So… professional hockey. It’s right around the corner: that time when all 30 NHL teams start on equal terms. Clean slates. And each and every one of those teams has a chance to win the Stanley Cup. Even if one of those teams has no first liners, no top pairing defencemen, and would probably fare just as well if they put an actual question mark in between the pipes instead of figurative ones.
You’ve heard by now that the Calgary Flames have never had a top five pick, yeah? Well, that streak could very well be broken this year. (Or maybe not, since it is the Flames.)
The 2013-14 season is probably… not going to be the greatest as a Flames fan. There’s going to be a lot of losing, a lot of dismay, a lot of drinking. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still look forward to it! Here are five reasons why:
1. There’s no way this season could possibly be worse than last season
First off, last season started with the tired will-they-or-won’t-they trope, commonly found in romcoms and whenever a new NHL CBA is needed. It’s boring and stupid and AHL streams tend to be fairly low quality, so nobody really enjoys it. But we don’t have to worry about that for a couple of years, so instead we get a full 82 game schedule of soul crushingly bad hockey!
So what’s the upside? How can this season be better than last season, when at least we could pretend the Flames had some semblance of a chance with noted awesome veterans and beloved icons Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff? Simple: Iggy and Kipper are gone, and so is the drama surrounding them.
No more watching games with a cloud hanging over your head: is Iggy going to leave us in free agency because management is delusional and stupid? Is this half season really the last chance I get to see Kipper? Why is noted left winger Alex Tanguay centering Jarome Iginla? How is Kiprusoff not playing 70+ games for the Flames this year? Was that Iggy’s last ever goal as a Flame just now? Oh god, am I really going to have to watch Kipper play out his final games on the freaking Leafs?
Those aren’t worries anymore. With Iggy now in
Boston Pittsburgh Boston and Kipper just kind of hanging out and doing whatever in Calgary, there’s no sense of worry accompanying Flames games anymore. We’ve already seen Iggy’s last goal as a Flame (barring a swan song tour, which would be awesome, and should totally happen) and Kipper got his ovation that’s making me tear up just by thinking about it. The Calgary Flames’ season is no longer devoted to the sole goal of trying to sneak into the playoffs so Iggy could win a Cup here.
No more pressure. No more expectations. No more 2004. No more hand wringing over which icon is or isn’t going to be traded, because there aren’t any icons anymore.
2. Who doesn’t like comedy?
Who does that leave instead? After all, even if you’re a bad hockey team, you still have to be able to actually ice one. So as Flames fans, we get to cheer for a smattering of random vets – you know, the kind others look down on. You say, "Actually, Curtis Glencross and Lee Stempniak have been pretty good…" and others say, "Haha, who?" – and a bunch of children.
It’s going to be awful. What remains to be seen is just how awful.
I like to think we learned something last year: it’s insanely hard to be insanely bad. All that time spent mocking the Oilers was really fun, but in actuality, we should have been in awe. How does one single team end up with the first overall draft pick three years in a row? Three! Again, the Flames have never even been in the top five! And when the Flames iced an actual AHL team towards the end of the season, they actually played themselves out of a top five draft pick!
In that case, you had two options:
Laughing is by far the better option. So embrace it. Watch in awe and see just how terrible this team could very well be. Catch every bone-headed play, cock your head to the side as you wonder what in the hell Player X was thinking when he did that, sit back, hope for an entertaining Brian Burke meltdown and/or barn fight with Kevin Lowe (seriously, we’re long past due on this), and laugh. Because with the right attitude, this is going to be a very entertaining season, even though it’s obviously not going to pan out the way we’d prefer.
If you don’t have any expectations, you’ll never be disappointed. So get rid of them. Everything else is just a bonus.
3. Young players? In the lineup? Getting actual ice time??
The biggest bonus is, of course, going to be the play of those aforementioned children.
TJ Brodie was inexplicably scratched for the first game of the 2013 season. Within five games he was playing on the top four. Then he got partnered with Jay "I Eat Lots of Minutes" Bouwmeester. Then Bouwmeester was gone, and more often than not, Brodie saw the ice more than anyone else. He was, by far, the best part of last year.
This season, we’re probably going to get more of that. Brodie will likely continue to get big minutes, and he’ll hopefully continue to grow. Some of the team’s regular centres could very well be Mikael Backlund (24) and Corban Knight (23) with a probable special guest appearance that may or may not turn into a full time stint by Sean Monahan (19 in October). This is to say nothing of the 22-year-old Roman Horak, suddenly with the full-fledged "real" NHL number of 21. Oh, and 23-year-old Lance Bouma. And maybe a season finale appearance by noted 12-year-old (actually 20) Johnny Gaudreau. And possibly part time roles by 21-year-old Max Reinhart and 20-year-old Markus Granlund. And maybe even more, such as: Chris Breen (24), Mark Cundari (23), and John Ramage (22), who could all very well play some NHL games this year.
And who could forget the Future Greatest Swiss Player of All Time, Sven Baertschi? Good ol’ Sven started last NHL season primarily playing on the bottom six before he got injured and then sent back to the AHL. When bodies started getting traded and roster spots opened up, Baertschi was back, actually playing more than ten minutes a game, and finishing his season with ten points during a seven game point streak. He’s still got a ways to go, but an increased role – which he should have – can only help. Also: still Calder eligible!
These guys are going to be fun to watch. Hopefully, these are the guys we’ll be watching for years to come. And it’s going to be genuinely fun to see what they can do when consistently playing at the highest level.
4. Just look at TJ Galiardi’s friggin’ Twitter
Just touched down in Calgary... For once I don't need to book a departing flight!!!— TJ Galiardi (@TJGaliardi) August 9, 2013
Not to mention…
Best Alderman @gccarra... You can put your re-election sign up on my front lawn any day!!!— TJ Galiardi (@TJGaliardi) July 13, 2013
Okay, tweeting about Nenshi is understandable, but when was the last time you saw a hockey player get giddy about his alderman?
An important aspect of building a team is making sure it consists of guys who actually want to be there. And TJ Galiardi wants to be in Calgary. He wasn’t drafted into the organization, he didn’t sign a massive free agency contract promising him lots of cash moneys, he just… wanted to be in Calgary. He wanted to be a Flame. That’s it.
It’s going to be a long season, and spirits are probably going to get worn down over time. If only for mental health purposes, having a happy locker room is important. You want a positive environment for both working and learning, which is what a lot of the kids on this team are going to be doing. For that, you require veterans who want to be here, and that's one of the things the organization has done in the off season: obtained exactly those kinds of guys. Galiardi, Kris Russell, David Jones: all guys with ties to the city, all guys with more reason to want to be in Calgary.
No, this team isn’t as talented as the fringe playoff teams of recent years. It’s worse. It’s also going to try harder. It’s going to provide a much better learning environment, and it’s going to be much more fun to watch.
5. Hey look, a team, not a collection of old guys!
A team, in general, is pretty fun to watch. It helps when that team is actually a team, and not just a bunch of veterans punching in for their shifts at the rink. It's a problem when the vast majority of your team is older and has a family. They have other obligations; they can't spend a ton of time together. What should be a close-knit hockey team ends up being more like a collection of co-workers.
Put more young guys together on a team and they’ll probably start to hang out. They don’t have families to go back to. The team is their family. They hang out off the ice. They become closer. They want to do things for each other. They want to see each other succeed. They want to succeed together. They'll become a team. And a team is much more likely to succeed than some dudes who just happen to have the same employer.
Assuming the drafting has improved, assuming the prospects follow through on their potential, assuming that these are the guys who are going to lead the city to a Cup one day, then that’s the biggest reason to look forward to this season. It’s fun to watch a winning team, but how much greater is it going to be when you were there from the beginning?
This is the beginning. It’s going to suck. It’s going to be worth it. Happy 2013-14 season.