Sunday, October 15, 2017

How I'd Fix the Flames: Six Games In, What I'd do if I was Named GM and Coach for a Day

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Seeking stability.

That was the message from Glen Gulutzan after Saturday night's 5-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks.

"We're a little out of sync right now in a lot of areas," said the Flames coach in his post-game media scrum. "Just our lines, who is playing with who, our bench, power play -- who is on the power play, who is not on the power play.

"We have to sit back here in the next few days and get a little bit of stability. I really like stability and right now, even for myself on the bench, we're a little chaotic."

No kidding.

There's putting your lines in the blender, which all coaches will do, then there's what happened throughout the game last night where Gulutzan tossed his 12 forwards into the container, put on the lid, and hit puree.

"We've got guys coming in and out of the line-up and we've got different guys playing on the power play at different times. Taking some penalties too, trying to get guys back on the ice and shuffling. It's just not a rhythm feel that we have right now. I think we'll be OK once we get that rhythm but we have to find it."


How I'd Establish Stability

As Gulutzan alluded to, part of the issue is this team's propensity right now to continually take minor penalties, especially early in a game. Calgary was shorthanded five times in the first period alone on Saturday.

When the Flames are killing penalties, six important players aren't touching the ice: Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, Dougie Hamilton, Jaromir Jagr, Kris Versteeg.

For one, that's far too much talent to be stapled to the pine. So Calgary needs to be far more disciplined. But beyond that, when they do get back to five-on-five, the lines themselves seem a bit discombobulated lately. Jagr is moving around. Lazar is moving around. Bennett is moving around.

In an attempt to provide more stability overall, I have three primary goals:
  1. Improve the Roster - There's one particular transaction I would do that would improve the 23-man roster.
  2. Tweak the Lines - Jagr is here now. His conditioning is coming. There are three practices before the next game. Time to settle on some line combinations.
  3. Align the PP/PK Units - By this, I'd try to lessen the impact of extended special teams time on the 5-on-5 flow by having the PP combos and PK pairings better align with the regular lines.

So with that groundwork laid, let's get after it. Here are the seven steps I'd take.


Step 1 - Waive Hamilton

Before putting on my coaching hat, I'm going to be the GM for a day. Shove over, Brad Treliving, I've got some paperwork to file.

The first thing I'm doing is putting Freddie Hamilton on waivers. I realize he's a big part of Dougie Hamilton's life and it seems like a bit of a package deal but sorry, improving the team trumps my sentimentality for their family bond. This is the move I need make to open up a roster spot for a recall from Stockton.

In his last pre-season appearance, Hamilton took a dumb penalty. In his first shift last night, he took a dumb penalty. Discipline is already a problem with this team, I need my fourth line players to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

Hamilton isn't hurting the team as a 14th forward. He's a serviceable enough player capable of playing multiple positions who can be inserted in a pinch, but the team has a better option in the AHL and the time has come to make this move.


Step 2 - Recall Jankowski

Mark Jankowski is ready. We saw that in the preseason, we've seen that so far in the AHL regular season where he scored again last night giving him five points (4 goals, 1 assist) in Stockton's first three games.

When he was sent down, Treliving vowed that he would be back before too long. It's been two weeks, time to get this guy back to Calgary and for good.

Plus, I have top-nine plans for Jankowski so the sooner he gets here and he gets integrated into practice, the better.


Step 3 - Reset the Forward Lines

Here is how I'd set up my lines this week when the Flames return to practice:.

Gaudreau - Monahan - Jagr
Tkachuk - Backlund - Frolik
Bennett - Jankowski - Versteeg
Ferland - Lazar/Stajan - Brouwer

Extra: Glass, Lazar/Stajan


Line 1

While Jaromir Jagr takes a while to get to where he's going at age 45, Sean Monahan is no speed demon either. Jagr's ability to hold onto the puck and make plays, Monahan's ability to find the quiet ice and bury chances from the slot and then add in the raw skill of Johnny Gaudreau, let's put them together, keep them together for an extended period and see what they can do.

If that's too much ice time for the old man at times, a simple mid-game adjustment you could make as needed is flip-flop Jagr and Versteeg for a while.


Line 2

If it ain't broke, I ain't fixing it.

Matthew Tkachuk has come back this season bigger and stronger and he looks great, while Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik continue to form a reliable two-way duo. As a line, the advanced stats for all three are tremendous once again this year.

There are sufficient changes one can make up front without needing to mess at all with the 3M line.


Line 3

It feels to me like Sam Bennett is trying too hard -- his non-stop parade to the penalty box lately is perhaps an indication of that. It's as if he's frustrated and trying to make an impact in other ways since the offence isn't coming.

Bennett has been better this year, but he's still a guy that looks a bit lost and without a single point to show for his first six games, you wonder where that ever-elusive confidence is these days.

He still can be a centre down the road for this team and perhaps for a long time, but right here, right now, it feels like its time to move Bennett back to left wing and let him relax. Lessen his responsibilities, just let him zip up and down the wing and see if the offence comes back around again.

This is also where Jankowski slots in. Let's be clear, I don't call up the 23-year-old to play him on the fourth line or make him a scratch. He's here to play significant minutes and that comes as the centre on the third line.

Jankowski was good in the preseason, he was a good soldier by going down to the minors and not moping but instead showing that the team made the wrong decision. Time to bring him back.


Line 4

Curtis Lazar: 4C and Top-9 Extra
This is where opportunity lies. Micheal Ferland and Troy Brouwer on the wings, playing a simple bang-and-crash north-south game will give you energy and hopefully a little bit of offence now and then.

At centre, I've got a rotation. I'd start with Curtis Lazar there, but I'm very comfortable with Matt Stajan there and depending on the opponent, I'd even use Tanner Glass at centre (he could split draws with Brouwer, who also dabbles at the dot).

The key for me is stabilizing the top-nine and limiting the night-to-night line-up changes to interchangeable parts that come and go only on the fourth line.

Yes, Brouwer makes a lot of money to play down in the line-up like that, but to get your best bang for your investment in him at this point in time, you must find a way to maximize his contribution. Unfortunately, he hasn't worked out in the top-nine so abandon that and right now, I'd keep him on the fourth line where he has been effective in recent games. Lately, I've seen him more invested emotionally and playing more physical. That's a start to his reclamation and now is not the time to change anything.

I've liked Lazar in spurts in the top nine but I'd rather go with Jankowski there and then you run out of spots for Lazar. But Lazar with Ferland and Brouwer gives him a chance to make an impact with his speed and forecheck so that looks like the best spot for Lazar for now.

Meanwhile, if Bennett can't figure out the NHL's application of the rule book, he might even have to take a seat, in which case I'd elevate Lazar. Lazar remains my No. 10 when it comes to the top-nine. He's the guy I plug in wherever the hole is if there's a minor injury, etc.  That said, Ferland is a promotion candidate also.


Step 4 - Get Kulak in the Line-up

It's time to see Brett Kulak.

Matt Bartkowski has been OK but we know what the 29-year-old can do, let's see what the 23-year-old can do.

Given the limited role for that No. 6 D, this shouldn't be a line-up change that will cost you while at the same time, it could help you as you're bringing in a guy with some upside and who is hungry to show the calibre of player he can be with his skating and ability to make a good first pass.

There was an extended period last season where Kulak looked solid to the point where I wondered if he would ever come out of the line-up. Time to commit to getting his game back to that same point.

As for the top four, I don't change a thing.


Step 5 - Settling on PP Units

Here is how I'd deploy the power play:

PP1:  Brodie-Versteeg-Gaudreau-Monahan-Jagr
PP2: Hamilton-Giordano-Tkachuk-Backlund-Bennett


Power Play 1

There are four usual suspect here so we're not talking about massive changes, but we've seen Brouwer, Ferland and Jagr rotate through that RW forward spot.

For me, it has to be Jagr. Stop the rotation.

For one, it keeps that line intact for more stability overall. Secondly, this is where he should be able to thrive. Give him some space on the power play to show off  that hall-of-fame vision, hands and shot.

It wouldn't be in that same net-front role that the other two filled and it may require a tweak to the PP set-up but Dave Cameron, you're stuck with Jagr, find a way to make it work. There could be worse problems.


Power Play 2

The team needs to get Bennett going and he's got the skill to be a fixture on the power play and should be. So it's the 3M line, less Frolik, insert Bennett.

Tkachuk is a no-brainer for me. He's a talented kid and has the ability to create chaos in front. Plus, he's an elite passer.

I keep the D pairing of Mark Giordano and Hamilton the same.


Step 6 - Settling on PK Pairings

Here is how I'd deploy my PK combos.

PK1: Backlund-Frolik
PK2: Bennett-Jankowski
PK3: Lazar/Stajan/Glass-Brouwer


Again, what I'm going for here is keeping guys together that play together at even-strength. This limits the amount of shuffling the coach needs to do afterwards and should provide more of that rhythm Gulutzan is seeking.

While I labelled them PK1, PK2 and PK3, they need not roll out in this order. I feel this is where Brouwer picks up some ice time. I've liked his work on the PK so far. Last night on the 5-on-3, he and Backlund did a stellar job in sharing the high forward spot.

On the blueline, I'd go Giordano-Stone and Brodie-Hamonic as my two LR pairings.



Step 7 - Not Changing a Thing in Net

I continue to roll with Mike Smith. I like what I've seen from him so far and if I were the coach, he's my workhorse.

I get Eddie Lack into the second-half of the Oct. 24 and 25 back-to-backs on the road in Nashville and St. Louis but I see no need to use him before then.

As the season wears on, Lack will play more, but right now while it's early and Smith is fresh, locked in and on a roll, you ride that horse.


Final Word

The Flames woke up Sunday morning in first place in the Pacific Division. They're three points up on Anaheim and six clear of the Oilers.

So to be clear, this isn't exactly a crisis situation.

But if you've been watching closely, there is lots of room for improvement. What I'm proposing would not be drastic changes while at the same time would give the team the type of stability moving forward that Gulutzan is seeking.

Plus, it makes Calgary a better team instantly.

But in a disclaimer that should have been at the top, not here at the bottom, remember that I'm not the GM, nor am I the coach. This is just one man's opinion.

Now we sit back and see over the next few days what Gulutzan and Treliving have in mind. They're the guys whose opinions actually matter.

But with Sunday a day off for the team and then three days of practices coming up starting on Monday morning before Calgary is back in action Thursday night when the Carolina Hurricanes visit the Saddledome, the time is definitely right to make some tweaks.

Let's see what they do.




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 stories I've written, other articles from my colleagues that I've enjoyed and I'll occasionally use that space to weigh in on the news of the day.

-----------------------------------------------

Recent Flames Reading:

  • Eight From 80 Feet: Eight Random Flames Thoughts on a Cool, Fall Weekend - My assortment of random Flames-related musings include two prospects ripping it up in major junior, don't judge Mike Smith's book by the cover, Parsons and the ECHL. (Oct. 14, 2017) 
  • Good Omen? Smith's Thanksgiving Shutout in Anaheim Sparks Memories of 2004 - The start to the season for Mike Smith has conjured up memories of Miikka Kiprusoff, who was the guy the last time the Flames boasted at true No. 1 starter. (Oct. 10, 2017)
  • Podcast: Episode 20 with Pat Steinberg- In this season preview edition, the host of Sportsnet960's radio broadcasts joined me to look at the season ahead. We made a bunch of predictions, some bold, some not, and answered several listener questions. (Oct. 9, 2017)
  • Don't You Forget About Me: Simple Minds' Song Befits Impactful Night for Lazar - While TJ Brodie and Johnny Gaudreau were the headliners in Saturday's win over Winnipeg with four points each, don't overlook the really nice game by Curtis Lazar. (Oct. 8, 2017)
  • It Was Just One Game, People - Flames fans' overreaction game was certainly on point as the Flames 3-0 opening night loss to the Oilers set off widespread panic. Yes, it took one game. Five reasons to relax and not fret, posted via the FF80F facebook page. (Oct. 5, 2017)

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Eight From 80 Feet: Eight Random Flames Thoughts on a Cool, Fall Weekend

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Jaromir Jagr did his thing on Friday night -- seven shot attempts, four shots on goal. I think we're seeing that he's not too old and he will, indeed, be a contributing member of this Flames line-up this season.

But the highlights beyond that were few and far between as Calgary got ripped 6-0 by the Ottawa Senators, who did what they do, sat back, waited for mistakes and then didn't miss on an opportunity to capitalize or "counter-punch" as the Flames referred to it afterwards.



While there's a few observations from the club's listless effort in today's eight thoughts, I'll also use this space to touch on other developments around the organization including some Flames prospects that are off to outstanding starts to their season.


Eight Flames Thoughts


1. Bubba Blowing up WHL

Whoa!

It's been quite the start to Matthew Phillips' season. The 19-year-old Flames prospect and Calgary kid, who the Flames drafted in the sixth round in 2016, has points in all nine games for Victoria. Over that span, he's racked up 22 points (7 goals, 15 assists) and he is tied with Swift Current's Tyler Steenbergen (16-6-22) for the WHL scoring lead. Steenberger, from Sylvan Lake, Alberta, was a fifth round pick of the Arizona Coyotes in the 2017 NHL Draft.

In his first two years in the WHL with the Royals, Phillips' points-per-game climbed from 1.06 as a rookie in 2015-16 (37-39-76 in 72 gm) to 1.29 last season (50-40-90 in 70 gm). This year, he's at a staggering 2.44 points per game.

This pace will obviously be impossible to maintain but still, he surely has the decision-makers at Hockey Canada taking notice. Phillips attended the World Junior Summer Showcase in August so you know he's already on their radar. If he keeps tearing it up like this, they will have little choice but to name him to this year's U20 team for the WJC that will be held in Buffalo over the Christmas holidays.

Speaking of Team Canada, Phillips' buddy Dillon Dube, the Flames second round pick in 2016, is expected to be on that team as he had an impactful tournament a year ago as an 18-year-old. Dube, who stuck around Calgary's main camp longer than many expected thanks to a strong preseason, is averaging just under two points per game so far. He has nine points (3 goals, 6 assists) in his first five games with Kelowna.




2. Ruzicka Ripping up OHL

Meanwhile, off to a similarly stellar start to the season is big centre Adam Ruzicka, who some draft prognosticators had going potentially as high as the second round, but who Calgary was able to get in the fourth round in last year's draft.

The big 6-foot-4 Slovakian playing in his second year with Sarnia (OHL) is off to a blazing start with 14 points (8 goals, 6 assists) over his first eight games. He is tied with overager Aaron Luchuk of Windsor and top 2018 draft prospect Andrei Svechnikov. However, having played one less game, Ruzicka is technically at the top. Pretty impressive stuff so far.

The Flames depth at centre is well documented with Mark Jankowski still awaiting his chance but the depth chart falls off after that. Ruzicka looks like he will slot in nicely as the next in line up the middle of the further-out prospects and he's a guy that could be a candidate to play up the middle in Calgary 3-4 years down the road.

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3. Ball of (Penalty) Confusion

The rash of penalties on the Flames on Friday night -- seven times shorthanded compared to just twice for Ottawa -- left coach Glen Gulutzan a bit confused on what's being called and what's not.

"I thought the rules have been flip-flopping a little bit," said the Flames coach. "Tonight, you saw the same standard as the preseason, but not since is what we saw in the first four games of the year. We've got to get back to adjusting to that standard."

Coming into the year, the big crackdown was going to be on slashing and on face-off violations. Two of the Flames penalties Friday were for slashing and one was for a face-off violation. A double-minor on Mikael Backlund, a slashing penalty on Dougie Hamilton and a hooking penalty on Jagr left Calgary shorthanded for eight nearly-continuous minutes.

"When one team is down three or four (opportunities), it amps up the frustration," admitted Gulutzan.

The result was Calgary's most dynamic player, Johnny Gaudreau, ended up stapled to the bench for a long, long time. From just past the five minute mark of the second period until the second minute of the third, Gaudreau only had two shifts -- both on the power play.

His ice time at the end of the night was just 16:31. The last four games in which he's been held to under 17 minutes of ice, Gaudreau has failed to pick up a point. He's a guy that needs to keep his legs moving and needs to stay involved in the game.

In short, nothing good happens from taking too many penalties. Your best player as mentioned ends up sitting, your lines get all messed up, you're giving up a ton of chances, which is wearing down your goaltender and your defence. Even if you don't get scored on during those man advantages, momentum swings in favour of the opponent and often goals against will come shortly after, which was the case on Friday.

Calgary is eighth in the NHL in number of times shorthanded. Conspiracy theorists can't blame the so-called Wideman effect this year. It's on the players to be more disciplined, it's as simple as that.


4. Don't Judge a Book By It's Cover

If you didn't watch the game, you are probably far more worried about what happened to Mike Smith than you should be. While the optics of surrendering five goals on 22 shots and then getting the unceremonious hook is certainly not great, but there were no goals in that batch that I would classify as bad goals.

To me, a bad goal is that groaner type of softie that has been frequent over the past few years. Dribblers through the pads, goals leaking in from a sharp angle. In fact, I don't think Smith has allowed a so-called bad goal all season.

Were there a couple on Friday that knowing the competitive guy he is, he thinks he should have stopped? Absolutely. But the Senators deserve some credit too for their execution.

Here's a quick review of last night's five goals that beat Smith:
  • After both Michael Stone and then Matt Bartkowski committed to players coming down the sideboards, Cody Ceci ends up getting the puck all alone while flying down the ice at top speed and he scores on a slick deke to his backhand.
  • Derrick Brassard with a blast inside the far post with Alex Burrows completely blocking Smith's view for what was essentially a power play goal, coming the second that Hamilton stepped back on the ice. Hard to stop what you can't see, especially when they're going bar-in.
  • Mike Hoffman ripping a bar-down one-timer on a feed from Ceci for a power play goal.
  • Smith kicks out his pad to deny Mark Borowiecki from 25 feet out, but Mark Stone is not picked up by anybody as he wanders through the slot and he buries the rebound. 
  • Ryan Dzingel finishes off a tic-tac-toe passing play by one-timing Thomas Chabot's cross-ice pass off Smith's arm and in.

The fifth goal was one he probably could have had, but it was a bang-bang play in which Smith had to get across the crease. It was hardly one that made you shake your head.

So while Smith's save percentage took a major hit, dropping from .950 to .928, the high level at which he's played should not be tarnished that badly. While the quantity of shots wasn't there, the quality was much higher on this night.

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5. Heat is Back On

Having not played since last Saturday, Stockton is finally back in action tonight. Calgary's American Hockey League affiliate is hosting the Grand Rapids Griffins led by former Flames prospect Turner Elson, who is the early-season AHL scoring leader with seven points (3 goals, 4 assists) in three games.

The Heat will be busier this week with their next outing a road game in San Jose on Wednesday before returning home for back-to-back games against San Diego on Friday and Saturday.

All eyes will continue to be on the top line of Jankowski (3-1-4), Garnet Hathaway (2-2-4) and Andrew Mangiapane (2-2-4), who combined for 12 points in Stockton's opening two games.

Jankowski leads the team with 10 shots on goal and if he can continue to push for NHL employment like he has through the NHL preseason and now into the AHL regular season, you sense a promotion could come sooner than later, especially if the Flames keep scuffling along with inconsistent efforts.


6. New Haunted Center

Now that the Honda Center curse has been lifted, that got me thinking what's the new curse? Well, Calgary has never won in Las Vegas. Mind you, their first trip to the T-Mobile Arena isn't until Feb. 21.

Turns out, Madison Square Garden is now the rink in which the Flames have gone the longest without winning. Calgary has gone 0-4-1 in its last five road games against the New York Rangers since last beating them at MSG on Dec. 7, 2008. They will get a chance to end that skid on Feb. 9.

The Flames have also love five straight -- all in regulation -- at the Air Canada Centre since last tasting victory in Toronto on Jan. 15, 2011. The Flames travel to Ontario to take on the Maple Leafs on Dec. 6.

There are only four other buildings in which they've gone more than two games without winning:
  • Buffalo - Lost three straight since last winning on Dec. 14, 2013
  • Edmonton - Lost three straight since last winning on Apr. 2, 2016
  • NY Islanders - Lost three straight since last winning on Feb. 6, 2014
  • Vancouver - Lost three straight since last winning on Feb. 6, 2016

On behalf of the entire Calgary media, it will be a relief to not write about the streak any more. That storyline got boring several years ago. The last few years have been tedious.


7. Southern California Sweep

In case you missed this the other day, wins in Anaheim and Los Angeles on the same road trip was the first Southern California sweep for Calgary in over 23 years. Pretty stunning if you think about it, especially considering how often they play down there.

The only other time the Flames had headed out on the road and beat both the Ducks and the Kings in their home rinks was in 1993-94.

On Feb. 2, 1994, in Calgary's first ever visit to Anaheim -- the rink was known back then as the Arrowhead Pond -- they won 4-2. They followed that up with a 5-4 overtime win on Feb. 5 in Los Angeles, who were playing out of the old Forum back then.

To give you a sense of how long ago that was, the Kings tied the game with two minutes left on a goal by Wayne Gretzky. Calgary won it in overtime when Al MacInnis put a shot past Kelly Hrudey.

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8. All-Flames Mavericks Tandem

Friday night was opening night in the ECHL, which is now only known by those four letters. Still referred too quite often and mistakenly as the East Coast league, the league's name was changed to just ECHL from East Coast Hockey League on May 19, 2003 to reflect its growing geographic reach beyond the East Coast.

This is notable for Flames fans as the Kansas City Mavericks, the new ECHL affiliate for the Flames features a goaltending tandem of Tyler Parsons and Mason McDonald, who are both Calgary property.

In the off-season, the Mavericks had signed goaltender Ty Rimmer to an ECHL deal, but last Sunday, he was traded to Greenville, leaving Kansas City with just the two Calgary draft picks in their crease.

While the ECHL is not the perfect spot for a top prospect like Parsons, it was time for him to graduate from the OHL as returning for an overage season in a league in which he had accomplished all he could do would not have been any better. What makes the ECHL a palatable spot is it's where Parsons can get starts and playing time -- Kansas City plays a 72-game regular season -- is the most important thing for the 20-year-old.

It was a great debut for Parsons too as he made 39 saves to backstop Kansas City to a 5-3 win in, despite being outshot 42-25.

An advantage of turning pro is now the Flames development staff along with goaltending coach Jordan Sigalet can be a lot more hands-on with him. With Lack only having one year left, I fully expect either Jon Gillies or David Rittich to ascend to the NHL as the back-up next season and that will open up at least one spot in the AHL.

Each made one start in the preseason with McDonald stopping 29 of 30 shots in a win and Parsons allowing three goals on 32 shots in a loss.

I fully expect Parsons to get a bulk of the playing time but it would be beneficial for all involved if McDonald, in his second pro season, pushed him much like how Rittich pushed Gillies last year in the AHL.

Of note, several notable NHL goaltenders have had tours of duty in the ECHL. Some examples:

Devan Dubnyk, Stockton (2006-07)
  • 43 gm, 24-11-7, 2.56 GAA, .921 SV%

Mike Condon, Ontario/Wheeling (2012-13, 2013-14)
  • 43 gm, 26-13-4, 2.11 GAA, .932 SV%

Jonathan Quick, Reading (2007-08)
  • 38 gm, 23-11-3, 2.79 GAA, .905 SV%

Scott Darling, Wheeling (2012-13, 2013-14)
  • 38 gm, 17-13-5, 2.77 GAA, .909 SV%

James Reimer, Reading/South Carolina (2008-09)
  • 28 gm, 2.38 GAA, .917 SV%

Mike Smith, Lexington (2002-03)
  • 27 gm, 11-10-4, 2.55 GAA, .910 SV%

Braden Holtby, South Carolina (2009-10)
  • 12 gm, 7-2-3, 2.95 GAA, .911 SV%


So for those worried about Parsons' development, don't be. He'll be just fine.




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 stories I've written, other articles from my colleagues that I've enjoyed and I'll occasionally use that space to weigh in on the news of the day.

-----------------------------------------------

Recent Flames Reading:

  • Good Omen? Smith's Thanksgiving Shutout in Anaheim Sparks Memories of 2004 - The start to the season for Mike Smith has conjured up memories of Miikka Kiprusoff, who was the guy the last time the Flames boasted at true No. 1 starter. (Oct. 10, 2017)
  • Podcast: Episode 20 with Pat Steinberg- In this season preview edition, the host of Sportsnet960's radio broadcasts joined me to look at the season ahead. We made a bunch of predictions, some bold, some not, and answered several listener questions. (Oct. 9, 2017)
  • Don't You Forget About Me: Simple Minds' Song Befits Impactful Night for Lazar - While TJ Brodie and Johnny Gaudreau were the headliners in Saturday's win over Winnipeg with four points each, don't overlook the really nice game by Curtis Lazar. (Oct. 8, 2017)
  • It Was Just One Game, People - Flames fans' overreaction game was certainly on point as the Flames 3-0 opening night loss to the Oilers set off widespread panic. Yes, it took one game. Five reasons to relax and not fret, posted via the FF80F facebook page. (Oct. 5, 2017)
  • Smart as a Whip, Dumb as a Post: Another Day in a Hockey Market for Brad Treliving - Praise for signing of Jagr came to a screeching halt with announcement that Glass had signed also. Why sign him, wondered fans. Curious myself, I set out to investigate. (Oct. 3, 2017)

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Good Omen? Smith's Historic Thanksgiving Shutout in Anaheim Sparks Memories of 2004

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Do you believe in miracles?!

How about omens?

In Mike Smith's spectacular 43-save shutout Monday night in Calgary's 2-0 win over the Ducks at Honda Center (shutout No. 34 of his career fittingly enough, remember that number), he gave fans much to think about and get excited about.

After all, the last time the Flames won a regular season game in Anaheim was Jan. 19, 2004. Back then, they were called the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. That was also the only time Calgary had won in that building this century, the last win prior to that came in January 1999.

Exactly four months after that most recent win, Calgary defeated the San Jose Sharks 3-1 in game 6 of the Western Conference final to advance to the Stanley Cup final.

While they went on to lose in the final in seven games to the Tampa Bay Lightning, that magical run that gave birth to the Red Mile was a reminder of just how far a team can go if they get consistently great goaltending.



That year, of course, there was also a new goalie that had just arrived on the scene in Calgary, who put the Flames on his back and led them to within one win -- or within one coach's challenge video review, had such existed -- of hoisting the NHL's ultimate prize.

His name, of course, was Miikka Kiprusoff.


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Revisiting 2003-04

Acquired in mid-November from the San Jose Sharks, Kiprusoff went 24-10-4 in 38 starts in 2003-04 with a tidy 1.69 goals-against-average and a stirling .933 save percentage -- both would end up going down as career bests.

For his part in the Flames success, Kiprusoff finished fourth in Hart Trophy voting that season for league's most valuable player and was runner-up to Martin Brodeur for the Vezina as top goaltender.

His first of nine seasons with Calgary, the Finn was also the last time the Flames truly had a No. 1 goaltender. By No. 1, I'm talking about a non-debatable, no 1a/1b type of arrangement, a true, bona fide starter, who gets the tap on the shoulder four out of every five games and delivers the type of consistent and reliable performance that gives the team a chance to win each and every night.

After Kiprusoff's team-high 38 starts that season, a number limited by a six-week stint on injured reserve due to a sprained knee suffered in late December, he quickly took over as the league's workhorse.

Over his next eight seasons beginning with 2005-06 (2004-05 season was lost to a lockout), he was the man for the Flames starting 73, 74, 76, 76, 71, 71, 68 and 24 (lock-out shortened 2012-13 season) games respectively. It was the most starts in the league over that period by far:


NHL - Starts from 2005-06 through 2012-13:

1. Miikka Kiprusoff, 534
2. Henrik Lundqvist, 505
3. Martin Brodeur, 478
T4. Ryan Miller 474
T4. Roberto Luongo, 474


From Darryl Sutter to Jim Playfair to Mike Keenan to Brent Sutter to Bob Hartley, the guy standing behind the Flames bench changed multiple times, but that carousel did not extend to the goal crease as over that period, it was all Kiprusoff, all the time.

One of the great trivia questions for Flames fans to kick around while out at the pub and enjoying a pint and some chicken wings is to name the other 11 goaltenders that got starts for Calgary during Kiprusoff's tenure with the team. Can you? (Spoiler alert, answer ahead)


Flames Starts from Nov. 14, 2003 through end of 2012-13:

1. Miikka Kiprusoff, 572
2. Jamie McLennan, 26
3. Henrik Karlsson, 18
4. Joey MacDonald, 17
5. Roman Turek, 15
6. Curtis McElhinney, 14
7. Leland Irving, 12
8. Philippe Sauve, 6
9. Curtis Joseph, 5
T10. Brian Boucher, 3
T10. Vesa Toskala, 3
12. Danny Taylor, 2


This is relevant information because early indications are -- and full disclaimer attached, I fully realize it's only been three games -- that the Flames might, just might have found themselves a true No. 1 goaltender for the first time since Kiprusoff retired in 2013.

The club thought they had one when they acquired Karri Ramo, and Jonas Hiller, and Brian Elliott, but it didn't turn out to be the case. They hoped home-grown draft pick Joni Ortio would develop into one, but that didn't work out either. Over the last four seasons, Elliott's 45 starts last year was the most by any one goaltender:


Most Starts - Flames

2013-14 - Karri Ramo, 37 (Berra 37, MacDonald 9, Ortio 9)
2014-15 - Jonas Hiller, 44 (Ramo 32, Ortio 6)
2015-16 - Karri Ramo, 37 (Hiller 23, Ortio 19, Backstrom 3)
2016-17 - Brian Elliott, 45 (Johnson 36, Gillies 1)


Who's going well? Who's hot? Who's rested? Those were always the questions as none of the goalies that paraded through town were able to grab that No. 1 job and run with it.


Smith is an Established Starter

There is not any hoping this year that Smith can be a No. 1, they know he can be that guy. He established that during his time playing under Flames GM Brad Treliving in Arizona. Three of his six seasons with the Coyotes, he started 60-plus games. Four times, he started 55-plus games. Injuries were the only reason he didn't reach those same totals in his other two seasons.

Smith's early-season totals so far in 2017-18 are staggering. He's making one hell-of-a first impression.

In his three starts, Smith has stopped 110 of 115 shots for a .957 save percentage. He has an impressive 1.68 goals-against average. Oh, and it gets better. At even-strength, his save percentage climbs to .967 with just three goals allowed on 92 shots.

Nobody in their right mind should expect that type of performance to continue, he's going to have some off nights and he's going to need some nights off. That's the nature of the position.

But, if he can provide steady goaltending and give the 18 skaters in front of him the confidence on a nightly basis that he is going to keep them in the game -- that the bad goal against will be rare, not common -- Calgary has the type of talent surrounding him both on the blueline and up front to be able to ride that a long way.

Smith's 43 stops on Monday night was the most stops in a shutout since the Flames franchise relocated to Calgary in 1980.



It wasn't the most in franchise history though. Atlanta Flames great Dan Bouchard had a 46-save shutout at Detroit on December 13, 1972. Bouchard also had a 45-save blanking of the Maple Leafs in Toronto on April 2, 1975.

But after that on the franchise list comes Smith's effort on a Thanksgiving evening that was truly a performance for fans to be thankful for.

If you're curious, it wasn't Smith's best shutout ever. A by-product of playing on some pretty poor Arizona teams over the years, getting peppered is nothing new for the 35-year-old and he has turned in a bunch of gems.


Mike Smith - Most Saves in a Shutout:

1. 54 saves vs. Columbus on April 3, 2012
T2. 44 saves vs. Anaheim on March 31, 2012
T2. 44 saves at Edmonton on March 12, 2016
4. 43 saves at Anaheim on Oct. 9, 2017
5. 42 saves vs. San Jose on March 10, 2012



Speaking of Omens

The other thing that I'll point out is that the  scorer of the winning goal that night back in January 2004 was Martin Gelinas, set-up by Craig Conroy and Chuck Kobasew.

That was a sign of things to come in that post-season for Gelinas, who famously scored the series-winning goal in each of the first three rounds and was the guy in the middle of the controversial non-goal in game six at home.

Fast-forward 13 years and author of the winning goal on Monday night was none other than Mr. Clutch himself, Sean Monahan, who sniped his 20th career game-winning goal.

Having shown a penchant to score in the big moments so far in his young career -- be it in the third period of games, or in overtime -- Monahan could very well turn out to be this year's Gelinas.

So omens, superstitions, it may seem like a bunch of malarkey, but don't tell that to the Flames, who tapped into that exact thing on Monday. Showing the extremes a sports team will go to in order to end a curse, they provided a locker room stall for Jobu, the voodoo doll from the movie Major League.




Final Word

There's a long, long way to gos till, but the first impression from Smith is expect him to be a fixture in net. Should he continue to play even remotely as good as he has this first week, expect Calgary to be a fixture in the top three in the Pacific Division too.

What a new and different feeling it would be for this team to enter the post-season brimming with confidence in their goaltending. Dare to dream, folks, dare to dream.

As Flames general manager Brad Treliving has said before, NHL games almost always come down to the best goalie wins. It sure looks like Smith is going to give Calgary a fighting chance to get the two points in what could end up being upwards of 60-plus games. That should carry this team a long way.

Speaking of omens, do you know when the movie Major League was released into theatres?

Our introduction to Jobu happened on April 7, 1989. If that month and year sound familiar, that just happened to be two days after the Flames 1989 Stanley Cup run began. I don't need to tell you how that one ended.

Let that little bit of trivia percolate for a little bit.



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 stories I've written, other articles from my colleagues that I've enjoyed and I'll occasionally use that space to weigh in on the news of the day.

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Monday, October 09, 2017

FF80F Podcast: Episode 20 - 2017-18 Preview with Steinberg Including Bold Predictions



Hockey is getting close now -- Penticton rookie tournament starts on Friday -- and to get you amped up, Flames PostMedia beat writer Wes Gilbertson stopped by Studio 29 for a chat. Wes is around the team all the time and he provides his thoughts on some of the topics of the day.


Episode 20 - October 7, 2017  (1:27:23 running time)

A segment-by-segment breakdown:

0:00 - Introduction
  • 'Nerdy' Pat talks about his fake radio show as a kid and how he got into the biz
  • Podcast for hire! Are you interested in sponsoring the podcast/website and building up some exposure for your business? Contact me.

13:15 - Segment 1 - Line-up Discussion
  • Now that Jagr has arrived, where does he slot and why
  • How might the lines evolve for the better over the season 

31:57 - Segment 2 - Bold Predictions 
  • Thoughts on goaltending and what might unfold
  • Season expectations for the Flames

Early morning at the 80-Feet Saddledome Studio
44:54 - Segment 3 - Over-Under
  • Points for Bennett, games for Jankowski
  • Gaudreau's finish in scoring race, healthy scratches for Brouwer

58:02 - Segment 4 - What-if Injury Scenarios
  • How might the roster evolve with losses at various positions
  • What if Giordano gets hurt? What about Hamonic? Smith?

1:09:25 - Segment 5 - Listener Q&A
  • Answering listener questions submitted to this Facebook posting


Options to Download/Listen

You are now able to listen to or download Flames at 80 Decibels from all your favourite podcast locations, as well as through your regular podcast player or app. Here are a few of the more popular spots where you can track down the latest episode:

One popular question I get from newbies in the podcast world is when do people listen to podcasts? Well, if you have BlueTooth in your car as I do, I'll stream them from my phone onto my car stereo and listen as a I run around town doing errands, etc.

If you're travelling, download it to your iPod and listen on the flight. Or take it with you while you go and walk the dogs. I have heard from people who listen to them at work -- a great way to pass the time! There are endless possibilities.


Did You Miss It?

Here are the podcasts from earlier this summer. Run them one after another as a great way to pass the time the next time you're driving from Calgary to Regina. You can only play roadkill travel bingo for so long.
  • Episode 19 (September 4, 2017) - Talking Gulutzan and Penticton with Wes Gilbertson 
  • Episode 18 (August 20, 2017) - Flames vs. Oilers, camp preview with Jermain Franklin
  • Episode 17 (August 6, 2017) - Unveiling the top 20 prospects with Aaron Vickers
  • Episode 16 (July 29, 2017) - Looking ahead to training camp with Kristen Odland
  • Episode 15 (July 16, 2017) - Reflections on development camp with Rob Kerr


Rate the Podcast on iTunes

Have you enjoyed the podcasts so far? I would be grateful if you take a couple minutes and stop by iTunes and rate the podcast. From what I've learned, the more reviews, the easier it becomes to find for hockey fans browsing for something to listen to. So far, there's been only 15 reviews. I'd love to see that number doubled.

If you have any other comments or questions, let me know directly, I'd love to get an email from you.

Thanks for listening!



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 stories I've written, other articles from my colleagues that I've enjoyed and I'll occasionally use that space to weigh in on the news of the day.

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Sunday, October 08, 2017

Don't You Forget About Me: Simple Minds' Song Befits Subtle, Yet Impactful Night for Lazar

Embed from Getty Images

TJ Brodie with the filthy set-up, Johnny Gaudreau with the easy one-time finish.

It was the highlight-reel goal everybody was buzzing about Saturday night, propelling the Calgary Flames to a 6-3 victory over the Winnipeg Jets for their first win of the season.

The play that left the soldout Saddledome crowd of 19,289 oohing and aahing was Brodie's fake slap shot late in the second period that completely fooled Mathieu Perreault, sending the Jets winger spiraling helplessly towards the side boards.

With everyone then expecting Brodie to try for his first career hat-trick, he zipped a sublime cross-ice feed to a wide-open Gaudreau on the other side of the slot, who was left with a yawning cage to deposit the puck into with goaltender Steve Mason, among others, caught out of position.

That goal, which broke a 3-3 tie and stood up as the game-winner, was the crown jewel in each player's four-point evening, which tied a career-best for both of them. Expectedly, they were the two headliners subject to the biggest media scrums post-game.

But when you roll the credits at the end of this movie, the name among the supporting cast that also deserves much attention is Curtis Lazar.

Not to be forgotten, that go-ahead goal does not happen if not for the determined spadework along the end boards seconds earlier by the 22-year-old, who demonstrated strength, agility and skill in keeping the play alive.


Effort Rewarded

Busting in hard on the forecheck, right on the heels of his linemate Sam Bennett, who began the sequence by knocking the puck away from Jacob Trouba, it was Lazar, who then stripped the puck from Dmitry Kulikov behind the Jets net.

While fending off the Russian defenceman, who was going to be penalized for knocking him down, Lazar got back up from his knees, all while maintaining control of the puck. Thus, no whistle yet.

As the referee with his arm raised continued to watch the play from just a few feet away, Lazar absorbed a check from Bryan Little, but yet again, he was able to keep possession of the puck. Thus, still no whistle.

As he neatly spun away from Little, Lazar sent a nifty little pass to Gaudreau positioned further up the sideboards. From there, Gaudreau threaded a pass back to Brodie at the far point and you know know what happened next.

"It started with Bennie on the forecheck. He made a good stop there," said Lazar, more willing to defer credit than accept it. "The forecheck is my game, regardless of whom I'm playing with, and to get in there. There was a delayed penalty so I just tried to keep it alive."

But the contribution on that play from Lazar was not lost on the goal-scorer.

"He did a great job," said Gaudreau. "Drew a penalty, stayed with it, chipped the puck right up the wall to me. It all started with him. That goal doesn't happen without him working hard down low."




Change Sparks Results

If you're curious why Bennett, Gaudreau and Lazar were on the ice together, this wasn't the by-product of the team in the middle of a line change. Near the midway point in the second period, Glen Gulutzan shuffled the personnel on his first and third lines, hoping to finding a spark.

It worked. The team scored four straight goals in the span of less than 10 minutes to turn a 3-1 deficit into a 5-3 lead -- three of the four goals produced by the new combinations.

"The reason I did it, I didn't think in the first 30 (minutes) that we were very good. I didn't see a lot happening, we were a little stale," said the Flames coach.

"What went through my mind is sometimes guys get a little excited to play with Johnny. I put him with Curtis and Bennie and right away, their first shift, they had a little spark. Sometimes you get lucky with these things. I just thought that we needed a change."

Lazar cherished the opportunity to play with No. 13.

"He's obviously a world-class player and just to get the chemistry out there, it was great," said Lazar. "I'll try and do the heavy lifting as much as I can, and just establish the forecheck. Even Bennie too, we were just feeding off each other. It's a great feeling."

Sean Monahan, Micheal Ferland and Kris Versteeg formed the other re-jigged trio while the 3M line and fourth line remained intact.

From the press box for game 1 to finishing game 2 on a line with Gaudreau, it was quite a meteoric rise for Lazar, especially when you consider he only got in Saturday's game because recently-signed Jaromir Jagr declared himself not yet ready for game action.

"That was the joke I said this morning, I was probably the most hated guy in Calgary," said Lazar with a chuckle, well aware of the hype that had been built up for the anticipated debut of the future hall-of-famer, only for him to be the consolation prize -- complete with sad trombone.

"That speaks volumes to the depth of our hockey club," Lazar said. "Obviously, bringing in Jaromir here, he's going to help out our hockey club a lot. Just being there in his spot, I just tried to do my job. I didn't try to be Jaromir Jagr because that's near impossible. I just play my game, work and we got the win, and that's all that matters."


Didn't Let Poor Preseason Get Him Down

While Lazar was just kidding when he said he was the most hated guy in Calgary, the truth is there has been a lot of fan displeasure with his play during the preseason. Social media has a way of making these things quite apparent.

Acquired from the Ottawa Senators last trade deadline in a deal that cost the Flames a second round draft pick, then signed to a new two-year, $1.9 million deal in the summer, expectations were high and prior to Saturday night, he had not met them. Not even close.

In five preseason games, he was not very noticeable. He was not on the ice for a single goal, had just four shots and only contributed seven hits. He was a minus-2 while also being on the ice for a couple of power play goals against.

"My mindset hasn't changed. It hasn't changed at all throughout preseason," said the native of Salmon Arm, B.C.. "I started slow out of the gates, but I think you guys were more concerned than I was. I was preparing for my first game here in the season."

That first game went much better. In 11:07 of ice time, Lazar delivered an effective performance all night. He had that one assist, he was a plus-two, his three hits were a game-high and he had four shot attempts -- two of them on goal -- along with a handful of other chances that went unregistered.



Glimpse Into Future Potential

Just prior to Brodie's first goal at 8:42 of the second, which started the Flames comeback, Lazar was robbed by Mason when he was set up perfectly on a 2-on-1 by Gaudreau. That was the new-look line's first shift together.

"Just my luck," said Lazar, smiling as always. "That was probably the best one-timer I've ever taken. Again, it's not something to get frustrated at, we scored right after, but I'm just glad I got good wood on it and it's something to build off of. I never want to get down on my game and what not because the next shift is always going to be a new opportunity."

Other opportunities did, indeed, follow. On one rush, he had a cross-ice pass from Bennett just skip past him at the far post. With two minutes left in the game, he got the puck alone at the face-off dot but in his haste to spin and get a shot away, he fanned on it.

"That last one, a few more wrist curls in the gym and it's probably a different result," quipped Lazar.

To stay in the line-up, Lazar will need to continue to have this same type of impact, regardless of who he is playing with. Selected 17th overall in the 2014 NHL Draft, that's well within his capabilities. It's why Calgary pursued him.

"Great for him," said Gaudreau. "I don't think he'll have a problem staying in the line-up if he keeps playing like that. He did a great job tonight, very impressive and I had fun playing with him and Bennie."


Final Word

Gulutzan admitted post-game he has some decisions to make before Calgary's next game Monday night at the dreaded Honda Center.

"He showed great speed, he worked, he got in on the forecheck and created some of those opportunities for the other guys," said Gulutzan, praising Lazar's play.

"I'm going to have to go through the game and make some choices depending on where Jags is at and where guys are at, but I'll wait until I go through the video again and see what looks like the right line-up for Anaheim."

Trying to find room in your line-up to fit in impactful players, that's a good problem to have if you're the Flames coach. Full credit to Lazar for doing exactly what he needed to do with his opportunity to play and making Gulutzan's next line-up decision that much more tougher.

"Just play your game, regardless of whether it's going good or bad," said Lazar. "You just stick with the process, you trust it, you trust your teammates and the system and here we got the result we want."

It's no secret what this team badly wants -- and needs -- on Monday against the division-rival Ducks.

And when game time arrives, expect Lazar to be in uniform with a chance to contribute towards what would be the first win in that arena since 2004. He certainly has earned it.




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 stories I've written, other articles from my colleagues that I've enjoyed and I'll occasionally use that space to weigh in on the news of the day.



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Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Smart as a Whip, Dumb as a Post: Just Another Day in a Hockey Market for Brad Treliving

Embed from Getty Images

Part genius. Part idiot.

Or at least, that's the ruling today in the court of public opinion.

Meet Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving, who right after getting it so right on Monday with the signing of Jaromir Jagr, apparently got it so wrong on Tuesday signing Tanner Glass.

Check the calendar. The GM either knows exactly what he's doing, or he's absolutely clueless, depending on which day of the week it is.

The last 24 hours really have been a spectacle to watch.

Shortly after the jubilant dancing in the streets over the news Treliving had shrewdly signed a future first ballot hall-of-famer to play alongside Sam Bennett, those same streets were filled with fan outrage. All the goodwill built up by bringing in the mulleted legend seemed instantly gone with the press release that the mastermind-turned-dummy had also signed Glass.

Yep. Same guy, who hours ago, knew exactly what his team needed to take that next step, suddenly doesn't have a clue. Sorry Brad, but this is a hockey market and benefit of the doubt is a commodity not available here. This is an oil and gas town. Oh, and we sell a lot of cowboy hats.








Screw You, Bobby McFerrin

Don't worry, be happy? Pfft.

Indicative of one of the issues we seem to have as a society, it seems people are never content. Rather than enjoying the beautiful flower garden, we fixate on that bit of crabgrass.

You got 80 percent on your exam? Well, what question did you get wrong?

It's as if the only one of the seven dwarfs to procreate was Grumpy.

For most of the day Monday -- the falling of snow certainly adding to it -- it felt like Christmas Day around Calgary. Fans had opened up that gift and inside was a super cool remote-controlled race car with No. 68 emblazoned on the hood. Awesome!

Yet, less than 24 hours later, the festive NHL regular season was ruined when inside the other box was a onesie. Well that's dumb, what use does this have? 

Talk about a mood killer. You've seen Buzz Lightyear PJs before. Well, here are some Buzz Kill pajamas.


Toughness Incoming, Like it or Not

When veteran defenceman Deryk Engelland left Calgary in the summer, signing with Las Vegas as a free agent after being selected in the expansion draft, it left behind a void.

Not the most-skilled player, Engelland was the team's toughest guy and it wasn't close. His fight in Vancouver in the playoffs when he fought two Canucks at the same time -- then chirped the home bench to send over three guys next time -- was legendary.

Embed from Getty Images

Engelland was the type of revered physical presence that skilled players in the NHL like having in the line-up. Engelland may have had a dime-a-dozen skill set when it came to his basic hockey skills, but those came in a big package and wrapped in a couple layers of coveted intangibles that gave him value that most fans grew to appreciate over time.

It's an element Calgary paid dearly to acquire too, signing as a UFA three years ago to a deal that paid him just under $3 million per season.

With Engelland gone and the departure of Lance Bouma too, you knew the Flames were going to address that void, you absolutely knew it.

Sure enough they did, only this time it came cheaper. Much cheaper. The deal Glass signed was for the league minimum of $650,000 on a one-year term.

With the provincial rival Oilers deploying the likes of Patrick Maroon, Milan Lucic, Zack Kassian and Darnell Nurse, the Ducks deploying their usual cast of you-know-what-disturbers -- Corey Perry, Josh Manson, Ryan Kesler and Nick Ritchie. The other heavyweights battling Calgary for top spot in the Pacific Division this season are exactly that -- heavyweights.

Already feeling as if they get bullied around by those teams, Calgary was in jeopardy of falling into the lightweight division. At least with Glass now, that gives them some 'punch' and a good dose of that always-sought-after truculence. Let's call them welterweights now.


A Missing Ingredient

Travis Hamonic, the replacement for Dennis Wideman, does have some vinegar in his game, but let's face it, he's not here for that. His priority is to allow TJ Brodie to flourish. Micheal Ferland was a player feared league-wide in the WHL five years ago, but that's far from his primary MO anymore. He's a different guy now, plus he's playing on Calgary's No. 1 line. Matthew Tkachuk is a thorn to play against, but he's also of a different ilk.

There was no room at the inn on the blueline this September to bring in that element of toughness either. The candidates to replace Engelland -- Brett Kulak, Matt Bartkowski, Rasmus Andersson -- are better known for their first pass than their angry stare.

Given that, you just knew that fourth line winger is where that grit was going to be added.

That was reflected in what you saw unfold in training camp. Look at the players brought in -- veteran tough guy Luke Gazdic signed to a two-way deal and given an NHL audition. Cantankerous Joseph Cramarossa brought in on a PTO to audition for that opening. Internally, Garnet Hathaway was another option. So was Glass, also on a PTO.


Well, look around.

Of those four, the music stopped Tuesday and only one remained.

With the Flames opening the season against a gauntlet of four straight big-and-nasties -- the Oilers, the Jets, the Ducks and Kings -- you can fully expect to see Glass not just on the roster, but in the line-up for every one of those tilts.

"It's going to be fun. I love the rivalry games. They tend to suit my style of play and my game," said Glass after practice on Tuesday.

"I know the game is changing, probably away from that type of player, but you talk to (skilled) guys, they like to know they're taken care of and it's something I have no problem doing and I'm proud to do."


What Does Glass Bring?

Is Glass going to score a bunch of goals? No.

Is he going to create a lot of chances? No.

Are his analytics going to be very good? Probably not.

But what coaches like about him and why Alain Vigneault loved him in New York is he knows his role and he's good at it. Glass gets in on the forecheck hard, he throws his weight around and he creates wear and tear on the chassis of opposing defencemen.

There's value to that and it's why the 33-year-old has kicked around the league for all these years.

"He's a big, heavy body that provides energy," Gulutzan says. "A lot of fighting has gone out of the game. What's intimidating now is guys that can skate and punish you and will finish checks through you and he can do that."

The effectiveness of that was on display in the playoffs last year when the Rangers fourth line of Glass, Oscar Lindberg and J.T. Miller wreaked havoc on Ottawa.

"He was very effective for them in the Ottawa series. So much so that Ottawa had to change their line-up a little bit in response to the Rangers having Glass in," says Gulutzan. "He adds that element of intimidation through hard work and physical play and that's important to a hockey club. It's good energy."




Big Boy Hockey

"It's a game of intimidation, it's played within walls," says Glass. "Like (Mark) Scheifele told me the other night, 'Come on, you're going to hurt someone out here.'

"Just the fact that he's saying that, you know there's a bit of a psychological game going on and I'm happy about that."

If Glass plays to his ability, he can impact a game much in the same way Micheal Ferland did two years ago in the playoffs when as a fourth liner, his rock'em, sock'em style had all of the Canucks defensemen off their game.

"It's footsteps, that's what we call it," explains Glass. "You hit a guy once, twice, and especially in the divisional games and rivalry games, you play against a guy enough times, it's not fun going back into that corner.

"If you get the art of the dump down where those pucks are settling a foot off the wall and they're not an easy play for them. you know as a defenceman that (the forechecker) is coming every time and it's tricky."

Flames defenceman Mark Giordano can attest. He's been on the receiving end. Thus, he also recognizes the contributions fourth line players can provide, without hitting the scoresheet.

"The first three shifts when he gets in on the forecheck on you and hits you, what it does is force you to move the puck quicker and that creates turnovers," admits the captain. "It does wear you down. If you're playing a lot of minutes especially, the easy game is when you can always face the play and look up ice. When you have to turn and get pucks, it makes it a lot harder."


Glass Half-Full

Glass is also a guy you can deploy on the penalty kill, so add another attribute.

Not surprising for a guy, who has got himself into over 500 NHL contests, Glass also packs all of those other intangibles that makes some fans cringe, yet character-craving teams embrace.

"Great guy in the room, so first of all, he brings that to your group," says Gulutzan. "He's one of those guys that people like to be around and you can tell that right away when you're around him."

Let's not forget also that this is an Ivy League-educated player. Just because he fights, he's not a dummy. The prairie kid from Regina, who was a ninth round draft pick of the Florida Panthers, went to Dartmouth College for four years. In his third and fourth seasons, he averaged just under a point-per-game. In his senior year, he was team captain.

As for the fan argument that if Glass was any good, he wouldn't have to settle for a PTO this summer, does the name Kris Versteeg ring a bell?

Sure, last year was a rough one for him, spending the early part of the season in the AHL before getting recalled by New York in March when the Rangers needed a spark.

But Glass is feeling good now, still riding the high of last year's playoff success when he chipped in a goal and three assists in his seven games.

"There are those dog days of the winter when you're in the minors and you're wondering what the heck am I doing there, but it was a good confidence booster that I know I can come back and play well and have an impact," says Glass. "It gave me confidence that I can do it again this year."


Final Word

It seems that there always has to be that one polarizing player every season that divides the fan base. Coaches like Glass, teammates like him, some fans like him, yet other fans -- well, not so much.

Engelland was that guy three years ago, who certainly came out on the other side with a ton more fans than he had going in. That's a rare journey though. Usually, once you've been labelled, there's no digging yourself out. Troy Brouwer will know a thing or two about that.

When two weeks ago, Glass laid that big hit in the corner against Vancouver then scored a goal seconds later, I summarized the sequence in a tweet. That tweet instantly made it's way to the Big Apple where in the process I heard from all sorts of Glass fans already missing him. It was interesting. I know he's got his detractors, but seems he was beloved too. Much like Engelland.

With the love-hate relationship already started, it will really kick into gear when things get going for real on Wednesday night in Edmonton.

"It wasn't easy, by any means, but I'm proud of the camp I had," says Glass. "My family has been behind me the whole time, supporting me and made it a lot easier. I'm just looking forward to getting it going now."

So is everyone else -- players, coaches, media and fans too. Well, most of them, anyway.




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