Guess who’s back?? Hello everyone! It’s little ol’ me, back again to join the conversation with the M&G team with my new Traci’s 10 Takes column. This is where I will discuss my opinion on some of the topics that have made headlines. So, welcome to my return, thanks for checking in, and let me get this party started with my first 10 Takes.
Blasty wasn’t the only thing resurrected again this season. Darryl Sutter was brought back, along with his old-school vibes, to take control of a downward-spiraling Calgary Flames team. But, like all love affairs, the honeymoon period is over again and the Flames are back to their losing ways. Sutter is an old-school coach with old-school methods. I’m not saying whether his methods are good/bad (only time will tell), I’m just saying that some players have the potential to succeed under Sutter and some will not. The players who I think can do well under Sutter are; Matthew Tkachuk, Derek Ryan, Mark Giordano, Chris Tanev, Jacob Markstrom, Mikael Backlund, Andrew Mangiapane, Sam Bennett, Elias Lindholm, and Milan Lucic. Keep in mind, I said they have the potential to do well, I didn’t say they are doing well. Regardless, the Flames have Sutter for another two seasons so there’s time to make a difference if this group doesn’t work out. And Darryl Sutter will be the guy to make the changes to win.
GAUDREAU VS SUTTER
We all saw Sutter’s comments before Johnny Gaudreau’s 500th game about Johnny’s lack of energy in his 499th game. And we all saw the response from Gaudreau after his 500th game when he basically said he heard what Sutter said and then brushed it off. Was there anyone thinking they get along well after that exchange in the media?? Nah, me neither. It seems like a battle of the wills behind the scenes that is starting to filter out of the room and into the media. This has the potential to get really ugly if the Flames allow it to continue. Which begs the question, who will win? My bets are on Johnny.
Which leads me to my next take. Johnny Gaudreau. I want to make it very clear that I am a huge fan of Gaudreau. I own Gaudreau signed memorabilia and I like his style of play as well as his natural skill and talent. I will always be a fan. But, as much as I hate to say it, I’m going to...Gaudreau and Sean Monahan should have been split up a long time ago. (I just gagged typing that out.) Both players need to learn to fly solo eventually anyway, especially after the past two seasons because the chances of them leaving the Flames to sign with the same team again are slim. I want Gaudreau to stay as much, if not more, than most people, but I’ve accepted the fact that he could be moved or sign somewhere else when his contract is up. He isn’t playing his best hockey for the Flames and it’s disheartening at best. And, honestly, after the way things have all played out, why would he stay?? With some media voicing their disdain for Gaudreau and assuming he’s on his way out, and some fans supporting this ridiculous opinion, it’s tough to watch Johnny be affected by the worst of it. He deserves better.
I think he wanted to be better than he turned out to be. And he tried. But it just didn’t happen for him. He’s been with the Flames now for six full seasons and he’s definitely worked hard to get bigger and better. But is he good enough? Maybe. But he just doesn’t seem to fit in with the team right now. He is not what the team needs right now. Since the idea of Bennett wanting a trade floated around, the dynamic around Bennett has changed. He played on the top line briefly, but he was ultimately moved back to hover around the third line. When the rumour started that Bennett wanted a change, it was like a kick in the teeth to everyone involved; the team, the organization, the player, and the agent. For the most part, even after the exit of Ward and the entrance of Sutter, Bennett hovers around the third line role that maybe he didn’t want. No player signs with a team hoping for a third or fourth line role. It just happens. Every player I’ve ever met aimed for the first line during their career. And Bennett isn’t suited to the first line on the Calgary Flames right now. Maybe the Flames will hold onto him for a while, but the only reason they should do that is to expose him to Seattle’s up-coming team. Whether or not Seattle would take Bennett is a huge question mark. But I’d rather expose Bennett than Lindholm, Mangiapane, or Gaudreau.
Juuso Valimaki has a lot of potential. He’s a slick, smart, solid player on the blue line. Because this is his rookie season, I’m willing to allow some mistakes (especially in such a throwaway year such as this one) as he learns how to maneuver the inner workings of the NHL. Maybe it’s the losing environment, maybe it’s just that people want instant gratification, or maybe it’s because there’s no one else to rely on, but some of the vitriol towards Valimaki is disgusting. I said at the beginning of this season that if Valimaki doesn’t prove himself as the McDavid of defense, fans will rip him apart verbally. And that’s exactly what I’ve seen happen. Ew, gross, stop. He is 22 years old and this is his first year in the NHL. Give the kid some breathing room to find his place, for crying out loud. I think he’s done a great job so far and I’m looking forward to seeing more of his defensive prowess in the next couple seasons. But at the rate in which the Flames are ripping through players, I wouldn’t be surprised if he, too, wanted out.
At this point, is there any reason to NOT bring up some of the young guys from the Heat? Maybe an injection of young, exciting, ambitious talent is what this team needs. Because the only veterans making any positive differences are Lucic and Ryan. And, take this as you will, but when Lucic is one of the more consistent and reliable goal scorers on your team, you have a problem. I like Lucic for many reasons. Scoring goals is usually not one of those reasons. Inject some Matthew Phillips, Adam Ruzicka, Connor Mackey, and Glenn Gawdin into the veins of a struggling NHL team to give the young guys some experience and maybe change the momentum. As the self-proclaimed president of the Gawdin fan club, I feel I have the authority to say that he would do well under Sutter if only they’d give him that chance. Give Glenn a chance - a good chance, not just this five-game crap-hand that he’s been dealt.
THE FIRST GAME PUCK
Ok, this has been debated to death lately, and I have some thoughts as well. So here’s my take on the Andersson/Tkachuk issue with Ottawa’s goalie, Filip Gustavsson’s first game puck. I do not care what led up to the debacle - whether or not Ottawa did it to Calgary first - the fact that it happened at all was immature and petty. And when Andersson played it off as him not thinking and having no ulterior motive, I didn’t buy it. No one does that without knowing exactly what they’re doing. So let’s take it for what it was. Andersson took the puck and then threw it aside when Brady Tkachuk confronted him. Matthew Tkachuk then decided to get involved and shot the puck down the ice away from Brady. It was petulant and childish on so many levels. Two of the players who I have been defending vehemently during their lapses in play proved why maybe I shouldn’t defend them as much as I do. But I did. And I still do. I can appreciate the players but still not agree with some of their actions and that’s exactly what this situation was all about. I don’t like what they did and I don’t buy the excuses, but I still appreciate them as players and think they have a lot of potential in the Flames lineup for years to come.
PLAYERS I WOULD BUILD AROUND
Let’s be honest, this team needs a shake-up. Something significant needs to happen in order for this team to be successful no matter which coach they bring in to lead them. I’m not going to go into the negative play of some of the players who really need to up their game. Instead, I’ve decided to explain which players I think should stay. Even during the darkest storm, there is always something good to be grateful for and here are the players I would keep and rebuild this team around.
Let’s face it, the Flames have always had goalie issues since the retirement of Kipprusoff and they just can’t seem to find their footing in net. Jacob Markstrom has been the best goalie to protect the net since Kipper left and I believe he could have a future in Calgary. When he signed for six years, I was not happy. Too much and too long. But, if this is what the future of goaltending looks like in Calgary, well, it could be worse. And we’ve definitely seen worse.
Consistent, dependable, and always plays his best game every shift. Derek Ryan has been a bright spot on the Flames for the past couple seasons when everything has gone downhill. Is Ryan a first line guy? No. But he fits in nicely in the bottom six and he plays well in spite of the linemates he’s handed.
Andrew Mangiapane has been the biggest surprise to me because I was expecting him to be another $700,000 entry-level contract that would fizzle out just like a lot of the other kids who have come and gone. I was wrong. He’s a sniper who reads plays better than most players at his stage in their careers.
I barely knew who Chris Tanev was before the Flames brought him in to replace the recently departed Travis Hamonic. I was a big fan of Hamonic and was expecting a lesser-valued defenceman to replace him. It only took a handful of games for me to realize that Tanev was an upgrade on the blue line. He’s a solid two-way defenceman. He’s a hard worker and knows his role on the team well.
In spite of his antics as of late, I would still hold onto Matthew Tkachuk and hope the team would work with him to get past whatever issues he might be having with his level of compete lately. He proved in his first two seasons that he’s adaptable and he can work hard to find the hidden potential. He’s regressed a bit this season and it all seemed to start after he lost his cool during the Jake Muzzin incident. My guess is that something happened between the players during the closed-door meeting in the dressing room after the game that led to Tkachuk holding back and not playing to his highest potential. In spite of all of that, he’s 23 years old and he’s still learning. He is not a 34 year old who has a decade’s worth of experience. Not yet anyway. Give him a chance, hold onto him, and let’s see how this goes in the next couple of seasons.
Rasmus Andersson is another player who I would wait to see what happens. In spite of his minor issues lately, I think Andersson has the potential to be a permanent top pairing player with the Flames. He’s had his moments of mistakes, but I just don’t think they’re permanent. He’s solid, he’s skilled, and he brings a lot to the defense most nights. I think he will only get better with time.
Elias Lindholm is fun to watch. Coming from Carolina, I didn’t expect much from him, but he’s been another pleasant surprise. You always know what to expect from Lindholm. He plays hard every game with whoever he’s put on a line with and he knows how to make plays happen. The best part is that he’s still young and has the potential to solidify himself among a good team. He’s an underrated forward with a lot of skills that the Flames should hold onto for the future.
Ryan Leslie is the king of Calgary Flames commentary and I was really happy to see him back with Sportsnet again this season during Flames games. But something special happens when former Flames players show up to give their analysis of the games. Kris Versteeg, Cory Sarich, and, yes, even Troy Brouwer during the intermissions have been a highlight of the season. Versteeg brings the comedy, Sarich brings the knowledge, and Brouwer, well, he’s better than Francis.
There isn’t much to be excited about again this season during Flames hockey. Instead, they have moments in which fans can share the joy because it’s all about the little things, right? It’s very rare to see Derek Ryan and Chris Tanev make big mistakes that cost the team goals or wins. They have been a consistent, positive influence during interviews, plays, and the for the overall feel of the team during games. Regardless of what I think when other players hit the ice for a shift, seeing Ryan and/or Tanev out there usually makes me take a sigh of relief.
Another moment of pride was during the Support Our Troops evening when, after the game, the team held up their sticks in the empty rink to honour our troops after the game. Even during the most challenging seasons, the Flames players show respect when respect is due.
I really like Johnny Gaudreau and I wish he would stay with the Flames forever, but I just don’t expect it to happen.
Give Juuso Valimaki a chance, he’s a rookie and he’s learning.
I forgive Andersson and Tkachuk for the game puck debacle...this time. But I really hope they learned something from this and never, ever do it again.
No one seems to be a fan of the reffing lately.
I’m not angry at the Flames for another crappy season, I’m indifferent. Because if I was angry I’d risk turning into an Oilers fan and no one needs that.
I feel like I’ve said a lot, yet nothing at all. But this is how hockey goes - there’s always something to talk about. And this is a taste of what I’ll be adding to the conversation. Thanks for being part of it. If you want to continue the conversation with me, you can find me on twitter, where I’m always talking puck and voicing my opinions.