The feeling around Calgary after the 2006-07 season was that the Flames had to right the ship. Immediately demoting Jim Playfair and bringing in Mike Keenan to coach the veteran-laden Flames made logical sense – though in retrospect, it’s exactly the kind of drastic move you see from teams that are trying to not to let their dwindling playoff chances slip away.
But before the proverbial “window” would begin to close for the Flames, they would make a run at it. And what followed was a pretty good season by the Flames, albeit one derailed when they faced a team tailor-made to beat them in the post-season.
Veteran coach “Iron” Mike Keenan was brought in by Darryl Sutter in the off-season. His mission? Getting the absolute most out of the Flames veteran group, who had seemingly been unresponsive to Jim Playfair’s ministrations the season prior. In an awkward move, the Flames merely demoted Playfair, as he served as associate coach while watching Keenan take Playfair’s dream job. In an addition bit of awkwardness, Sutter made few roster tinkers over the summer – sending the message that the team’s under-performance was Playfair’s fault.
Early on, the Flames were very, very streaky. They had three separate losing streaks of three games or longer – including a five-game skid before Remembrance Day – before they had their first winning run of similar length. The team did end up gelling well, becoming an offensive powerhouse down the stretch and posting an impressive six-game winning streak before Christmas. But the team remained fairly inconsistent defensively and was reliant on keeping the puck in the offensive end, because they merely weren’t all that good when playing in their own zone for too long.
The upside was that their roster was fairly well-suited to an offensive style of game, in contrast to the more defensive style that Playfair had them working. Keenan was brought in to get the most out of his roster – particularly Jarome Iginla. The Flames made the playoffs with a bit more breathing room in 2007-08 than they did in prior seasons, while Iginla scored 50 goals. Mission accomplished, I suppose.
The team also had a familiar problem: their back-up goaltender spot wasn’t solid, so they were very reliant on Miikka Kiprusoff. Sutter made a smart move mid-season, his only significant in-season tinkering, bringing in Curtis Joseph. Joseph ended up playing a key role in Calgary’s tremendously entertaining – albeit disappointing – seven-game playoff series with the San Jose Sharks. The Flames had their season end early once more, but it was not for lack of trying.
Miikka Kiprusoff made 76 starts in 2007-08, which sounds crazy because it was. Curtis McElhinney started just a single game and lost every game he appeared in, while Curtis Joseph started five times after being signed in January. Perhaps due to over-use, Kiprusoff’s even-strength save percentage dropped from his usual Herculean numbers to merely an “above-average” .919 mark. Joseph was .921 in limited use. Kiprusoff’s slide continued in the playoffs with a .914 mark in seven playoff starts.
By Darryl Sutter standards, 2007-08 was a really quiet year for trades – particularly in-season trades.
- February 20, 2008: traded a third round pick to Philadelphia for Jim Vandermeer.
- June 20, 2008: traded a first round pick and a second round pick to Los Angeles for Mike Cammalleri and a second round pick.
- June 20, 2008: traded Alex Tanguay and a fifth round pick to Montreal for a first round pick and a second round pick.
- June 30, 2008: traded Tim Ramholt to Philadelphia for Kyle Greentree.
Sutter brought in Cory Sarich, Owen Nolan, Anders Eriksson and minor leaguer Grant Stevenson over the summer, and added Curtis Joseph in January to be Kiprusoff’s back-up.
This was also the summer in which promising youngster Mark Giordano went to Russia rather than take a two-way deal. Scuttlebutt was that he signed a new deal in December, but it was after the December 1 deadline for RFAs to agree to new deals, so it was announced in May, when the Russian season was over.
The 2008 NHL Draft produced one of the better crops of Flames talent in awhile.
Lance Bouma and T.J. Brodie ended up being impact players. Nemisz and Wahl at least turned pro and became assets.
RETHINKING THE 2007-08 FLAMES
2007-08 was one of the Flames’ best possession season (relative to the rest of the league) in the Behind the Net Era, only slightly trailing 2008-09. They posted a 52.5 Corsi For percentage, indicating they spent a lot of time in the offensive end. Only four teams in the NHL had better possession numbers.
Unfortunately, they faced one of them – San Jose – in the playoffs, and lost in an excellent seven-game series. The Sharks were just a tiny bit better than Calgary offensively, defensively and in goal, and so the Flames were extinguished at the end of perhaps their best chance to return to the Stanley Cup Final since 2004.