The Positives Are Not Just On The Ice

We are now well into the 2014/2015 rendition of the National
Hockey League’s regular season, and things around the Calgary, Alberta based
team is far rosier than anyone – aside from the apparently brilliant Aaron
Ward – could have ever predicted.

The Calgary Flames are listed under “Pacific
Division” not “Wild Card” in the Standings and everything seems
to be going right for them. They seem to be rolling on Colorado-like luck with
the successful empty net pulls with 3 minutes to go and all the third period
comebacks, but hey, I’m sure not complaining. It’s been a heck of a ride.

The great things on the ice have been well documented by
just about everyone around the team from just about every angle, and even media
from outside of the city who haven’t touched a story based on an Alberta team –
outside of draft news – in nearly a decade are starting to take notice.

But what I’d like to talk about are the great Flames related
things happening off the ice so far this season, that are only enhancing this euphoria.

The Broadcasts

It’s tough to imagine a departure from a Peter Maher
anchored radio play-by-play broadcast being awfully smooth and without
complaint, but “new kid on the block” Derek Wills has filled the Hall
of Famer’s shoes admirably (you can never really fill Peter Maher’s shoes, but
you get what I’m saying).

Sure, it’s a different style, but alongside the rejuvenated
Peter Loubardias, they’ve made a dynamite duo so far. The knowledge of
“Loubo” is second to none and the smooth delivery of the on-ice
happenings from Wills makes the broadcast a pleasure to listen to.

Many, myself included, were concerned that the Flames
wouldn’t be the only thing that stunk this season, but Wills and Loubardius
have quickly put our worries of that to rest, knowing our beloved radio broadcasts
are still in very good hands. Funny enough, neither have stunk to this point in
the season.

On the television side, Rob Kerr and Charlie Simmer took a
ton of Twitter heat in recent years on the way they delivered their play-by-play
broadcasts. The cliche-saturated Simmer was especially ridiculed for his
“moving your feet” catch phrase. Personally, I liked them both, but a
change in direction wasn’t the worst thing in the world.

Well, after a chunk of games under the Rick Ball and Kelly
Hrudey led telecasts, “the worst thing in the world” would be a something
of an understatement, because they too have been excellent. Ball’s skillful,
even-keeled delivery and Hrudey’s observations make it feel like Hockey Night
in Canada
every night, and I loved the HNIC broadcasts. If only TSN could do the
intermission shows, and we’d be in hockey telecast heaven (on that note, the
“analysis” from “Canada’s
deepest roster of insiders” is a total and complete joke. Go
back to tennis, Cox).

Sure some will have their beef with the broadcasters on both
platforms, you can never please everyone, but a quarter or so games into the
season, I think it’s pretty safe to say the rebuild – err, sorry, “retool” – on
the broadcast side of things has gone exceedingly well – at least regionally.
The jury is still out on the national telecasts, excluding the magnificent Bob
Cole (side note: Did you know Bob Cole is 81 years old? Good lord. What an
impressive individual, indeed).

The Call-Ups

“Earned, Never Given” was on shaky ground after the last cuts
from Flames training camp were made, but after the injury bug took a hearty
bite from the team’s core, I think it’s safe to say we all believe again. Josh
Jooris, Markus Granlund, Michael Ferland, Sven Baertschi and Max Reinhart were
all called up in fairly rapid succession as the injuries started piling up, and
their call-ups, I think we can all agree, were in order of merit.

On the same token, Reinhart was sent down Friday in favour
of Corban Knight, who earned himself an NHL shot with Adirondack
whilst Reinhart did nothing in his time with the big club to inspire them to
keep him. For those harping on the Setoguchi experiment to end, I think he
stays solely because you can sit him whenever. If you call up a youngster in
his place, you’d want to play the kid not have him sit out. I’m sure if he
continues his ghost impersonations for much longer, he’ll get Bourqued.

Back to the “Earned, Not Given” business, there may
have been outrage initially, but to see management stick to their word,
especially with the first call-up of Jooris, is somewhat relieving. Flames fans
were fed a steady diet of rhetoric from former GM Jay Feaster, without an awful
lot of promises being kept. It was all politics.

Sure, Josh Jooris wasn’t exactly the “sexy” call-up or
wasn’t a household name – or any name – before he blew the doors down in
training camp, but he most deserved to be at the front of the recall line, and has
since forgotten about the doors and just torn the entire house down. Relied on
in all situations, Jooris has quickly become one of Bob Hartley’s favourites
and is turning himself into a legit NHLer. 

Jooris isn’t the only one taking advantage of his call up,
with Markus Granlund all but ensuring he remains a Flame when the injured
players begin to file back into the lineup. I only wish Baertschi could find
his way to consistency. A feeling of hopelessness with the 22 year old seems to
growing game by game.

There was a time, not too long ago, when the Flames’ vets were
beginning to stink up the joint, but wouldn’t be pulled from the line-up,
regardless the situation. When the injury bug bit, the kids who were recalled
actually improved the team, but sure enough as soon as the underachieving vets
and their cachet were healthy enough to be slow in an actual game, the kids
went down the Flames returned to painful mediocrity. That doesn’t appear to be
the case anymore, especially with the treasure chest of depth waiting in Adirondack. If you’re underachieving, Hartley will let
you stew over it in the press box. Simple as that. We’ll see, however, just how
true that theory is in the not too distant future when the regulars begin to
get healthy again.

The Attitude

Perhaps the toughest element to get an extended glance at
about this group is their attitude off the ice. But my feeling is that this
group of guys genuinely like each other, and genuinely care about each other.
The military-like seriousness maintained in the late stages of the Jarome
Iginla era seem to be exorcized for the most part, and while the playoff goals
and dedication to the job remain, it just seems like they’re having much more
fun with it.

By now, the majority of Flames fans have seen the Johnny
Gaudreau gaffe in the Flames’ support video for the Stampeders ahead of their
CFL Western Final game. When Gaudreau mistakenly added a ‘go’ to the end of the
scripted “Go Stamps” cheered unanimously by the team, they erupted in laughter.

McGrattan jokingly fed Gaudreau – who was wearing a Stamps
helmet (hilariously I might add) – a couple of his patented right hooks
(closest he’s come to fighting so far this year) as the rest of the group
chuckled behind him. Jonas Hiller’s reaction bordered on hysterical laughter,
and to me that says it all. The new guys have integrated into the dressing room
and the atmosphere is light and positive. As the pre-rebuild teams that were
mired in mediocrity proved: having a tense and stressful environment solves
nothing. When the puck is on your stick with 5 seconds left and you need a goal
to tie, that stick is gripped a little tighter and the thought of messing up
and having to face your teammates is given more time. The #FindAWayFlames (patented
by Peter Loubardias) would have a much tougher time finding a way.

To further exemplify the camaraderie in the room, I go back
to the win against the Ottawa Senators at home on the 15th of
November. Following that game, the entire team went out to Cowboys Nightclub to
celebrate. And when I say the whole team, I mean the WHOLE team. Among the
regulars such as Monahan and Gaudreau, were the injured players like Backlund,
Colborne (sporting a soft cast on his wrist) and the then injured Michael
Ferland. Being on the active roster wasn’t even the prerequisite, as future
Flame Sam Bennett – presumably in town for a check-up with team doctors
– was enjoying drinks with his future teammates. That’s how you build a bond in
your dressing room and hammer home the “one for all and all for one” mentality.

I don’t know how those mediocre groups celebrated big wins,
but I’m guessing there wasn’t an awful lot of partying. Everyone was far too
tied up in the pressures of meeting their lofty expectations.

While focus and dedication to the goal is paramount, it’s also
important to celebrate your accomplishments along the way, not just save it all
until the final goal – of making the playoffs, in the Flames case – is met,
because if you don’t manage to achieve it, you’re left with nothing. You may
have had big wins along the way, but they get overshadowed and forgotten by the
intense disappointment.

Looking back on a season and labeling it a complete
disappointment because the crown jewel of goals wasn’t accomplished is no way
to grow as a team and as an organization.

Even if this group misses on their goal to make the playoffs
this season, they’ll look back on this year and remember all the positives and
successes they did have and celebrated with each other. Then next year, they’ll
come back hungrier and stronger as a team in their hunt to secure that coveted
playoff spot.

Conclusion

The positives have been plentiful on the ice this season in Calgary, and the buzz
around the team is as high as it’s been in recent memory. But if you take a
step back and look at the whole picture, the rehabilitation of successful
hockey in Calgary
is certainly trending in the right direction – fast.

The on-ice product is being passed along by an excellent
crew of broadcasters on both major platforms, and that product is being managed
by a very capable and smart hockey ops team.

Brad Treliving’s comments on the Fan 960 this past week of
“staying the course” and “not making moves to improve this team
by sacrificing the future” inspires much confidence and just reinforces
the idea that management gets it, and that what they say is also what they’ll
do. If you have any queries of what incompetent management can do to a
franchise, you can just glance up the QE2.

As this group continues to grow – on and off the ice – and
they continue to strengthen their bond as a team, the buzz and positive vibes
will strengthen with it. There will be ups and downs, sure, but the foundation
being built by this coaching staff and leadership group is beginning to look
strong enough to withstand them.

I don’t know what Bob Hartley is doing in that dressing
room, but it is working. It worked in Colorado.
It worked in Atlanta.
It worked Zurich, and now it’s working in Calgary.

As this dream start to the 2014/15 campaign continues for
the Calgary Flames, I leave you with one final thought. Enjoy the ride, enjoy
this excitement and emotion we haven’t felt in what seems like forever, but
keep an open mind. Accept that this is still a young, developing team and
nothing is for certain. They are still learning and they may indeed regress back
to where the pundits believed them to be all along, but stay positive and
believe the ship has been righted and is headed for great things down the line.

We might not need Connor McDavid after all.

  • Burnward

    Wills’ homerism drives me batty, but his play calling is very good.

    I actually really like Strombo as the TV host. He’s enthusiastic, witty, keeps the pace up and gets along with the rest of the crew and even makes Krypeos tolerable. Not that Maclean was bad either.

  • Burnward

    I’ve been thinking about PDO.

    I’m not sure how relevant it is.

    It’s the equivalent of saying “the probability of death is 1”. Well yes it is totally factually accurate, but you can’t plan your life around it.

    Kent once said that if you wanted to win a hockey pool, pick a bunch of players with a low PDO the year before. Has anyone done that? How are you doing?

    • Yes. I do (I marry it with possession numbers) and I frequently do well. I won 2 playoff hockey pools this past summer. I also bet money against the Leafs last year at the onset of the season (a gamble that paid off). I’ve won Mirtle’s invitational pool more than once.

      PDO is probably the most useful advanced stat. It’s also the least intuitive, so people (particularly fans of teams riding a PDO wave) try to find ways to ignore it or dismiss it.

      The reason it’s useful is that we don’t appreciably detect how much a shift in percentages affects our perception of a team or player (even though they probably don’t have much overall control of them). Once you grasp that results vary around the mean in unpredictable ways (in the short term), but ultimately regress (in the long term), you can clean up.

    • SmellOfVictory

      You can’t just do that, but I’ve definitely avoided some pretty bad trades/drafting in fantasy leagues by looking at shooting percentage (don’t even need to go as far as PDO a lot of the time).

  • mk

    I have to say, I was wrong about Hartley. I thought it was a poor hire, that he was too much a goon-squad type coach. Even when he went full-grit (vs. Canucks last year), he had success. Tortorella lost it & was suspended, the Canucks had to get a d-man to take the draw because they didn’t want to break their rookie, and it seemed to kick-start some camaraderie/fire in the Flames players for a stretch of games. LOL Tortorella trying to get into the Flames dressing room. That video still kills me.

    Coach of the year? Debatable (let’s see the rest of the season first). But definitely doing something right.

    I’m hoping his methods pay dividends in the long-run for Baertschi, who is having to work for his minutes. I can image he wishes he played for the Oilers, where skilled players are allowed to coast around because of their draft pedigree & junior stats.

    • Greg

      That scene, with McGrattan holding Torts back, is one of the classic moments in Flames local folklore. Putting McGrattan and Westgarth on the ice to start the game, knowing how irate it would make Torts, was a psychological stroke of genius by Hartley.

      Also, probably the only time I’ve seen 2 enforcers be deployed usefully.

  • Rockmorton65

    While there are many things to be excited over, Baertchi is the one downer. I’m starting to think he’s going back to Europe when this contract’s done. I hope not. I like the kid.

    • Erico

      One does get the impression that Sven isn’t interested in being responsible,instead playing the victim.

      If you’re right and he does return to Europe ,it would be a shame. A waste of time and talent.

      • Nick24

        Quite the contrary actually. A little while ago (around training camp) there was an article published in which Sven’s Dad voiced that he was less than content with the way that the Flames had treated his son.

        Sven was asked about what his father said and he had a really good attitude about him. Sure its been tough for the kid and many of us thought that he may even be a regular by now, but Sven is still a young guy, that wants to play in the NHL. Not everyone has a smooth ride into the league.

        I think he’s very interested in being responsible, but it seems to me he’s trying to hard. He’s trying to force him self to be a player he’s not when all he as to do is play his game.

        http://www.calgarysun.com/2014/10/08/calgary-flames-prospect-sven-baertschi-refutes-his-fathers-words

        • Nick24

          I find the whole ‘controversy’ surrounding Baertschi to be pretty overblown. This notion that the guy just can’t seem to find his way in this league is a little disingenuous. Is he frustrated? I’m sure but how we get to this notion that the player and or team need to rid themselves of each other is beyond me.

          In 60 career NHL games Sven has 27 points (8g, 19a) that’s a 36 point season over an entire 82 game season. I’d say you’d take that from almost any rookie.

          Everybody needs to cool it on the weird narratives with this player. The sky is not falling. Sven is gonna be just fine.

        • mk

          If his season doesn’t pan out a trip to Europe may just be what Sven needs to completely turn t around…and if he is still under contract he can return to the Flames just like Gio, with more confidence and flare.

  • Erico

    Love the positive nature of this post, very refreshing. Thanks Christian.

    I understand that things currently are not sustainable, but hell, it’s fun. This year and last year have been the most entertaining hockey I have watched out of the flames since 2006.

    Nice to see a post that is not just doom and gloom all the time.

    The thing I like most about this year’s flames, is that they seem to be having fun. Too many years of the “terrified to make a mistake” flames under Sutter, so this is a nice change.

    Things are great right now, and they could be a hell of a lot worse…..north…

  • Christian Roatis

    Not much to argue with here. It’s definitely a a long overdue breath of fresh air.

    Iggy is gone!

    Long reign Gio!

    The Baertschi situation is becoming untenable. Not saying it’s there yet, but the team needs to sit down with Sven and come up with a solid plan to salvage a highly talented 22 year old that they invested a 1st round pick and 4 years on. That’s just proper asset management.

    If he’s not going to top minutes here (and that seems to be the case), then he needs to go back down. The talent is there; it hasn’t just gone away somewhere, but he needs to get his confidence back. Throw him on the 1st line, 1st pp, pair him with the 2 best guys down there and play the crap out of him for the next 20-30 games. Then, see what you have.

    I hate to mess with what’s going on down there right now, but it’s still a developmental league first and foremost and even if it’s just for the sake of a solid trade return, they need to get Baerstchi going.

    Right now, the idea of packaging him together with Glencross at the trade deadline for a young D is making more and more sense to me.

    • Greg

      I cringe every time I see a comment about Iggy that seems to forget how good he was and what he did for this franchise.

      Sure, he’s no longer the player he once was, and yes Colorado was stupid to sign him to that contract. And ya, it was (waaaay past) time for he and the flames to part ways. But he was incredible during his time here, and it’d be a pity if people started losing site of that and celebrating the end of it.

      Forever a flame in my books, and they should reconsider the jersey-retirement thing just for him when the time comes.

      • everton fc

        Gio is 1000X the Captain Iginla was and his leadership is a big reason the Flames are where they are.

        If everything else in Calgary was the same, except that Iginla had not left or he had been re-signed, the Flames would be a lot closer to the Oilers than what they are right now. JMO.

        • DoubleDIon

          Agreed. Iginla looked disinterested in playing winning hockey his final 3 years here. He became a goal suck. I hate goal sucks. It tarnished him a bit for me. I’ll always remember 2001-2009 Iginla fondly though. His prime years where he was a pretty complete player were special. He just couldn’t accept a drop in production and maintaining his defensive responsibilities. It’s what made him a lousy captain his final few years.

      • Christian Roatis

        Loved Iggy, but his reputation shall forever be tarnished in my books for the way he screwed over Feaster (and the entire Flames’ organization) by welching on a destination (Boston!) when he had given the team four places he would play. That was an incredibly selfish move and it disrespected not only the Flames but an entire city which treated him like a god for some fifteen years.

  • redhot1

    Now they only thing they need to change is the jerseys. Make the retro style thirds our home and aways, and get rid of our current ones. Those shoulder patches *shudder*

  • everton fc

    I’m hoping Setoguchi and Baertschi are shipped to Addy so Ferland can get better than than 4th line minutes.

    Knight’s ability to win faceoffs may keep him here a bit until people start returning. Jooris is also good on the dot.

  • Greg

    This article makes me happy. The off ice aspects of team building are as important or more important than on-ice. I like the philosophy of staying the course as well. A top end defence prospect would be nice, but we are looking great at the moment. Let another GM come to us.

    • everton fc

      Yep. I don’t have game stats in front of me, but if my mind isn’t failing me, his f/o% has been improving, on a game-to-game basis.

      Some stats-junkie will either confirm or deny this, I am certain!

      Quick comment on Iginla: lets not be like those fans up north who booed their team instead of giving them encouragement of some sort, as they walked down the tunnel after a massive pummeling. Iggy should be a folk hero here. He is to me, and many others. I’d throw in Regehr, Conroy, Kipper, even guys like Stillman, all played well for us over the years. All are forever Flames, in my opinion, just as much as MacInnes, Roberts, Fleury, Lanny, Peplinski, Vernon… And yes, Timmy Hunter!!

  • Kevin R

    Fantastic article & the timing of it for a couple reasons:

    1/A non statistical reason for having success instead of tanking regardless who is available at the next draft. What this is doing for all our young players is incredible & Im sure it has even trickled down to Addy. I can’t say enough how much this incredible start is meaning to kids like Monahan, Jooris, Gaudreau, Colbourne & Byron. This is equivalent from a team perspective as to getting that top 3 pick.

    2/ I look at the Oilers who have tanked as well as anyone & have successfully(in the tank world) drafted 1st, 1st, 1st, 7th, 3rd & look at that team now as they drive for another successful tanking season. Heard a rumour (whatever that’s worth) Taylor Hall wants out. Would anyone truly want to trade rosters with the Oilers today? No? But they have tanked so well.

    I am so enjoying this & I haven’t looked forward to going to games like this for a long long time.

    Tidbits: Greg, well said. There was a long time there where Iggy just put this team on his back & carried it. I will never forget Iggy for those years & he will always be a special Flame. & yes I was advocating trading him the last few years there just like the Wolf.

    Alt: I think Sven can have a very good NHL career, but he needs a change of scenery. I hope we can move on & bring in a talented young defence man in return for him. It’s time. I wish it wasn’t like this but I would hate to see a contract holdout/dispute next summer for the first time in many many years here in Calgary.

  • Iginla carried the weight of the entire organization for a decade and we’re going to criticize him for being a ‘goal suck’ when he started to approach 35?

    What next we criticize Yzerman for being a band-aid in his final few years?

    Where do you think Gio learned those leadership skills from? Iginla is the best captain and best player in Flames history. Period.

  • I think recognition should also be given to the Organization for there vast improvements to player development.

    I don’t know what the system is, but I hear them talk quite often about “developing character”, and talking about players as “human beings”.. this all started with Troy Ward in Abbotsford.

    They also invested in a new Gym and Dressing room in Adirondack, an exact replica of Calgary’s. Doing the same exercise and meals plans, playing the same system, so players know exactly what it takes to make the leap. Pretty impressive.

    • everton fc

      It’s why I liked Ward and wished they could have somehow kept him in the organization. He genuinely cared enough about guys like Ryan Howse, Akim Aliu, Ferland, others, and did his best to help them. I don’t think Howse leaving pro-hockey is a failure; perhaps that’s what he needed to do. Aliu was a project- no one I can think of could help that kid. Ferland’s progression I give much credit to “Troy G.”

      Again, makes you wonder about Feaster’s impact here. I was parked out in front of may mechanic’s today listening to Duhatschek talking to Pat Steinberg about us on the FAN. Both eventually had to give kudos to Feaster for guy like Jooris, and for the development of this organizations assets, in terms of character. I like Treliving, ’cause he’s a hockey guy. I may never like Burke. But I was sour on Feaster for most of his reign here. I now humbly admit Feaster did lots here, in a short time frame.

      As for Sven; let him earn his spot from Addy. He deserves no entitlement. He should play a full year in Addy and figure out his game, while the coaching staff does the same.

      Christian: I have to agree that this is one of the best pieces I’ve read here, as well. Grazie.

  • tealyn

    Hi Guys, Im from the other alberta city. I just came on this site to see what a real teams nation site looks like. We are organizing a lynch mob up here and the pitchforks should be sharpened by the time we get blown out by Dallas tonight…..

  • redricardo

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but Sven’s underlying numbers are very decent. Kids playing good, just not getting the bounces. Also, Hartley not being afraid to bench him after every mistake (can’t blame him, he actually has other options this year).

    But Sven isn’t a negative story this year. He’s playing good in his limited chances, despite not being put in a position to succeed, and the team is still winning. That’s not a negative, that’s depth, and success.

  • Christian Roatis

    If anyone interpreted any part of this piece as a insult to Iggy or his legacy with the Flames, stop it. No one is insulting Iginla. He’s a legend and poor management in his final years as a Flame won’t diminish his time here in any way.

    • Christian Roatis

      I can’t speak for everyone, but I was responding to a post, not your article (which was very good, by the way).

      PS We could have had Matt Bartkowski if Iginla hadn’t pulled the proverbial “end around.”

  • RKD

    We might not need Connor McDavid after all. This has to take the cake for line of the year. I’m actually growing tired of the Colorado comparisons. Last year the Avs havd Duchene, Landeskog, O’Reilly, Stastny, MacKinnon etc. Maybe there are some similarities but the Flames are doing way more than less. Could Roy do the same thing if Jooris, Granlund, Ferland, or any other AHL player were playing for the Avs? They certainly aren’t doing it this year. Even if all the stats are pointed against them, they shouldn’t be this bad. The real Avs are probably somewhere in between. Colorado like Edmonton will probably keep feeling the pains of not building out from the back end. It’s possible the Flames may not take a step back next season given strong goaltending and a top d pairing. Plus when you add in guys like Bennett and Poirier, they will be more dangerous. Brad Treliving is smart by balancing his rebuild in all positions.