needless to say an awfully tough decision to swallow for Calgary because it was ultimately a subjective call that denied them what would have been the go-ahead goal.

    After blowing a one-goal lead in game 1, it's hard to believe one of the best teams in the league at keeping leads would have blown a lead again. So yes, that one play was that significant.


    2. Elliott's Slow Start - Two goals against on the first six shots. Once again, Calgary falls behind early. Brian Elliott rebounded nicely, shutting the door for exactly 48 and half minutes after that and making 20 consecutive saves in the process -- a handful of dangerous chances thwarted along the way -- but then came that pinball winner off the stick of Ryan Getzlaf, and more so the skate of Lance Bouma.

    Agonizing is the fact that with a better start, that fluke goal might have been inconsequential. But instead, it wasn't because of the two that the veteran goalie missed earlier.

    The opening goal by Jakob Silfverberg from off the wing, he has to have that one. While there were others to share in the blame on the second goal, a top NHL goalie can't get beat on a wrap-around like that. He just can't.

    Calgary scored the next two, but instead of taking a 2-0 lead, that only tied it 2-2, and you know how things turned out.


    3. Hamilton's Bad Decision - Jostling with Corey Perry in the neutral zone as Anaheim heads up ice on a rush and with Dougie Hamilton trying to get back in the play, the defenceman ends up grabbing Perry's stick with his glove.

    No, it wasn't for very long. Yes, it was blatant. Whistled for two minutes for holding the stick at 14:33 of the third period, Calgary goes to the PK for the first time since Matthew Tkachuk's high-sticking penalty in the first period. The Ducks need only 41 seconds to take advantage.

    Just like that, Anaheim leads with less than five minutes remaining. Whether or not it was the right call or a fair call can and will be debated, but what should not be a debate is in that game situation, you simply can't give the official a reason to raise his hand. It was an unnecessary risk in which the team ended up paying a heavy price.


    4. Referee's Questionable Decision - Of course, as mad as you are at your player for unnecessarily giving the officials a reason to make a penalty call there, you're equally mad at the referee tandem of Wes McCauley and Brian Pochmara for making that call.
     
    Did that really need to be a penalty in that moment of a 2-2 game? Was it really that egregious of a foul given all the hijinx that had gone uncalled over the previous period and a half? That part is certainly debatable. Could the referee have also sent off Perry for interference and made it coincidental minors? Absolutely.


    5. Hockey Gods Aren't Crazy, They Just Dislike Calgary - Regardless of all the variables leading up to the go-ahead goal, the bottom line is it was a total fluke goal and it really makes one wonder if there really is some sort of curse in that building.

    Seriously, a harmless centring pass caroms sharply off Bouma's boot, flutters high in the air in the direction of the net and with Elliott having no idea where the puck had gone, like a centre fielder who loses a fly ball in the bright sun, it lands behind him in the net. To quote Jerry Seinfeld, "That was one magic loogie."
     
    To re-enact that goal, you'd probably need to try it at least a couple hundred times and that would be trying to do it on purpose. That's just the kind of sorcery everyone has come to expect in that building where the 'you'll never believe what happened...' lore continues to grow.


    6. Too Many Wasted Chances - It's not like the Flames didn't have chances to bury the Ducks early in the game.

    They had a couple of breakaways, including Gaudreau bursting in off the wing, but failed to convert each. Set-up on a brilliant fake-shot turned slap-pass by Michael Stone, Sean Monahan failed to got all of his stick on the puck and instead of putting the Flames in front, the puck flipped off his stick and went wide.
     
    Two guys being paid handsomely to score big goals. Two guys the Flames need to score big goals if they want to prevail as the underdog in this series. Neither was able to deliver.

    Monahan has a pair of goals so far and he's been good. But when you lose two one-goal games, it's the goals that you don't score that end up the talking points.


    7. Gaudreau Passes up the Shot - That was the game situation. That's why you gave him a six-year, $40.5 million contract in the off-season.

    With the game on the line in the final 30 seconds of regulation, if you could pick one player to have the puck on his tape from 15 feet out, that's the guy you would select.

    After Hampus Lindholm uncharacteristically coughs the puck up into the slot, Gaudreau gets a grade 'A' chance in a prime shooting spot. But wait. Rather than shoot, he spins around and sends a no-look backhand pass to the side of the net that doesn't connect.

    In game 1, it was Gibson beating Gaudreau in a showdown in the waning seconds by stretching out his pad to stop Gaudreau's backhand as he cut across the crease. In that situation, Gaudreau has to make his World Cup Young Stars teammate beat him a second time.



    8. Brouwer's Disappointing Season - The wait continues and continues.

    Safe to say the Flames are still waiting for the 'big game' player to emerge that scored eight times in the playoffs a year ago to get him a $4.5 million paycheque this year. One goal from Brouwer in these first two games sprinkled in anywhere might very well have made the  difference and made this series 1-1 instead of 2-0.

    This isn't a guy that will come out of the line-up. This isn't someone that should come out of the line-up. But a decent fourth liner/penalty killer/net-front power play presence isn't good enough for the pay stipend he's cashing. Expectations are commensurate with what you make for a salary in this business and he's making a lot while not contributing a lot.
     
    Calgary needs more from him at this point, beyond what he may be contributing off the ice as an alternate captain. Calgary needs way more.

    Unfortunately, the fact he opened the playoffs on the fourth line is an indicator of how far his stock has fallen. More and more, you wonder what kind of sweetener it may take -- a top prospect, perhaps -- for Treliving to coax Vegas GM George McPhee into taking in the expansion draft the player he once brought to Washington. Because so far in Calgary, it isn't working out.


    9. Brouwer's Disappointing Usage - Late in the season, Micheal Ferland finally got a chance on the top power play unit in place of Brouwer. After all, it made sense as he was already playing at five-on-five with Gaudreau and Monahan.

    For many, it was a move long overdue considering how well Ferland has played. Yet, Gulutzan has reverted to the way things were earlier in the season to begin the playoffs and it's been Brouwer in that role once again.

    Particularly perplexing was how it played out in game 1 when Ferland was creating chances all night yet still got passed over when the Flames needed that late goal.

    Treliving has been very upfront in his time in Calgary to say that he lets his coaches coach. He assembles the roster, brings in the personnel. How the players are deployed is up to the skipper. They chat every day so you know opinions are exchanged, but ultimately it's the coach's call and it has to be. You can't have a GM meddling. That said, you do wonder how Treliving is viewing his prize July 1 signing.

    I think with the GM there's a better understanding of what else he brings to the team, he's around the team all the time and you see things that the rest of us don't, but at that salary, intangibles cannot be your biggest contribution.


    10. Undisciplined Dougie - Getting back to Hamilton because he's been in the crosshairs and rightly so, that makes four minor penalties for this series.

    While it's easy to point to his age -- still a youthful 23 -- and say maybe it's simply the pressure of the Stanley Cup Playoffs getting to a young man, but Ducks blue liners Shea Theodore, Brandon Montour and Lindholm are all younger than Hamilton and have all played fewer NHL games, yet they have played very well. Consistent. Solid.

    You can't harp too much on Hamilton because he was such a key part of the Flames resurgence. When he and Mark Giordano were paired together on Nov. 15 for the first time, that's when Calgary's season took off. But that version of Hamilton is what Calgary badly needs to show up in this series right away. He's too important of a piece.


    11. Brodie Snaps at the Wrong Time - You don't see TJ Brodie get mad very often. But sure enough, Kesler -- not surprisingly -- is a guy that does it and it was costly on Saturday night.

    Brodie's cross-check to the back of Kesler while he was already down put the Flames back on the penalty kill with less than three minutes remaining in the game. Now down a goal, they were going to have to manufacture a comeback while playing four-against-five. Not good. It may not have fatally killed Calgary's comeback hopes, but it seriously wounded them.

    This feud isn't new.

    You may recall back at the Saddledome on Dec. 29, 2015, after Kesler shot the puck into the empty net after the final buzzer went, Brodie was as furious as I've seen him, shouldering Kesler into the boards afterwards and sparking a small melee.

    Was it uncharacteristic? Yes. Was it rare? Yes. But is he still accountable for it? Has to be. It took two big minutes off the clock.


    12. Ryan Kesler - Speak of the devil. If you live in Calgary, it's just part of living in this city. You have to have a strong dislike for the Anaheim centre. Presumably the feelings aren't much different for Treliving.

    Kesler is a monster in the playoffs, an absolute force, who owns the Flames. Great at the dot, dangerous with the puck, difficult to play against, a master in getting under the skin of the opposition and that smirk afterwards -- it must drive guys crazy.

    The Flames can only dream that Matthew Tkachuk will one day have a similar type of presence and impact in that coveted but hard-to-fill role of an antagonist that your team and fan base loves, but everybody else hates.


    13. Damn Nashville - As we got into the final week of the season, the team that most felt Calgary would match up better against, despite them having the best record in the Western Conference, despite their three Stanley Cups in the last seven years, was the Chicago Blackhawks.

    As if he was doing all he could to facilitate that match-up, Gulutzan sat out the likes of Mikael Backlund, Mark Giordano and Kris Versteeg for the Flames regular season finale too. A win by Nashville in Winnipeg on that Saturday, as the Predators pursued third place in the Central, combined with a Calgary loss, would have resulted in the Flames travelling to Illinois instead. To save you looking it up, the last time Calgary won in the United Centre was last October. No curse to be found in that arena and that alone was a reason to crave that match-up.

    But instead, the Predators found out during their game that third place and a match-up with Minesota was no longer within reach after the Blues clinched it with a win over Carolina. Shortly after in real time, Nashville promptly gave up two goals in the last half of the third period -- the final one shorthanded with 45 seconds left -- to lose 2-1 to Winnipeg in regulation and draw Chicago instead of Anaheim.

    In case you haven't noticed, the Predators just took a 2-0 series lead winning twice in Chicago and not giving up a goal. Safe to say the Flames wish they played at 7 pm Central time last night.


    14. History Says You're Screwed - Sure, they played well. Yes, if they can only eliminate some mistakes they can defeat the Ducks. But the bottom line is the team has to win four of the next five to win the series and the odds of that are not good.

    In fact, in franchise history, Calgary has never overcome a 2-0 deficit. They've been in that situation nine times and are 0-9. Sure, all streaks must come to an end eventually, but where have I heard that before! Until it happens, hard to expect it to happen.


    15. Oilers Won - You know the salt in the wound for the front office especially is that the Oilers and their fancy, new rink that they're not shy to flaunt in front of Calgary, did win their game 2, then won again on Sunday night to take a 2-1 lead.

    Three hours up the highway from Calgary, Edmonton's fanbase is going nuts, the entire city has turned orange. It's bedlam and in a good way. Meanwhile, the Flames return to what's now the second-oldest arena in the NHL, and while there is plenty of colour in our city too -- most of the red today is people's faces. So much anger. So much frustration.

    Losing in the first round will sting a lot less for the underdog Flames if the favourite Oilers lose too, but we'll have to wait and see on that -- and I have my doubts it will happen. If Edmonton gets on a roll, expect the C of Red in Calgary to really grow, and I'm not talking about the size of the crowd at the Saddledome.


    16. The Runt of Canada's Litter - Not only did Edmonton win, but so did Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal -- all of them overcoming a 1-0 deficit. Of Canada's post-season participants, only the Flames are heading to game 3 down 2-0 in the series and that must drive the front office crazy.
     
    Treliving can see the hype going on in Alberta's provincial capital, out East with the Maple Leafs as they arrive home, the exhileration in Montreal with the Habs surging in front 2-1 in its series.
       
    When you see the impact those game 2 (and game 3) wins have had in those markets, on those teams, you yearn to keep up with them and do the same. Failing to do so must leave a pit in his stomach. Instead of a jubilant Sunday in Calgary, a real buzz around town, there's a lot of anger and frustration. You know what sells tickets, jersey and merchandise? Not that.


    17. So Many Blown Opportunities to End 'It' - Despite how often they adamantly say they don't pay attention to the streak and to them, it's just a another game against Anaheim, I don't believe it.

    If you're a player, how can you not wonder to yourself what it's going to take to win there. Going back to the last regular season game in Honda Center in which they dominated and took a lead in the first period, that's three times in a span of 12 days they've had a great opportunity to win there and remove that oversized mental baggage, and each time they've blown it.

    So often, teams talk about confidence and players talk about confidence and they always emphasize how important it is. Well, how can this team have any confidence whatsoever that they're going to win in a building they've lost in 29 times in a row? They say they're not thinking about it and while that's the correct and expected answer publicly, I call bull shit. Until they win there, it will always be a distraction no matter how vehemently the players try to deny it.


    18. That Line Change - Yes, it happened two nights ago but that dreadful wholesale line change by the Bennett-Versteeg-Chiasson line and Bartkowski-Engelland D pairing that cost the Flames the lead in game 1, it must still stick in the craw of the GM. Heck, it will be an agonizing memory 20 years from now.


    19. Wrong Guy Shooting - One of the attributes we heard about Stone when he arrived a couple weeks prior to the trade deadline was he had a heavy shot. Reportedly, he can really rip a slapshot. I say "reportedly" in that we've rarely seen it. Too often, it ends up being Brodie taking the shots and that's definitely not his forte.

    By all means, make No. 7 the quarterback on the power play. Let Brodie be the puck mover on that pairing that heads up ice with the puck, but when you do get set-up at five-on-five in their zone, it should be Brodie getting it to Stone, not vice versa. Brodie's shots are like a guy flinging a frisbee and Gibson, who looks like a guy that has spent time catching frisbees on So-Cal beaches, is having little trouble repelling them.

    Last year in Arizona when Stone had a solid season, he averaged nearly three minutes per game on the power play. In his 21 games with Calgary, he's played a little over six minutes total on the man advantage. It's too late in the season to change the power play but having a guy that can bomb a shot from the blue line -- like Al MacInnis in the glory days -- is an ingredient absent from that first power play unit.


    20. Tkachuk Double Minor - It didn't hurt the team. In fact, it ultimately ended up helping them.

    Tkachuk's double-minor for accidentally high-sticking Patrick Eaves in the beard put the Flames down a man with two minutes to go in the first period of a game they already trailed 2-0. Instead, Backlund's shorthanded goal 22 seconds into the penalty started Calgary's comeback.

    Yet, it still had to irritate Treliving that a four-minute high-sticking call was given instead of a two-minute penalty. There was no blood, it was accidental and it's not like Eaves was injured. Heck, he remained on the ice to start the power play. Didn't even miss a shift. That's got to be irritating.


    21. Squandered Comebacks - Despite everything they're up against -- that building, playing a very good team that has won the Pacific Division five years in a row, falling behind each game to a team that during the regular season was 33-7-5 -- 7th best in the NHL -- when scoring first, the Flames deserve full credit for each time, staying the course and eventually erasing their early deficit.

    In game 1, it was overcoming a 1-0 hole just 52 seconds in. In game 2, it was rallying back from a 2-0 deficit less than seven minutes in.

    But the kick to the groin is that in both instances, all that work in battling back, all that energy expelled, all went for naught as after getting the game back to even or even briefly taking the lead in game 1, they gave it away again.

    The worst part, they served Anaheim the knock-out blows on a platter on both nights. A bad line change and that unnecessary goaltender interference penalty by Bouma in game 1. An ill-timed penalty by Hamilton in game 2. Just like that, they were chasing the game again and you're only going to come back against a tough team like Anaheim so often.


    22. Can't Win the Opening 40 Minutes - The Flames don't even have to win a three-period game. They've shown all season that they just need to win the first two periods. That's it.

    It's like Calgary has Mariano Rivera in the bullpen yet he's out there doing nothing but eating sunflower seeds so far because the team can't get him a lead.

    No team in the regular season was better at locking down a lead after two periods than the Flames, who went 33-0-1 in that scenario for a .971 winning percentage. The one overtime loss was in the third game of the season. After that, they successfully converted 33 second period leads in a row.

    But this series, bad starts have been costly as it's resulted in them chasing a deficit, not protecting a lead. In game 1, they trailed 3-2 after two periods. Despite opportunities to take the lead on Saturday, it was 2-2 after 40 minutes.


    23. Schooled at the Dot - Not only have they been chasing the game, they've also been chasing the puck. After two games, the Flames have the worst face-off percentage in the playoffs at 39.0 percent. Most of the time it goes like this: Puck is down, Ducks have it, Calgary is forced to defend.
       
    Not a single Ducks player is below 50 percent:
    • Wagner, 8-3, 72.7%
    • Getzlaf, 24-10, 70.6%
    • Vermette, 19-13, 59.4%
    • Thompson, 11-8, 57.9%
    • Kesler, 25-21, 54.4%
    As you might expect, not one Flames player is above 50 percent:
    • Brouwer, 7-9, 43.8%
    • Bennett, 10-15, 40.0%
    • Backlund, 18-29, 38.3%
    • Monahan, 13-21, 38.2%
    • Stajan, 6-12, 33.3%

    Brouwer's odd presence at the top of Calgary's list speaks to why he's still the guy on the power play over Ferland. As a right-shot, he's fared the best of any Flames center against the Ducks predominantly-right group of pivots. It's like a baseball match-up, only the opposite. If you're not having success lefty versus righty, try righty versus righty.

    It raises the question of how can you get better in this area? Does the centre need to go for a tie-up and you ask for more from your wingers? It's an area that is hurting Calgary and they need to find a way of being better in this area.


    24. Can't Take Advantage of Depleted Ducks Blue Line - Nearly $16 million worth of defencemen were missing from Anaheim's blue line in game 2. Wow.

    Never mind the $7 million absent in Simon Despres and Clayton Stoner, both on LTIR, the Ducks were missing an additional $8.9 million worth of experience from the back end on Saturday night with Sami Vatanen (upper body) a late scratch, joining the already-injured Cam Fowler (lower body). That's two of their top three players in ice time this season M.I.A.

    Yet with 21-year-old Shea Theodore in the line-up and logging 20-plus minutes, 29-year-old journeyman Korbinian Holzer pressed into action, Calgary still could not take advantage. Lindholm played over 26 minutes to anchor the blue line and they got enough out of aging Kevin Bieksa, young Brandon Montour and just-getting-going Josh Manson.

    A big-time wasted opportunity.


    25. Bouma Simply Cannot Score - You know Treliving has learned from the Bouma situation two summers ago, not to overpay for one-hit wonders. You saw that in the treatment of Joe Colborne last off-season.

    But again, that doesn't make it any easier to accept.

    This is guy making north of $2 million who simply has lost his scoring touch altogether. Did he ever have a scoring touch to begin with? That's the key question and it's looking increasingly like the answer is probably not and that's at the root of this.

    Because the Flames' chances of winning would go up if he could finish off some of the chances he gets.
       
    In the second period, shortly after Monahan had tied it 2-2, Bouma gets the puck in a scramble with Gibson down and out in the crease. Just roof it, or even elevate it at all and the Flames lead.

    Instead, he shovels it into Gibson's glove.

    In another chance, Brouwer's hot shot isn't handled by Gibson but the rebound goes right past Bouma as he heads to the net. Had he anticipated the rebound better, stick down and ready, maybe he buries it instead.

    Bouma's been fine as a fourth liner but that would be if he was making $750,000. At the freight he's earning, you need more. Still one more year to go on that deal also.


    26. General Player Usage - As much as the fourth line was bringing energy and all that, there was still far too much of that line in a must-win game.

    They're rarely going to score. It's time to ride your horses that have and will. Every game in this series has been gruelling, no denying that, but there's been no overtime and the team had four days off prior to the series beginning. For a guy like Backlund, he had six days off prior.
       
    In a must-win game like last night, don't you need to go with the core guys that got you there a bit more? That's the 3M line, that's the Monahan line. Gulutzan is using his fourth line like he's preparing for a long series but that spread-out ice time will have no long-term benefit if the Flames are swept in four games.

     
    27. Chasing the Game, Again - The degree of difficulty of winning is so high when you're constantly chasing the game. Giving up the first goal of the game has been a chronic issue with this team all season and that hasn't changed in the post-season.

    The Flames have shown an ability to bounce back and they settled in to the game nicely again last night, carrying the play big time after the halfway point in the first period. But they've got to find a way to be better prepared -- both as a team, and individually (i.e. Elliott), -- to get through the first 10 minutes at 0-0. Do that and the odds of winning go up exponentially.

     
    28. Series is Slipping Out of Your Control - There is no doubt the Flames can outplay Anaheim in four of the next five games. They have the personnel to be able to do that. They have shown they can do that. The first two games have been that close.

    Bu t now what they're up against is how often do you outplay a team and still lose? It happens quite a bit. Now, not only do you need to be very good, but you also have to have some luck because often, the best team doesn't always win. Calgary is in a situation where they essentially have to play four perfect games.
     
    Gibson has the ability to steal a game and they can't let that happen. Getzlaf has the ability to win a game on his own and they can't let that happen.

    They're going to have to play nearly flawless hockey plus get help from above to pull this series out. That's asking a lot from the hockey gods, who evidently aren't big fans of you.


    29. Snowing in Calgary - And after all that, with so many things to stew about, then you've got to leave the palm trees and sunshine of California and return to Calgary, where snow has covered your car while you were away.

    Chances are, like so many of us fools, Treliving already put the snow brush in the garage too, so he's out there with his sleeve pulled down and shivering fingers, sweeping off the windshield. Lovely. Just wonderful.



    By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Do so now! It's another way to be alerted to new Calgary stories I've written, other articles from my colleagues I enjoyed and I'll also sometimes use that space to weigh in on the news of the day.

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