Relive the 2003-04 Calgary Flames Season

The 2002-03 season was a tumultuous year for the Calgary Flames that saw the team filled with turmoil, change, and disappointment. They entered the 2003-04 season with a different head coach, a different general manager and a different captain than they began the previous season. Heck, they even changed the colour scheme of their home and away jerseys.

And all that new energy seemed to gel quickly with the returning core of the team, as the Flames had one of the most astonishing 118 games of hockey we’ve ever seen around these parts.

SEASON RESULTS

Northwest Division GP W L T OTL Pts GD Sh% Sv% PDO Conf.
Rank
y-Vancouver 82 43 24 10 5 101 +41 9.8% 90.9% 100.7 3rd
x-Colorado 82 40 22 13 7 100 +38 9.4% 92.6% 102.0 4th
x-Calgary 82 42 30 7 3 94 +24 7.8% 92.2% 100.0 6th
Edmonton 82 36 29 12 5 89 +13 9.3% 91.6% 100.9 9th
Minnesota 82 30 29 20 3 83 +5 9.4% 92.7% 102.1 10th


SEASON RECAP

Three amazing things happened for the Calgary Flames in 2003-04.

  1. They made the post-season for the first time since 1996.
  2. They won a playoff round for the first time since 1989.
  3. They made a trip to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1989.

The biggest question subsequently was “how?” The short answer: keeping the things that worked from the Craig Button era and complementing them with some new additions from new GM/coach Darryl Sutter. Arguably the biggest off-season move was Craig Conroy stepping down as captain, allowing Jarome Iginla to ascend to the throne and set the tone for the team from game to game. Conroy stayed on as an alternate captain.

The amazing thing in retrospect is how consistent the Flames were from game to game. Their longest winning streak? They had three instances of four in a row. Their longest skid? A three-game losing streak. Beyond that, it was win-one, lose-one, with occasional pairs of wins here and there throughout the entire season. They were never in contention for a division title or anything, but they were consistently in the playoff mix and before you know it, they had quietly clinched a spot.

The playoffs themselves showed the value of having a group of NHL bodies that could consistently buy-in to a style of play…and the limitations that a Flames club without a lot of non-NHL depth faced in the later rounds. They really ran through bodies near the end – losing some via unforeseen injuries (Lombardi) – but many because of how taking their physical style of game was.

In the playoffs, the Flames beat Vancouver because they had better goaltending. They beat Detroit and San Jose because many different parts of the line-up got going as those series went on – something afforded to them because of their hot goaltending. And they lost to Tampa Bay because they, quite simply, did not have enough left in the tank in terms of functional human bodies to play their brand of hockey.

But despite the disappointment – it was one hell of a run.

SCORING LEADERS

Player GP G A Pts +/-
Jarome Iginla 81 41 32 73 +21
Craig Conroy 63 8 39 47 +13
Shean Donovan 82 18 24 42 +14
Martin Gelinas 76 17 18 35 +10
Jordan Leopold 82 9 24 33 +8
Dean McAmmond 64 17 13 30 +9
Matthew Lombardi 79 16 13 29 +4
Oleg Saprykin 69 12 17 29 +1
Steven Reinprecht 44 7 22 29 +1
Chris Clark 82 10 15 25 -3

(Regular Season)

Player GP G A Pts +/-
Jarome Iginla 26 13 9 22 +13
Craig Conroy 26 6 11 17 +12
Martin Gelinas 26 8 7 15 +10
Marcus Nilson 26 4 7 11 E
Shean Donovan 24 5 5 10 E
Jordan Leopold 26 0 10 10 +5
Robyn Regehr 26 2 7 9 +7
Ville Nieminen 24 4 4 8 E
Chris Simon 16 5 2 7 E
Stephane Yelle 26 3 3 6 -1

(Playoffs)

The Flames used three goaltenders during the regular season: Miikka Kiprusoff started 38 games (the most of the three) and had the best even-strength save percentage at .941. That’s really good. Jamie McLennan started 24 games before being traded to the Rangers, posting a .924 even-strength mark. Roman Turek started 18 games and had a .910 even-strength save percentage, which is still decent albeit a tad below average. Kiprusoff actually improved upon his save percentage in the playoffs, posting a .943 even-strength number through 26 starts against the NHL’s best teams.

NOTABLE TRANSACTIONS

With a lot of ground work already laid by his predecessors, Darryl Sutter made a lot of minor trades to shore up his roster during the year.

  • July 3, 2003: traded Chris Drury and Steve Begin to Buffalo for Steven Reinprecht and Rhett Warrener.
  • July 16, 2003: traded Bob Boughner to Carolina for fourth and fifth round picks.
  • November 14, 2003: traded a second round pick to San Jose for third-string goalie Miikka Kiprusoff.
  • January 9, 2004: traded a fifth round pick to San Jose for Lynn Loyns.
  • February 24, 2004: traded Jason Morgan and a conditional draft pick to Chicago for Ville Nieminen.
  • March 6, 2004: traded Jamie McLennan, Greg Moore and Blair Betts to the NY Rangers for Chris Simon and a seventh round pick.
  • March 8, 2004: traded a second round pick to Florida for Marcus Nilson.
  • June 25, 2004: traded down in the first round (from 19 to 24) with the NY Rangers, also giving up an eighth round pick in exchange for another second round pick.
  • June 26, 2004: traded down in the second round with Columbus, gaining back a third round pick.

Sutter added Krzysztof Oliwa and minor leaguers Matt Davidson and Jesse Wallin during the summer of 2003 via free agency.

The 2004 Draft class was an unimpressive lot, though.

Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 12.22.05 AM

Bless him, but when Brandon Prust is far-and-away the best player you drafted in a draft where you had this many picks, you’re doing something the wrong way.

RETHINKING THE 2003-04 FLAMES

In terms of possession stats, the 2003-04 Flames were a good team with above-average numbers and above average on-ice results, but hardly world-beaters. They boasted a 52.1 Corsi For percentage – 12th in the league if you combine post-season and regular season rankings. Their season-long PDO averaged out to roughly 100.6, compared to Tampa Bay’s 101.1.

Here’s how Calgary and Tampa fared throughout the season in a rolling 10-game average.

Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 12.30.34 AM

The Flames lost a ton of bodies and cooled down just as the Lightning heated up. Other than that, the Flames rode the percentages up and down throughout the year, but never really lived or died by them – even when their numbers were cresting, they still alternated wins and losses fairly consistently during the entire season.

In short? It was injuries and the bounces that cost the Flames some hardware. They played well enough that they weren’t dependent on them to win, but they played just poorly enough that they cost them in the end.

  • prendrefeu

    Bettman called it.

    No Canadian team has won the Cup since Bettman took office. He’s calling it for ‘market value’ as he sees it. Canadians will always watch hockey, but he wants US markets, especially those not traditionally hockey markets, to be exposed to it and the best way to do that is have that team win a Cup. “Oh, we have a hockey team! and they’re the best! Yeah! I’m a fan now! I love hockey!”

    It was in, but the net result is rigged for Bettman’s purposes.

    • GriffinJeff

      I am loving the series, but how can you write an article about the 03-04 season without mentioning Gelinas’ game 6 game winning goal? What a heartbreaker!

  • UtahFlamesFan

    Really!!! The biggest move was Jarome Iginla taking over as captain???? THE biggest move was trading for Kiprusoff, end of story!! We may never see better goaltending that what we saw then.

    • Bean-counting cowboy

      I would have been happy if Mathew Lombardi didn’t get cold-cocked by Hatcher when the Detroit series was all but over. Hatcher got suspended 4 games the following season but Lombardi missed the rest of the playoffs and the next season because of the concussion he suffered.

  • mk

    Ugh. #ItWasIn is right. Game 7 was a heart-breaker: I’m not sure I’ve ever come so close to crying because of a hockey game.

    However, it was what changed me from a casual see-the-scores-in-the-paper and watch-once-in-a-while fan into a follow-their-every-move fan. Great times.

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    My dad was a basketball/football guy. Growing up we watched the Stanley Cup final and that was about it for hockey.

    I became a Jarome Iginla fan after watching his performance in the Gold medal game of the 2002 Olympics.

    I began watching Flames games shortly thereafter to follow Iggy. His sheer dominance on seemingly every shift was mesmerizing.

    The ’04 run happened a couple years later and cemented me a Calgary Flames fan for life… and not just a casual fan. I bleed red now.

    This piece brought back some good memories!

  • 2003-04 was a revelation for a moribund franchise and a disillusioned fan base. For those who weren’t around or deep into the Flames prior to that season, it’s hard to adequately communicate the level of true hopelessness that swallowed up Flames Nation for many seasons.

    During the young guns era, the Flames were a national punchline. I had friends who would go to games and mock cheer whenever Calgary happened to carry the puck over the blueline. Expecting competence – not success, but run-of-the-mill mediocrity – was considered foolhardy.

    And to think, but for a Roman Turek injury and Sutter trading for a third string goalie out of San Jose, none of it would have happened. At least, not in such a dramatic fashion.

    • ChinookArchYYC

      Every word of this is true. I was 10 when the Flames moved to Calgary. I was a fanatic from then until the late ’90’s when fandom turn to dispare. 2004 was the most entertaining season in Flames history. And yes it was better than 1989 from a pure entertainment standpoint.

  • SydScout

    This is where it all began for me. Moved to Vancouver on a one year visa from Australia in mid 2003. YVR did nothing for me, so I hitched a ride with a trucker over the Rockies to Calgary. Smitten, didn’t travel any further.

    Fell head over heels for hockey and the Flames (never seen the game prior let alone heard of the Flames).

    Had to leave Canada just as playoffs begin as visa ran out. So traveled the USA watching games all the way from Olympia to a Miami truck stop. No one could quite figure out why a Flames fan was in their bar wearing the jersey (#34) let alone an Aussie. Talk about confusing a Yank!

    Was in Pittsburgh two days before game in Detroit. Hired a car, slept in it in Cleveland and saw Kipper shut them out at home (and was 20m away from Steve Y getting hit in the eye…that was scary).

    Due to depart NA for Germany on the day of game three v Lightning. Changed flight to return to the C of Red and was very fortunate to be there game 4.

    Loved Calgary, and the Flames since… and now have a two year old half Canadian kid who’s fourth word was ‘Flame’.

  • mk

    I just watched that video again – boy was it hard to see the little kid with the “2005 Champions” near the end.

    Does anyone remember the billboards around town that summer where SN predicted Calgary as #1 in the West for the ’04-05 season? We were all so pumped that the team was going to be great again the following year, only for…nothing. No hockey. Ugh lockouts.

  • JohnyR

    Iggys 2 minute shift with no helmet+++
    Ference with a very questionable call with 2 minutes left in game 7.
    I remember nearly every highlight and big play of the entire run. It was in.

  • JohnyR

    I was staying at a hotel in downtown Vancouver when Morrison scored in triple OT to win game 6. Fell asleep to the sound of endless horns on Granville Street, dreading game 7 in YVR.

    Flew back to Calgary two days later. Raced home and turned on the TV – just in time to see Jovanovski doing his mongoloid hop after Cooke scored.

    About 15 minutes later I lost my mind: didn’t find it again until June 7th.

    The Eliminator. Monty’s OT winner. Iginla pummelling Hatcher’s face. “Shot Down In Flames” blasting from every open car window. Best days of my life.

    #itwasin

  • TX Flame

    This was a rare occasion where I enjoyed the comment section more than the article. Thanks for the memories, guys. #ItWasIn (Did anyone even know what a hash tag was in ’04?)