At least, that's what Kent will likely end up thinking about his decision to have me join M and G. Or maybe not. Anyway, I thought I'd throw up a brief intro to get things started.
My name is Robert Cleave, and I'm the newest member of the Matchsticks and Gasoline team. Unlike most of you, I'm not a lifetime Flames' fan, since I was a fan and semi-regular patron of the Winnipeg Jets until April of 1996. When they abandoned me for the desert, I drifted into a sort of casual fandom. I had no interest in cheering for the 'Yotes, because as far as I was concerned they had no connection to me, and the fact that the new U.S. owners chose to build around Keith Tkachuk rather than Teemu Selanne pretty much sealed it. I still watched the game, but not having a specific rooting interest made it pretty easy to tune out, especially when the weather turned nice in the spring.
A few things began to change that around 2002. The SLC Olympics rekindled my interest somewhat, and I got my first extended look at a player many of you might be familiar with. As well, I moved to Edmonton later that year, so not only was I living in a NHL city again, but I was amongst Oiler fans. In terms of teams I've always disliked, the Oilers are at the top of the list. Living there or not, Oiler fandom wasn't for me. Calgary's '04 playoff helped push me further along the road towards being a Flames' fan. On reflection, though, it seems pretty rational. My feelings re: the other Canadian teams are as follows:
Vancouver - cheered for them twice, '94 vs. the Rangers (Oilers east) and '02 vs. Detroit. Otherwise, no thanks.
Edmonton - see above
Ottawa - indifferent at best
Toronto - How's that Sloan lyric go again? Oh, yeah, "it's not the band I hate, it's their fans."
Montreal - No. Fuck no. Never. Well, I cheered for the bastards against the Red Army on New Year's Eve '75, but Jesus, it was against the Russians. And I was 11. Never once since. Wonderful city, but that hockey team can go piss up a rope.
Calgary? Well, I always wanted them to win the Battle of Alberta, and since they were nice enough to give the Jets the only 2 playoff series wins in franchise history, the hate level was never quite the same. Toss in some sensible respect for Iginla, my underlying dislike of the Oilers, and here we are.
Enough of the historical nonsense. Lets close up by briefly reviewing a few things to watch for this season.
- Can they score enough? I'm not worried about replacing Bertuzzi's contributions, but Cammalleri scored 39 goals last year, and they haven't been replaced in any obvious way. Either Boyd, Dawes, or the two combined have to step up to fill in some of that gap.
- Will the team defence be better? The Flames were a middling team in terms of Shots Against last year. Without the same firepower, top 10 seems like a must if they want to compete. That would take a reduction of about 1 shot per game.
- Can Kiprusoff be better? This topic has, and will continue to be batted around on this site. I'd settle for a year like he had in 06-07, because I don't really expect a return to Vezina form. If he were somehow able to put up a .915 SV% or thereabouts, it would be fine with me. I'm not exactly an optimist on this matter, so here's hoping I'm completely wrong.
- Will Dion Phaneuf take the sort of step forward his talent dictates? For all the Olympic talk, he's a second pairing defenceman at the NHL level at this moment. He has to get better in his own end, or the Flames have to start considering a future without him after this year.
- Finally, can the Sutter brothers make things work? They appear to be very comfortable with each other, so I have some optimism on this matter, but if the team struggles, their relationship will be under scrutiny. As long as they manage themselves better than these two, things should be OK.
Thanks again to Kent for his kind invitation.