1. THE MISGUIDED HOPE OF MAKING PLAYOFFS
With the minimal changes and acquisitions that were made during the last off-season and the lack of changes to the core group, I didn’t have high hopes for the Calgary Flames this season. History is bound to repeat itself when they play the same game and the same players through three seasons. But I still held onto a little bit of hope in the beginning. Fast-forward to the last few weeks of the season when the Flames were not quite mathematically eliminated, but yet there were still some people who held onto hope that Calgary had a shot at making the playoffs. They may not have been officially eliminated, but anyone who has watched this team struggle in the past three seasons knew that our playoff hopes were over. This was literally one of the worst hockey seasons I’ve seen out of the Flames in all the years I’ve been watching them. The hockey sucked, they played through a pandemic, the drama was at an all-time high, and the players rarely played to their highest potential. And that was all very obvious in just the first two months of the season. With that kind of chemical reaction, I knew early on that the Flames weren’t making the playoffs this season even after Darryl Sutter took over. Which begs the question, why did so many people think they WOULD make the playoffs? Did I miss a memo earlier in the season? But here are my final thoughts on this season - in spite of not making playoffs, losing Sam Bennett to Florida, losing David Rittich to Toronto, and possibly losing even more players in the off-season, I was just grateful to have hockey back on television through the past few months when we were all home waiting for the light at the end of the tunnel from the pandemic. Above all else, I’m very grateful that the Flames and their families seemed to steer clear of the dreaded virus that has plagued the world for the past year. The Calgary Flames did a great job of keeping themselves and their families safe throughout the pandemic and I’m happy about that.
2. TOM WILSON AND PLAYER SAFETY
Oh, Tom Wilson. For years I defended his actions on-ice because he was relatively new to the NHL and he was learning. But, at this point, I can’t defend his actions any longer. I watched him slam a New York Rangers player’s head into the ice and then threw another player around like a rag doll after a scrum in front of the net. Why he only got a $5000 fine and not suspended is beyond my understanding. Maybe I misunderstood the rules, but I thought that was a suspendable offense. Especially when the league hit the Rangers with a $250,000 fine for speaking out against the ruling by NHL Player Safety. And, again, I was scratching my head when DoPS started suspending other players around the league for what I believed were less aggressive actions. I just don’t understand how, after all the other suspensions, the league would not go back and even review the actions of Wilson again. I agree with the Ranger’s statement about the Tom Wilson events and subsequent lack of discipline, explaining that they were “extremely disappointed” that Wilson got bare minimum punishment for his role in the situation. What’s the point of having rules if you’re not going to enforce them? The league makes it seem like they want this type of aggressiveness out of hockey, but, by not holding players accountable for their actions, they’re telling a totally different story. At this point, after McDavid’s elbows, Tkachuk’s friendship tour, Lauzon’s punch that knocked Oshie’s helmet right off his head in the first game of playoffs, and suspending Sam Bennett, on top of Wilson’s antics, I think the league should just throw out the rulebook and allow the players to police themselves because NHL Player Safety has a consistency problem.
3. SAM BENNETT
Speaking of Sam Bennett, it’s quite apparent that Sam Bennett himself won the Sam Bennett trade. Before being suspended by the league for a boarding hit on Tampa Bay’s Blake Coleman, Bennett was ripping through the stats with the Florida Panthers. The 24 year old, first-round pick played 38 games with the Flames this season and garnered a modest 12 points. Since being traded to the Panthers, Bennett has played 10 regular season games and earned 15 points in those first few games with his new club. Clearly Bennett needed a change. Usually in situations like this, I excuse the fact that the player looks better because he went to a team that was awful. But since the Panthers are now in the playoffs while the Flames have pulled up the rear with some meaningless games while the first round of playoffs had already started, well, I can’t use that excuse at all. Not meaning to be Captain Obvious, but the Flames clearly were not playoff contenders this season and it showed early on. Maybe Bennett could see it and that’s why his agent made those comments about him needing a change of scenery…? No matter what happened, moving Bennett to Florida has been good for him. As a Flames fan, I’m just very grateful we got a good return in the Bennett trade. Unless something else happens that I will need to address, this will be the last time I talk about Sam Bennett. I wish him all the best with his new organization and I’ll be checking in on his stats once in a while.
4. ELIAS LINDHOLM
Elias Lindholm tied Johnny Gaudreau for goals earned this season in the game on May 16th against the Vancouver Canucks. Lindholm then also surpassed Gaudreau’s points briefly before the end of the season. Gaudreau had 45 points at that point, while Lindholm quietly surpassed him with 47 in just as many games. At the end of the season, both players played 56 games and while Gaudreau earned a total of 49 points (19 goals and 30 assists), Lindholm wasn’t far behind with 47 points (19 goals and 28 assists). I’m not pointing this out to take a jab at Johnny because it should be very clear right now that I will always be a Gaudreau fan. I’m merely saying that Lindholm has become just as reliable as some of the other top six players without even being noticed. Someone asked on social media why we aren’t taking a closer look at Lindholm as the next captain of the team and it made me pause momentarily. Imagine for a moment a line of Elias Lindholm, Andrew Mangiapane, and Matthew Tkachuk (that’s assuming Gaudreau won’t re-sign with the team, which is a whole different can of worms). With Rasmus Andersson and Chris Tanev on the blue line and Jacob Markstrom in net, this could be a core to build around if the team looks very different next year. I cannot sing the praises of Lindholm enough because he has been one of the most dependable players on the Flames team in the past three seasons. He puts his full effort in during each shift and every game no matter which line he’s on. It’s not very often he makes detrimental mistakes and he has the ability to read plays well. He’s signed with the Flames until the 2024-2025 season at just under 5 million per season and he could be the start of the rebuild that Calgary has needed for a few seasons. Should Lindholm be considered for the next captain? I think management should at least take a look at him, no matter what their final decision might be.
5. GLENN GAWDIN
I’m quite aware that Glenn Gawdin still has some development to be done at the NHL level. But now is the time. The Flames need to strike while the iron is hot and pulling Gawdin up now permanently to rebuild the team alongside Lindholm, Tkachuk, Andersson, Tanev, and others wouldn’t be the worst decision the Calgary Flames could make. With the versatility of Gawdin and Lindholm’s positions up front, the Flames have a lot of room to play with on the top two lines when Gawdin proves that he belongs there. It took Gawdin 7 games with the Flames to earn his first point in the NHL, but, from watching him progress through the WHL over the years, I know that this is just the beginning for him. Once Glenn gets going, he’s on fire. Gawdin started with 22 points in his rookie season with the Swift Current Broncos and then finished his career as the captain of the same team, earning not only the WHL Championship win, but also 125 points in 67 regular season games. That is not a typo. One hundred and twenty-five points! He garnered another 26 points in 20 playoff games in his final season, as well as nursing a shoulder injury through the WHL playoffs back in 2018. Gawdin is the real deal and he just needs a legitimate chance to show his skills. His work ethic, his leadership skills, and his natural talent as a hockey player will shine as long as he’s given the shot. I will die on this hill, championing for Gawdin. He’s worth it, just give him the chance he needs.
6. MILAN LUCIC AND MIKAEL BACKLUND TROPHY NOMINEES
Milan Lucic was nominated by the Professional Writers Association for the Masterton Trophy. The Masterton is awarded to the player who portrays perseverance, dedication to hockey, and good sportsmanship. Lucic is the epitome of all those qualities. If you need proof, check out Lucic’s exit interview on the Flames website. Milan Lucic is a total class act. I have watched him work his way through the ranks of the NHL since his time in Boston winning the cup with Bruins and he has always portrayed every aspect of being a Masterton winner throughout his entire career. He always knew his role, never complained, and always stood by his team no matter what. He is a dedicated, ambitious, and motivated player who deserves this trophy for so many reasons. There is no one else on the Calgary Flames who deserves the Masterton Trophy more than Lucic right now. Congrats on the nomination, Lucic!
Like Lucic, Mikael Backlund seems like a good person whose work off the ice makes a big impact to those who need it. Rightfully so, Backlund has now been nominated for the King Clancy Memorial Trophy along with some other very deserving players. Backlund deserves the win, in my opinion, because he is a quiet leader among the players. He might not be the most loud, flashy, or aggressive player in the league, but he works hard on and off the ice to be a quality person. He’s a socially-conscious family man who also happens to play hockey and supports his community in many ways because of his love of animals, kids, and the well-being of the people around him. Congrats on the nomination, Backlund!
7. JACK EICHEL
It’s my turn to get in on the Eichel trade talks. But unlike most people, I’m on the other side. I don’t want Eichel on the Calgary Flames for many reasons. Among the reasons I don’t want him is that the Flames would have to give up too much. I’m not willing to give up players like Tanev, Andersson, Tkachuk, Gaudreau, or Mangiapane for Eichel. If the Flames are serious about rebuilding this team, they need to start rebuilding with players like Andersson, Tkachuk, and some of the prospects. Giving them up for a player who seems to think he’s on the same level as McDavid is not my idea of a rebuild. It’s all about attitude. Even Connor McDavid didn’t seem to think he could carry an entire team by himself. Yet he did. Eichel has already proven that he can’t dig a team out of the gutter like McDavid did. The Buffalo Sabres are literally the last in the entire league. And there is only one McDavid. For any player to give off arrogant vibes that he can carry a team alone is a huge red flag to me. I don’t care how good a player is, if his attitude stinks, I don’t think it would work out well for any team. And there are a few of those in the league. I just don’t believe that Eichel is the answer to the Flames problems. Is he a good player? Yes, absolutely. Is he valuable? Yes. But I just can’t see him fitting in well with the team. Call it a gut feeling, but I don’t think Eichel is the player to help the Flames turn a corner during the lean years.
8. PLAYERS PLAYING THROUGH INJURIES
It was announced before the Calgary Flames ended their regular season that Noah Hanifin aggravated an ongoing injury after a hit into the boards and he would not play for the remainder of the season. It was also announced not long afterwards that Sean Monahan would sit out the last four games of the season due to impending hip surgery. After the season ended, it was exposed that Chris Tanev was playing through broken ribs and a torn pectoral muscle. Naturally, my main question was, why were these players playing if everyone knew they were injured?? I’m really tired of hearing about players on the Calgary Flames playing through injuries. This is the third consecutive year that we found out Monahan was injured at the end of the season. And the fact that Tanev was on the ice in the last game while Juuso Valimaki sat on the sidelines blows my mind. The excuses are excessive and I’m not buying one of them. Well, maybe one. If it’s written somewhere in the fine print of their contracts that they have to play through injuries, then I guess that’s legally binding and we all just have to suck it up. And, in that case, this entire section of my column is null and void. But, if it is not clearly stated in those contracts that these players MUST play through injuries, then I have just one question, WHY? When I mentioned this to my husband, his comment was, “remember when Patrice Bergeron played through a punctured lung?” To which my response was, “yeah, they won the cup that year. The Flames weren’t even close to chasing a cup at all this season!” In 2011, there were numerous Boston Bruins who played through injuries - not that I agreed with it then or now - but in the end, they got what they set out to obtain. They won the Stanley Cup. Which is a totally different situation than what’s happened this year with the Flames. The Flames were out of the playoffs before they even started. Look, when we all found out about Bergeron’s punctured lung, it was shocking. When the Bruins got the cup, I realized that adrenaline and stress and anxiety have strange effects on the body. But in Monahan’s case, was there even any adrenaline? Maybe it was the pressure to perform…? It’s not like he could practically taste a cup win like the Bruins probably did in 2011. And the idea of the Flames making playoffs was barely feasible except at the beginning of the season. So why would anyone even consider risking his short-term and potentially long-term health for the smallest possible chance at making playoffs? I understand there is a huge difference between stubbing a toe and nursing a hip injury that needs surgery. I will never agree that players should play through major injuries. I’m fully against it because I think it has the potential to cause long-term problems that could be detrimental to hockey careers. That’s not okay.
9. EXIT INTERVIEWS
One thing was quite clear through all the exit interviews - the players missed playing in front of a crowd. Having no fans in the stands during the season “sucked” as most players explained. As for individual players, they were all on the same page when it came to their disappointment in this season. None were happy they were doing exit interviews while other teams were playing through the first round of playoffs. Markstrom admitted his mistakes in the middle of the season and explained that there will be a lot of work in the off-season in order for the Flames to be successful next year. When Markstrom was first signed for that outrageous amount, I wasn’t happy about it. But he has quickly made me a believer in his goaltending. He has been the closest thing the Flames have seen to consistency in net since Miikka Kiprusoff retired, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of Markstrom in net next year. Gaudreau confirmed that he would be happy to re-sign with the Flames and he loves playing in Calgary. To which I thought, give Gaudreau whatever he wants because the Flames need him in spite of the vitriol spewed at him throughout this season. Matthew Tkachuk admitted to not playing his best this season, but he believes the team is full of potential that gives him hope for next year. Everyone watched him regress in the middle of the season, but I’m a firm believer that Tkachuk will get back on track next year and be better. Milan Lucic wears his heart on his sleeve and this exit interview was a prime example. He explained that he believes in the team, the players, and he went on to thank the organization and the city of Calgary for welcoming him and his family into their circle. This is the exact reason why I like Lucic. Admittedly, exit interviews at the end of the season always make me a little sad, especially with the nagging idea that the team could look very different next season. In spite of how the season turned out and regardless of what might happen during the off-season, I’m just happy to have had hockey on tv to kill off some time during the pandemic.
10. MY PLAYOFF PREDICTIONS
Like every year, at the beginning of playoffs, I have made my predictions. I’ve broken them up into divisions for now and I’ll update as the playoffs go into the next rounds. Ultimately, I have already picked my Stanley Cup winner, but I’ll save that until the final round. Because I have no horse in the race, I think my predictions are bland. But, like every year, I’m sure the playoff race will get more interesting as the weeks progress.
Leafs vs Habs - Leafs
Jets vs Oilers - Oilers
Lightning vs Predators - Lightning
Hurricanes vs Panthers - Hurricanes
Capitals vs Bruins - Bruins
Islanders vs Penguins - Penguins
Golden Knights vs Wild - Golden Knights
Avalanche vs Blues- Avalanche
I’ll be back again next month to update on anything that happens with the Calgary Flames, although I think it will be quiet for a while as the players reintegrate themselves back into their lives. Personally, I’m going to enjoy the playoffs while I cheer on the Bruins in the next few weeks, to the chagrin of my site boss.