The Calgary Flames captured the imagination of the hockey world in 2003-04. They had a season where everything went right, seemingly – until the end – and the franchise finally had some momentum after being a league-wide afterthought since the early 1990s.
And then they missed an entire season due to the lockout.
When the NHL resumed played in the fall of 2005, the game was much different. But Darryl Sutter had time to reshape his motley crew into a more polished, veteran-laden group that really should’ve performed better in the playoffs than they actually did. The 2005-06 Calgary Flames were a great team on paper. Unfortunately, they didn’t play the post-season on paper.
The 2005-06 season will probably always be remembered as a successful failure. The Flames were really good in the regular season. They improved upon their 2003-04 season in a few ways. They scored more goals! They got a full season out of Miikka Kiprusoff, so their goaltending was even better. They won more consistently!
Rather than a win-one (or two), lose-one pattern, the 2005-06 Flames managed to cobble together a handful of pretty impressive streaks. Their best was an eight-game winning streak right as the team was passing the quarter-pole of the season and that really pushed them from “good” into “impressive” territory and put the league on notice. Their worst skids were a handful of three gamers, nothing too scary.
The team was better than the 2003-04 edition, and Sutter even upgraded the team mid-season with some moves that were pretty smart (adding Kristian Huselius) and some moves that weren’t as good (adding Leclerc/Boucher). The chemistry just wasn’t quite there the way it was in 03-04, and the game’s rule changes meant that Sutter’s team was far better-suited to the old clutch-and-grab game than the run-and-gun style of the “New NHL.”
And despite all that, they still won their division and seemed destined for greatness until they hit a wall against Anaheim in the first round. Hockey just isn’t fair sometimes, and the 2005-06 Flames – much like their 2003-04 counterparts – probably deserved better. As it stands, the 2006 playoffs represents the last time we could have possibly seen a Battle of Alberta; had the Flames beaten Anaheim, they would’ve faced Edmonton in the second round.
The Flames continued to have amazing goaltending from Miikka Kiprusoff in 2005-06. Kiprusoff started 73 of the team’s 82 games and posted a sparkling .941 even-strength save percentage. Beyond him, they had nobody. Philippe Sauve posted a .901 mark in 6 starts and struggled. After the late-season trade, Brian Boucher was .882 in just 3 starts. In the playoffs, Kiprusoff cooled down to a still-pretty-good .929 even-strength mark. Kipper won the Vezina Trophy at season’s end for his efforts during the regular season, and justifiably so.
Because of the lockout, we get to enjoy (via hindsight) two years worth of off-season adjustments from Darryl Sutter!
- August 26, 2004: traded Denis Gauthier and Oleg Saprykin to Phoenix for Daymond Langkow.
In summer 2004, the Flames signed Byron Ritchie, Carsen Germyn, Mark Giordano, Richie Regehr, Patrik Nilson, Jason Wiemer, Sebastien Centomo and Anders Eriksson before the lockout began. One of those players turned out to be pretty decent. Guess which one? (Spoiler: It was Carsen Germyn.)
The 2005 Draft took place in late July in an Ottawa hotel after the lockout ended with little ballyhoo or fanfare. The Flames drafted nobody of note.
Once the lockout ended, there was a flurry of trades made. Sutter remained busy throughout the year:
- July 29, 2005: traded Mike Commodore to Carolina for a third round pick.
- July 30, 2005: traded up in the third round with Buffalo, giving up a fourth round pick.
- August 4, 2005: traded Chris Clark and a seventh round pick to Washington for sixth and seventh round picks.
- August 9, 2005: traded a conditional seventh round pick to Colorado for Philippe Sauve.
- August 25, 2005: traded Toni Lydman to Buffalo for a third round pick.
- December 2, 2005: traded Dustin Johner and Steve Montador to Florida for Kristian Huselius.
- February 1, 2006: traded Philippe Sauve and Steven Reinprecht to Phoenix for Mike Leclerc and Brian Boucher.
- February 28, 2006: traded Cam Severson to Columbus for Cale Hulse.
- March 9, 2006: traded Jason Wiemer to New Jersey for a fourth round pick.
- March 9, 2006: traded a fourth round pick to Phoenix for Jamie Lundmark.
- June 24, 2006: traded Jordan Leopold, a second round pick and a conditional second round pick to Colorado for Alex Tanguay.
In the summer of 2005, Darryl Sutter loaded up – signing Roman Hamrlik, Tony Amonte, Bryan Marchment and Darren McCarty, along with minor signings Zenith Komarniski, Cam Severson and Craig MacDonald. In retrospect, he added a good amount of grit and offensive talent, although many of these guys were (as Jay Feaster would later coin it) “post-apex.”
The Flames did just as poorly in the 2006 Draft as they had in 2005.
Leland Irving may have been the most impactful pro of this bunch, and his contribution at the NHL level was almost (but not quite) becoming back-up for part of a season.
RETHINKING THE 2005-06 FLAMES
The 2005-06 Flames were pretty wacky from an analytics standpoint.
On paper? A proverbial murderer’s row! A much better team than in 2004, based upon Darryl Sutter packing the team with established name stars who could push the team over the top!
How did it actually work? Well, the Flames had the league’s best goaltending – their even-strength save percentage was a half-percent better than the next-best team. That’s crazy. And somehow, someway, despite having the NHL’s best goaltending, they had the second-worst shooting percentage. When the playoffs began, their goaltending went the only way it could go – it got slightly worse. Their shooting percentage? It got slightly better, but was still bad.
Anaheim? They were hot and got hotter – their goaltending improved and their shooting percentage stayed strong – and that was enough to beat the Flames in a seven-game series.