(Ed. Note: As the Stanley Cup Playoffs continue, we're bound to lose some friends along the journey. Gone but not forgotten, we've asked for these losers to be eulogized by the people who knew the teams best: The fans who hated them the most. Here is Jonathan Willis of the Edmonton Oilers blogs The Copper and Blue and Oilers Nation fondly recalling the Calgary Flames.)
By Jonathan Willis
Friends, fellow hockey fans: It was a day in October of 2008 when we first met this year's Calgary Flames. Their life began as it ended: with a defeat, except that instead of being defeated in six games they were defeated by six goals. It was that loss to the Canucks that started the season, and it is the Canucks that the Chicago Blackhawks will go on to play in the second round.
Since that day in October, 200 more days have passed; 200 days fraught with obstruction and obstacles. Through these days, injury reaped many players, albeit players of little note or value.
So long Mark Giordano; over these past two years you've been banished to Moscow or the injured reserve, but when healthy you couldn't play in the top four anyway. Farewell, Wayne Primeau; it's a shame you couldn't bring back your glory days -- that year you scored a career-high nine goals for the San Jose Sharks. But that was a long time ago, and after nearly 100 games as a Calgary Flame you have but three goals to your name. Lastly, Rhett Warrener, thank you for getting "injured," because with the team so tight against the salary cap, paying $2.35 million dollars to a defenseman with four points in his last season was impossible. It was a most convenient injury, but then, you always were a fine soldier.
Still, today we aren't gathered here to commemorate solely those men who fell (or were pushed) on to the injured reserve. Today we're gathered here, you and I, to try and express our true sentiments about the fine men who made up the 2008-09 Calgary Flames ... since for some of them this will mark the final time that they don the flaming C of Calgary.
Jarome Iginla, without doubt, will return. It's been eight years since he scored fewer goals than he scored this year, and a half-decade since he's seen the second round of the playoffs. Perhaps it's fitting that his fans praise him with a video that's a knock off of a Ryan Malone video. It's alright, Jarome -- not everyone can be Ryan Malone.
Mike Cammalleri set career highs in all categories but it didn't matter because his 39 goals and 82 points are off for free agency. But that's okay, because even though the Flames have no money to bring him back with, those six playoff games were worth the 17th overall pick -- right?
Besides, Olli Jokinen is here, and he has six career playoff games under his belt now. There's no reason to worry that he was minus-7 in just 19 games with Calgary, or that he scored 24 fewer points this season than his average from the past three; it's not like he had difficulty adjusting to the Western Conference after putting up inflated totals in the Southeast, right? Matthew Lombardi, Brandon Prust and a first-round pick? Hah! Don Maloney never knew what hit him.
In any case, the Calgary Flames aren't built on offense. Miikka Kiprusoff and Dion Phaneuf may have come up laughably short this year, but both will return stronger next season. It really doesn't matter that Miikka Kiprusoff just edged out Martin Gerber in save percentage, or that his save percentage has decreased for the fifth year in a row or that his save percentage adjusted for team quality is the third-worst among Western Conference starters or that he got even worse during the playoffs, does it?
Similarly, it doesn't matter that Dion Phaneuf scored six fewer goals and 13 fewer points than last year, or that no defenseman on the team had a worse plus-minus or that no player in the entire NHL had more goals scored against him, does it? Of course not; these men are professionals, already diligently working on their offseason training:
That's twelve million, three hundred and thirty three thousand, three hundred and thirty three dollars for each of the next five years well spent. I can't think of a better place to deposit more than 20 percent of my favourite team's salary cap space, although I have to admit that I also appreciate Sutter's keen eye for bargains like $1.5-million minor-leaguer Anders Eriksson.
These Flames fight through adversity, and they have a tremendous leadership core; they'll arise stronger than ever. We've already considered two of their leaders in Phaneuf and Iginla, but they have more men who are honoured with a letter. Robyn Regehr, a man so brave he runs players 30 pounds lighter and three inches shorter who aren't carrying the puck head-first into the boards from behind is just one of the two other men who form the conscience and heart of this team; the other is Todd Bertuzzi, whose illustrious reputation I need not elaborate on:
Still, a team with so much character throughout the lineup doesn't even need leaders as formidable as those four; there's a strong supporting cast with a rich history of accomplishment:
- At 38 years of age, Craig Conroy's character and abilities are beyond dispute. His one goal in 18 post-lockout playoff contests shows that he can ramp up his game as the pressure increases.
- Andre Roy isn't just a bruiser, he's a team leader. It isn't just any player who has to be physically removed from the bench by his coach (and ends up getting healthy-scratched for the remainder of the season) or is singled out by a rival GM as the most one-dimensional fighter in the game or who can get suspended without even playing the game. No, that takes a special person.
- With 10 points in each of his first two seasons, Eric Nystrom's showing exactly the kind of scoring promise that moved the Calgary Flames to take him with the tenth overall pick in 2002. At this rate it will only take him eight more years (barring lockouts) to hit the elusive 100 point mark on his career.
- James Vandermeer makes only a modest $2.3 million a season, but he provides a complete package on the back end and adds an offensive touch. His one goal in 66 games as a Flame was a memorable one - only a natural scorer could bobble the puck in precisely such a way that Jack Johnson would be forced to knock it past his own goaltender, the redoubtable Erik Ersberg. Fortunately for Flames fans, he isn't one of five regulars going on to free agency -- he's locked up at that bargain-basement rate for two more seasons!
- Jordan Leopold brought precisely the kind of puck-moving presence he was expected to when Calgary reacquired him; in fact, he was instrumental in setting up one of the quickest overtime goals in NHL history just this year.