The 2008-09 season was largely the last hurrah for the Jarome Iginla Era Calgary Flames. It was the last time that Iginla would make the playoffs as captain of the Flames, and the last time that a Darryl Sutter Flames club made the dance, as well.
In many ways, the chickens came home to roost in 2008-09. Darryl Sutter’s famed tweaks failed to make a big impact on the roster. His tenuous salary cap house of cards collapsed at the end of the season, forcing the team to play short a few players for the last five games. And without flexibility in the organization, the Flames were worn down, worn out, and their veteran core simply didn’t have the gas in the tank after an 82-game slog to put up much of a fight in the playoffs against Chicago.
The 2008-09 Flames were fundamentally similar to the 2007-08 Flames, with a couple exceptions: young Mark Giordano was back on the blueline, Alex Tanguay was swapped out for Mike Cammalleri and Todd Bertuzzi and Rene Boruque added some size and speed to the top nine mix. Jordan Leopold and Olli Jokinen were added to the group at the trade deadline, as well.
Mike Keenan’s crew hit the ground running and really strung together a lot of good streaks during the season. They had six winning streaks of three games or longer, including a five-gamer and a six-gamer. They had just three three-game losing skids. They otherwise plodded along exchanging wins and losses. Everything seemed good until the injuries began to pile up late in the season, and things fell apart for two primary seasons.
First, the old CBA had a specific rule regarding the use of the injured reserve. If you put a player on the IR, they had to be on for a week and you got cap relief for the player on the IR. But that also meant that there had to be a week left in the season. Second, the Flames didn’t build enough cap room into their roster for the unforeseen event that injuries would pile up in the last week of the season. Injuries felled Cory Sarich, Robyn Regehr, Dion Phaneuf and Curtis Glencross in the final week and the Flames couldn’t get cap relief and couldn’t bring anybody up to fill those spots.
So here’s how Darryl Sutter’s team went into the last five games of the season with a potential division title up for grabs.
- April 3 at Minnesota: 16 skaters (6 defense, 10 forwards)
- April 6 vs. Los Angeles: 17 skaters (6 defense, 11 forwards)
- April 7 at Vancouver: 17 skaters (6 defense, 11 forwards)
- April 10 at Edmonton: 15 skaters (6 defense, 9 forwards)
- April 11 vs. Edmonton: 15 skaters (6 defense, 9 forwards)
They went 2-3-0 in those final five games. If they had beaten out Vancouver for the division crown, they would’ve faced St. Louis in the playoffs. But they finished 5th and faced (and lost to) Chicago.
Despite the results being seemingly not his fault, Mike Keenan took the bullet and was fired after the season. Brent Sutter was hired in the off-season to right the ship for his brother’s team.
Miikka Kiprusoff started 76 games for the second straight season, winning 45 of them and seeing his underlying numbers continue to drift downwards as he posted a rather disappointing .907 even-strength save percentage. Curtis McElhinney started 6 games as back-up and took until the final game of the regular season to register his first NHL victory. Kiprusoff put up a similarly dismal (by his standards) .908 even-strength mark in six playoff starts, losing four of them.
Here’s the trades Darryl Sutter made throughout the 2008-09 campaign. Aside from the trade deadline, he was relatively quiet:
- July 1, 2008: traded a second round pick to Chicago for Rene Bourque.
- March 4, 2009: traded Matthew Lombardi, Brandon Prust and a first round pick to Phoenix for Olli Jokinen.
- March 4, 2009: traded Kevin Lalande to Columbus for a fourth round pick.
- March 4, 2009: traded Ryan Wilson, Lawrence Nycholat and a second round pick to Colorado for Jordan Leopold.
- June 26, 2009: traded down in the first round (from 20 to 24) with New Jersey, gaining a third round pick.
- June 27, 2009: traded Jordan Leopold and a third round pick to Florida for the ability to exclusively negotiate with Jay Bouwmeester for four days.
- June 27, 2009: traded Jim Vandermeer to Phoenix for Brandon Prust.
- June 27, 2009: traded up in the third round with Los Angeles, giving up a fifth round pick.
In the summer of 2008, the Flames signed Todd Bertuzzi, Curtis Glencross and Andre Roy. The Glencross move paid off long-term, while the others provided some depth at least.
The 2009 Draft featured Tim Erixon, Joni Ortio and a lot of disappointment otherwise.
RETHINKING THE 2008-09 FLAMES
The Calgary Flames were a Mike Keenan team in 2008-09, which means like the year prior they were a possession monster driven by a team that pushed hard to stay in the offensive end. The return of Mark Giordano helped out their depth on defense a bit, which meant they were a bit less awful in their own end.
They were a possession monster with a 55.7 Corsi For percentage, second in the entire NHL.
As seemingly always happened in those years, they hit a wall in the playoffs in the form of the Chicago Blackhawks. The Hawks were slightly worse possession-wise than Calgary in the regular season (at 55.2% Corsi For), but were otherwise a virtually identical team – with slightly better goaltending. Kiprusoff continued to feel the brunt of playing all the time, while the Flames overall were a tired, injury-riddled bunch after having played short-handed for the season’s final week. If the Flames weren’t worn out, Chicago would’ve been a tough match-up. But with Chicago having better goaltending and the Flames not having much tread left on the tires, they didn’t stand much of a chance.
Now, if they had faced St. Louis instead, they would’ve probably fared better. The Flames were much better possession-wise than the Blues (who were 47.9% Corsi For), had about the same level of goaltending and were slightly better in terms of their shooting percentage. But the hockey gods being what they are, the Flames played (and lost to) Chicago instead.
It would be the last playoff series they played in for six years.