Don't look now, but Curtis McElhinney is on fire. In five games with the Ducks, he has four wins, a .933 SV%, and a 1.98 GAA. Clearly Southern California agrees with him. So what is the secret to his success? A simple hot streak? More playing time, less pressure, more support from teammates? A different system? Or just...getting out of Calgary?
It's a common thing in any pro sports league--a player your team cast away or gave up on, one that always appeared to have potential but was inconsistent in your team's colours, or one who looked like his best years were behind him moves on to another team where he proceeds to put up improved numbers--leaving you wondering what could have been. Of course, it is impossible to predict such instances, but during my time as a Flames fan, I feel like this has occurred with startling frequency. Obviously I could go back and harp on about Martin St. Louis and Marc Savard, but for the sake of relevancy I'll stick to the past year or two. In light of Curtis McElhinney's fourth straight win as a Duck last night, here is a list of players who have left Calgary only to find success elsewhere:
Lombo is a player gifted with great speed and versatility. He could be used in any situation at even strength, on the powerplay, and even on the penalty kill. That skill set, along with the fact that he once scored 57 goals in junior, created a set of expectations for him as a career first or second line centre, which, either because he wasn't given the necessary opportunity or he just wasn't cut out for the job, he never achieved in Calgary. His best season in Calgary came in 2006-07 when he scored 20 goals and 46 points, but he normally hovered around the 30-point plateau, pretty good considering his role on the team. In his final season with the Flames he had 9-21-30 and the lowest SH% of his pro career at 7.6. In 93 games with the Coyotes since being traded to Phoenix at last year's deadline, he has 21 goals, 45 assists, and 66 points. He already has a career high in points this season with 50, third on the Coyotes behind Shane Doan and Wojtek Wolski, and is back up at a 10.2 SH%, playing in the Coyote's top six. Then there's the whole "playoffs" thing...
Aucoin actually had some good numbers with the Flames in terms of point production. He scored 10 goals in each of his two seasons with the team and 35 and 34 points respectively, but in his second year, saw his +/- drop from +13 to -8. This season, he has rebounded slightly with Phoenix, sitting at -1 on the season and with 8-20-28; his numbers aren't as good as they were with the Flames and his departure saved the team a lot of cash, but even though he may have been slow and a defensive liability at times, he still looks like a better option than Steve Staios, plus, he's a shootout wizard. Since he took a pay-cut, he's also cheaper.
During last night's broadcast of the Flames/Coyotes game, Peter Loubardias and John Garret spent a good minute discussing Vandermeer's skills as an "offensive defenceman." When I took a gander at his stats, I noted that they weren't that impressive: 4-8-12 and +3 in 61 games, just under what he played in parts of two seasons with the Flames. Dumping Vandermeer's $2.3 M salary was one of last summer's biggest accomplishments for Darryl Sutter and the Flames, but at 29, he's likely still better value than Staios or maybe even Sarich.
One of my favourite Flames in recent years. Absolutely loved the guy. Just throwing that out there. Juice never had a bad season in his two and a half years as a Flame. Was he streaky, inconsistent, sometimes invisible? Yes, but never bad. In fact, he probably overachieved more than anything. In his first full season in Calgary he put up career highs in almost all categories: goals, assists, points, +/- , PP goals, game winning goals, you name it, with a decent supporting cast. I'll never forget that game in Tampa where he and Iginla both had hat tricks. He was also shooting the lights out that season at 19.7%. This season in Columbus, on a bad team with almost no depth at forward after Rick Nash and RJ Umberger, he has 23-39-62, 8 PP goals, and is shooting 15%. The Flames would kill for that offensive production right about now...or in December.
Most Flames fans were thrilled when Sutter acquired Stralman while simultaneously dumping Wayne Primeau on Toronto, but Stralman didn't last long enough to play a regular season game in Calgary as Darryl swapped him out for a fourth-round pick in pre-season in favour of Staffan Kronwall and Aaron Johnson (who has 3-3-6 and is shooting 18.8% since being traded to Edmonton) for reasons known only to him. Stralman has 6-28-34 in 68 games this season, and his -14 can likely be attributed to the fact that he plays for the Blue Jackets. There's no way to predict whether or not Stralman would have had similar numbers with the Flames, but his presence certainly would have come in handy at times during the season, specifically after the Phaneuf trade.
Rumours of Nolan's retirement were surfacing in the summer of 2007 before he was signed to a free-agent contract by the Flames where proved he still had some game, scoring 16-16-32 in 77 games. That was enough to earn him another contract with the Wild, where he scored 25 goals in 59 games last season and at 38, has 16 goals this season. I'm all for getting younger, faster, etc., but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a huge Owen Nolan fan during his lone season with the Flames. If that goal he scored earlier this season against Tampa is any indication, he's still got it. His 33 points this season is more than seven of the Flames' regular forwards, although he is making more money than almost all of them.
The success of players on new teams is dependent on a variety of different circumstances, and the list could look likely look different still if underlying stats were considered. It remains to be seen whether we'll be bemoaning the losses of Dion Phaneuf and Dustin Boyd a few years down the road, and it's possible that they could turn out to be bigger difference makers than any of the players on this list. On the other hand, you have guys like Chuck Kobasew and Alex Tanguay who had their best seasons points-wise in Flames colours and, all things considered, haven't been able to produce consistently at the same level since. Despite Cammalleri's career season in Calgary last year, rumours that he wanted out persist. Maybe I'm trying too hard to find a pattern where there isn't one, but I believe this point was brought up in the comments last night or not too long ago: If it isn't the coach, or the players, or the "system" that is causing players to leave the team and have success elsewhere, than what is it?
What do you think? Is there any merit to this whatsoever or am I simply grasping at straws?