Former Flames are having fun while the current group is finding its path

Expectations are a funny thing. Not fun. Funny, as in peculiar.

If someone told you at the end of the disastrous end to last season that the Calgary Flames would be 5-5-1 through the first month of the coming season, with wins and loser points versus the Nashville Predators, Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals, you probably would have been thrilled knowing they were successfully competing against some of the league’s top teams.

But because of the offseason moves made to improve the culture, expectations have been much higher. A new coach. A big free-agent signing. A blockbuster trade followed by long-term deals for the newcomers. Nothing short of a playoff pace is acceptable right now.

And after a 4-3 overtime loss to the Washington Capitals on Saturday night, the Flames woke up behind both the Vancouver Canucks and Edmonton Oilers in the Pacific Division Standings. (Even though they’re just a point behind the leading San Jose Sharks).

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Fans, and maybe the team itself, are unsure of how to feel about all this. The inconsistency probably should have been expected given the new system bench boss Bill Peters and his staff has implemented, and a sizeable percentage of new players finding their fit — free agents James Neal, Derek Ryan and Austin Czarnik, incoming trade pieces Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin, and rookies like Dillon Dube, Juuso Valimaki and Rasmus Andersson.

However, in a hockey market like Calgary, it’s easy to focus on the frustrations instead of the fun — both from a fan perspective and from within the locker-room.

The pressure the players put on themselves when external expectations are high can quickly become a burden.

There’s a reason former Flames Dougie Hamilton and Micheal Ferland are having nothing but fun with Peters’ old team in Carolina, where external expectations for the Hurricanes were about as low as they get in professional sports after their coach opted out and a new owner whose hands-on approach had become very public and off-putting to some.

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In case you’re still grieving the loss of Ferland and Hamilton and haven’t been following their early days with the Canes, things are pretty good over there. They’ve got a rather shocking 6-3-1 record and are a point behind the Penguins for top spot in the Metropolitan Division.

Ferland looks even better alongside Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen in Carolina than he did early last season with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan on the top line in Calgary. He’s got six goals and 10 points in his first 10 games.

Dougie Hamilton is flossing on the ice, poking teammates with umbrellas during interviews, and generally looking like a happy dude with his new club after being shipped out because he wasn’t accepted by his teammates while with the Flames.

After wins at home, the Hurricanes are leaving the centre-ice salute to the crowd to the rest of the league and coming up with new ways to celebrate in front of their faithful fans. They’ve recreated the hockey version of the Lambeau Leap, and recently paid tribute to the rowers of the world.

Maybe they are onto something here. Hockey is a game. It’s supposed to be fun. That’s why every player got into the sport in the first place. Yes, it’s a profession and ultimately a business that can’t be successful without wins. But if you take the fun out of it, it’s just work — and everyone can admit they’re better at their job when they’re having fun.

Easier said than done in the NHL, where individual personalities have historically been sacrificed in favour of a team culture. We’ve seen it with trades that took P.K. Subban from Montreal to Nashville, and Hamilton from Boston to Calgary to Carolina.

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Let’s consider the Canes a modern hockey experiment. Maybe the Hurricanes will be able to create their team culture as a result of mixing together all of their eclectic individual personalities rather than creating a philosophical or foundational culture and identity for every player to buy into.

And maybe in Calgary the expectations should be for the Flames and their fans to start to have fun. We’ll see if the wins follow.

  • Alberta Ice

    9-1 losses are never fun; 9-1 wins are fun. And in any case, it’s much easier to have fun when you do win. (Like as in an Ovechkin finally beating the Penguins in a playoff round and going on to win a Stanley cup.)

  • Off the wall

    I get what you’re saying. It does make sense. Carolina is having fun, good for them.

    Peters’ has been stung by the expectations that Treliving put on this team, with all the trades and recent signings.

    It’s early in the season, but we’re not a patient bunch. There’s too many conveniences in our lives, and it transfers into our hockey mentality.

    One thing I would love to see, is a game where the players are having fun. It will come.

    Right now, we have to take the approach to tighten things up defensively. Although we didn’t win against Washington, we kept the HDSC Against low (9) That’s a positive sign. Our HDSC for was (11)

    I’m of the mindset that we need to gel as a team. Inconsistent lines might be a contributing factor. Once this lineup becomes more consistent, (in terms of lines) , I believe we will start playing to our strengths and having FUN.

    Here’s something to think about;
    I believe Treliving followed the Vegas model too much. Perhaps he swung for the fences a bit prematurely. That’s ok, I’d rather that, than him do nothing at all.

    Our goaltending was a question mark going into the season and he stocked the RW and center positions, with little regards to our biggest concern- puck stopping. We’re sitting forwards that could be playing, yet we don’t have that luxury with goalies.

    I’m not suggesting there was a lot of options, it’s that the options weren’t looked at.

    Great teams don’t win just by getting better players. They are always supported by a great goaltending.

    It’s FUN to watch goaltending steal a game or two- right Rittich?!

    • Korcan

      “Perhaps he swung for the fences a bit prematurely. That’s ok, I’d rather that, than him do nothing at all.” I am very much in agreement with you on this one. I like Tre’s style — never a dull off season.

    • HOCKEY83

      So What’s the Vegas model again?…Add a bunch of misfit players that other teams are willing to let go for free and hope they all have career years? Then add a goalie who’s notorious for choking in the playoffs but has great seasons and hope it will be one of the years he has a great playoff.

  • Luter 1

    I predict Dougy and his teammates basically screwing around will not be so entertaining after a 5 or 6 game losing streak. You can have a lot of fun without pulling Hamilton’s ongoing goofiness, which he also showed last year along with not caring whether we won or lost. I’ll take a snarly little SOB like Bennett, Gallagher, or the super pest Bruin over a soft Hamilton on my team and they have fun giving it to you all game long. We lack bite.

    • BlueMoonNigel

      Carolina has a different hockey market than Calgary’s, having fun and entertaining the paying customers is actually welcomed. Here the Flame players always look like grim bloody death. Going to the Dome has long ceased being fun as the club usually saves its worst performances for home games. The atmosphere in the Dome is useful for killing joy as fan spontaneity and creativity was long ago outlawed and replaced by corporate choregraphed cheering and muzak. Canes are making hockey fun again for the players and their fans.

  • Jakethesnail?

    Glen Gulutzan looking good with the 6-3-1 first place Oilers. The schedule was supposed to crush this team in the first month but after an 0-2 start they are 6-1-1.
    Way to go Treleving. The Flames problems are all on you.

  • Hockey4life

    The thing with the Oilers is they SHOULD be good. They SHOULD be challenging for a cup after how many years of the number 1 pick and super high first round picks. Yet they constantly rate the success of their team based on how they compare to the Flames. If I was an Oilers fan I’d hold the team to higher standards. There’s zero excuse for how terrible they’ve been for so long and even now, the only reason they have any kind of hope for their organization is because a guy named McDavid landed in their lap and he can single handedly win a game which is exactly what’s been happening so far this year. It’s not sustainable.

  • buts

    I have the an expectation that no matter what the outcome we work hard, try to win battles and give a 100%. That’s not asking for too much. And that’s not happening on a cinsistant basis…..just watch Brodie, Monahan, Jonny and a few others.

  • Moneyball

    There really is nothing to complain about being 5-5-1 after a tough schedule to start the year. Flames are in the hunt for a cup what more can you ask for?

    • JoelOttosJock

      You’re kidding right? If you’re ok with the Flames record and how they’ve gotten there, I am happy you have no input on this team. Smith has started 9 games. Looked good in 1. Average in 1. Bad in 5 and terrible in 2. The team has played horrible the 4 games. Where is the consistency? The accountability? Somebody better have a trick up their sleeve.

  • Derzie

    Steve, you are bang on about ‘fun’. My hockey watching in recent years has been Flames games. Because their perpetual mediocrity is driving me nuts, I started watch other national games.

    What did I see? End to end rushes. Players giving a crap. Jacked fans. Goals. Skilled plays. Exciting chances. Kipper-like saves. Key hits. Physical puck challenges.

    The experience was like walking out of a cave into sunlight, squinting and rubbing my eyes. Is it just me or have we had, and do have a super boring team since Hartley left. Reflects the personality of the GM perhaps. In any case, boo to mediocre & boring. Yay to give-a-crap and action.

    And I’m glad to see Dougie & Ferland do well. They were too physical and quirky/fun to stay in Calgary. Only the dour and serious are welcome here. it seems.