The Curious Case of Calgary’s Off-season

After a season that saw them win the Western Conference in the regular season (then subsequently get bounced in five games of the first round), you could maybe see the Calgary Flames starting the building block of a sound reboot of their team. Then the off-season came…and things got really….odd.

Mike Smith goes away, which is fine because he isn’t young anymore, wasn’t as dynamic as he was years ago, and his save percentage– which was always pretty solid despite his inflated GAA– was the worst of his career at .898 for the season. David Rittich was a welcome surprise, but even though he’s the presumed starter; the depth behind him isn’t as promising as some made it out to be. Jon Gillies hasn’t progressed as well as many thought he would, while Tyler Parsons is a surprise in net, but still is a few years away from being considered. Add this to Rittich going to arbitration after his 27-win season last year– there could be some instability there for the Flames.

And what better to help that instability than…..Cam Talbot?! Talbot, or as I’ll call him– younger Mike Smith, was signed to a Missouri (show-me) contract for a year…which may mean that the 32-year-old could be looking at being the starter only because his experience trumps Rittich and Bill Peters seems to hate success. Talbot had two good seasons as a starter after his first shaky season in Edmonton, but soon crashed to Earth when the Oilers became the Oilers again and were terrible. While might be a good back-up or even platoon option– beyond that; it could be just a younger Mike Smith. Yet, a hunger to be better might be a good thing if Talbot can actually follow through.

Then comes the coup-de-gras, which happens to also involve a former Oiler (like Talbot), but one that’s much more of a liability than Talbot could be.

The Calgary Flames traded FOR….FOR Milan Lucic, sending James Neal to Edmonton and inexplicably making it the worst deal in recent history– even more than the Erat/Forsberg deal years back.

To be honest– Neal didn’t light up the world for the Flames last year with seven goals and 19 points in 2018-19 after a 25-goal campaign in Vegas a season prior. Could have been the first year jitters, could have been– as Neal subtly eluded to– the fact people couldn’t get him the puck. With four more years left at $5.75M, the Flames thought it was time to move on from him after one season because who cares about waiting it out– one season means he’ll be like that the next four years.

Enter the Oilers who had an issue with one of their high-priced players who wasn’t performing in the first couple years of his deal and has a no-move clause– so the Flames bail them out and take on that contract (four years) and the declining stat line of Milan Lucic….and somehow thought this was a good idea. Lucic has gotten steadily worse since 2015 with a combined 16 goals in the last two seasons for a guy who is capable of 20-goals in a season because he has five of those previously. Yet, the speed, the skill, the overall landscape of the game has changed and it seemed that Lucic couldn’t keep up in Edmonton– so how does anyone think it’ll get better down the QE2 in Calgary?? Especially since he’ll be in the bottom-six making $5.25M in the remaining years.

It’s a good thing that people are leaking details of the new arena project that’s going to happen to replace the archaic Saddledome, mostly because people in Calgary need something to talk them off the edge. There’s promise with this team– so long as Johnny Gaudreau can come out of his playoff hiding, Sean Monahan can continue to improve his game, while Sam Bennett hopes to build off of being the only Flames forward to really show up to the series against Colorado.

And who knows– maybe Lucic can find some kind of scoring touch without the pressure of being the winger-du-jour for Connor McDavid and Talbot could find his magic that helped him get fourth-place in Vezina voting a few years back…but with the Flames luck in recent years; it might take a lot of doing and hunger for that to become a reality.

Tippett Becomes Eighth Coach in Past Decade for Oilers

For the life of me, I don’t know what Dave Tippett is doing. The former Arizona Coyotes’ head coach is now the current Edmonton Oilers head coach, leaving the adviser role he had with the new Seattle Your-Name-Heres and moving into a spot that could be one of the hottest seats in the NHL.

There has to be some respect for him to take on the challenge rather than laying back easy and waiting for the Seattle team to talk. And let’s be honest, with the way teams are with coaches in the recent past– he still could be the first coach of the Seattle team. Yet, you have to think that he got that itch again and the wait would be too much for him– so Edmonton it is.

There’s no doubt to have Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in the line-up, it’s give the team a fighter’s chance at making the playoffs. However, the biggest deal is…well, everyone outside of those two is the big worry. That albatross of the Milan Lucic contract looms heavy, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is constantly in the rumor mill, the defense and goaltending is suspect at best– so there’s work to be done.

Granted, the whispers of the possibility that Mike Smith is going to Edmonton to follow his buddy Tippett doesn’t bode well long-term for the Oilers; but it hasn’t been stable in net since Bill Ranford left. The defense has plenty of potential, but there comes a time where potential is overdone and disappointment/anger/hatred comes into play– if it’s not already there in Edmonton.

For me, this almost seems like an older version of Peter Chiarelli and Todd McLellan from a few years back for Edmonton. I know the whole problem with the Oilers before was the old-boys club being in charge and the thought with Chiarelli and McLellan was they ditched that moniker. Now, with Craig MacTavish finally gone and Paul Coffey being let go it; could be a real new start for Ken Holland, Tippett, and crew– but Kevin Lowe is still hanging around– so who knows.

It’s a pivotal time for the Oilers. You have to think the time is ticking to get Connor McDavid to be happy with where he’s at. Hell, his name is already being murmured when it comes to being moved if things don’t get better soon. His no-move clause starts in 2022-23, so there’s three seasons to get it right or else he may want his way out of Edmonton. The question is whether or not Tippett is the guy to spark the team around McDavid and Draisaitl or if it’ll be the third coach for the Oilers to have two great assets, but can’t get to the playoffs due to the team around them.

The Best NHL is the First Two Weeks of Chaos

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We’re two weeks into the season, which next to the playoff run– could be the best part of the season. The wacky bullshit that goes on in the first month or so of the season is the best. Crazy stats, firewagon scores, improbable heroes– it’s the best time of the year to get overly emotional– rightly or wrongly– about what your team really is. There’s no lack of craziness this year, either.

First, let’s start with Keith Kinkaid, who is the really champions of goaltending right now. He’s 4-0-0 with two shutouts and has the New Jersey Devils at a still undefeated record….through four games. He’s making the most of his chances with the Devils, as he is building off his 26-win season from last year and really showing that Cory Schneider may have heavy competition and could even be expendable when he gets healthy again. While he may not lead the goalie stats for much longer, the story he’s creating for himself is one that the Devils faithful need to build off of last year’s turnaround with Taylor Hall at the front and center.

Staying in the East, the Ottawa Senators are above .500 after their purge this off-season and it’s confusing the hell out of me. Granted, I’m sure that’ll take a plunge with Brady Tkachuk’s injury; but still…this is a team who wasn’t expected to win three games in this month (maybe, I didn’t read previews) much less be at seven points after six games. Craig Anderson has already seen the most shots in the league (tied with Devan Dubnyk) through six games at 199, which probably won’t let up any time soon as the time goes on and teams wear down the already inexperienced defense. However, the return from Erik Karlsson was great, as Chris Tierney leads the team in points and Dylan DeMelo is leading the all-important plus/minus stat. Young guns like Tkachuk, Thomas Chabot, and Maxime LaJoie have grabbed the brass ring for the greater roles on the team, while Craig Anderson is playing great in October, as Craig Anderson is wont to do, as he has 42 wins in October over his career (currently second-best, but that’ll change once he gets through the months). Maybe the Sens can fool us all…..but maybe not.

Out West, Connor McDavid is good. In fact, if he can keep up the pace he has in factoring in every goal the Oilers have this season; he’ll have anywhere from 198 to 247 points this year based on the Oilers’ goal output over the last five years. This could happen, McDavid is that good and is able to make the best plays out there for his team– but it shows that maybe the Oilers need some support for their superstar. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Leon Draisaitl are pulling their weight, but it could be a very uphill climb for the Oilers if they keep packing things on McDavid’s shoulders. Granted, they have McDavid for seven more years after this one…but do you want to wear him out in year four of his career like this??

The one constant is the Arizona Coyotes. As the sun will set in the West, the Coyotes will have one of the most promising outlooks, but stumble out of the gates. They’ve scored four goals in five games and have been shutout three times this season. That’s not great, boss. Sure, they’re only giving up 2.2 goals a game, but that doesn’t help when you’re putting up 0.6 a game. It doesn’t help that Alex Galchenyuk is sidelined, but they have their goalie for the first month of the season, as Antti Raanta was solid when he came back from injury last year, but he couldn’t dig the Coyotes out of the doldrums at that point. It is a young team, sure– Clayton Keller and Dylan Strome will need time to work things out…but man, it’s hard to watch for a team that’s already been beaten down for as long as they have. You’d hope for some good for once.

This is just the scratching of the surface– you got the hot takes of Auston Matthews’ torrid pace, I think Sebastian Aho (and the rest of the Carolina Hurricanes) are getting slept on in the league, and even as a Caps fan– I’m tired of watching them play on NBCSN all the time.

This is just two weeks in. Let’s hope for more chaos as the season round out the first month of action.

2018-19 Season Preview….Kind Of: Western Conference Edition

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Half-assed part 2, let’s go.

The Central Division is an interesting one. For the longest time, it was the Chicago Blackhawks’ playground, but now– it’s almost kind of wide open. The Winnipeg Jets have seemingly found their formula with Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine, Mark Scheifele, and friends. Their march to the Western Conference finals could have been the coming out party they need. So long as Connor Hellebuyck can keep the good time rolling– maybe this is now a division that belongs to North of the Border for a couple of season.

For the Blackhawks– we’re in the downturn of the dynasty. Despite of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane being there and being in their prime ages– the fact their goaltending in Corey Crawford isn’t always healthy and the depth is suspect at best; the former Dynasty could be in the start of their stagnation moving ahead.

Hard to forget about the Nashville Predators, who are in all-in mode this year as much as they have been. This is pivotal year for the team, especially when they look at what to do with impending UFA Pekka Rinne and how they’ll juggle his time with Juuse Saros’ time in net. Aside from that, they have a defensive corp that one of, if not the tops in the league; their offense is full of top tier talent, and overall– this is a team that’s ready to go and make another big push for the Conference final again this year.

The rest of the division is suspect at best, starting the with Minnesota Wild– who seem to be more of the same. Bruce Boudreau could be on a short leash with new GM Paul Fenton, and with the team in place– I don’t know if that leash could get shorter. Sure, Devan Dubnyk is back, but he can only do so much. The offense is really hit and miss, the star players being in the line-up is hit and miss, and there’s plenty of question marks in the State of Hockey.

Add the St. Louis Blues to that mix, only because of Jake Allen. There’s no Carter Hutton to bail him out anymore and he’ll have to actually show he’s a top goalie in this league. He’ll have a lot of tools in front of him with Vlad Tarasenko, Ryan O’Reilly, Jaden Schwartz with Alex Pieterangelo and Colton Parayko on his defense…there’s no reason why Allen shouldn’t be successful in spite of himself and his own short-comings.

I don’t know what to think of the Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars. The Stars could be a little easier to explain and deal with, as Ben Bishop– if he’s healthy all season– could help them steal a few games here and there. The offense is steady with Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn up there, the defense however, is the question. Stephen Johns is out to start the season, which means Marc Methot and John Klingberg are going to have to shoulder a lot of the load– which could lead to easy burn out. The Avalanche now have Philipp Grubauer as the potential replacement for Semyon Varlamov when he should get injured or have his stats drop off, the team was able to rally around Matt Duchene getting traded, and might have an underrated defense against the rest of the league. The offense is one line, which means they’ll need to find some kind of secondary scoring to actually be across the board successful and get back to the playoffs once again.


Will anyone discount the Vegas Golden Knights this year?? Most likely, yes. The whole “Bet you can’t do it again” crowd will be out, but with the additions of Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny; the depth of offense is much better. While there will be doubters of M-A Fleury’s heroics and William Karlsson’s scoring prowess, the Knights are making sure they aren’t just a one-hit wonder.

Their toughest challenge will probably come from the San Jose Sharks, who have their best shot at getting into the Stanley Cup Finals with the addition of Erik Karlsson. The former Ottawa defenseman bolsters a blue line with Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, while Joe Thornton is back on the ice and probably much quicker without his beard anymore. Martin Jones has seen his win number decline over the past three seasons, but with an upgrade in front of him, you can bet he’ll have another 30+ win season.

With a healthy Jonathan Quick, the LA Kings were a solid team despite getting bounced in the first round again. Anze Kopitar was far and away the best player and may need to be so again to get the Kings back to the playoffs and maybe advance past the first match-up. That 70s Line will have to be a little be more prominent, though to be honest– losing Jeff Carter most of the season didn’t help things as much.

The Anaheim Ducks are going to have to get all they can out of their depth if they want to make the playoffs again. While John Gibson hasn’t been the best at keeping pucks out, the offense didn’t give him much to work with, as they had to lowest goals-for total of any playoff team last season. With Corey Perry out to start the season, as well; old man Getzlaf will have to rally the troops and hope they don’t get run over.

Of the Canadian teams in this division, the one with the most hope could be from Alberta. Whether it’s the Flames or the Oilers is yet to be seen. The Oilers need to figure out which team was the mirage– was it the team who made the playoffs in 2017 or the team that really stunk up the joint last season. Aside from Connor McDavid, there wasn’t much to write home about. However, the hard-on people have for Ty Rattie with McDavid is almost insane levels of silly– it’s almost a Sedins or Crosby situation with how people are infatuated with his play.

The Flames are an odd duck. They have the talent up front to get into the playoffs with Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and to a lesser extend Sam Bennett. However, with Bill Peters now at the helm, who knows what can happen. If they’re going to sink to a Carolina level, then it’ll happen quick, but the additions of James Neal and Elias Lindholm up front could bring more attention, while Noah Hanifin could help Mark Giordano on the blue line. If only Mike Smith can get back to some kind of non-sieve form, then they could surprise people.

Not a surprise is the Vancouver Canucks, who really….I don’t know. They have some top-end young talent in Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat, and others, but the real key is waiting for offensive defenseman Quinn Hughes to come from Michigan to Vancouver. If the rebuild is going to happen– it will be around Boeser and Hughes, maybe even Thatcher Demko when he gets the go-ahead to be the Canucks starter. It’s a waiting game for this team.

That leaves us with Arizona. The trade for Alex Galchenyuk is going to help them a whole lot, it’s a matter of managing injuries. Antti Raanta going down early last year hurt and it seems like there’s not much for goalie depth just yet for the Coyotes who could come in and stop the bleeding. Michael Grabner will add speed and a forechecking threat, Clayton Keller continues to grow, and Mario Kempe could surprise people if given the chance. The Coyotes may even push for a wild card…if they can stay healthy.

How Not to Panic When Panicking

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The one thing that got me starting loathing that Eric Francis has a writing job with the Calgary Sun, even though he was a morning zoo DJ, was at the end of October of 2005, he had already declared the Flames’ playoff hopes dead. Remember, this is the season removed (since 2004-05 didn’t happen) from their amazing Stanley Cup run. However, since they started the first month of the new season 4-7-2, it was already over months before the playoffs actually began.

The Flames finished 46-25-10 and won the Northwest Division.

Eric Francis is a dumbass. Don’t be like Eric Francis.

Yet, in the “what have you done for me lately”/”hot take” world of sports journalism we live in, everyone is ready to kill their team off after the first month of the season. Sure, some of the people are panicking in jest, but there are far too many who are serious in their assessment.

There’s a highly unlikely chance that a team like the Edmonton Oilers are going to be sitting in the cellar all season, especially with the firepower they have in their line-up and Connor McDavid still healthy. Teams like the Capitals, Ducks, and Sharks are not going to be the middling teams they have been to start this season. The Coyotes…..well, on paper, they seem like a better team than they should be– but the game isn’t played on paper and maybe Antti Raanta isn’t the savior people thought he was going to be.

My point is that only one team has hit the ten game mark (the Rangers) and even then, you shouldn’t start to really worry until about 25 games into the season. With the lack of pre-season play like the World Cup of Hockey last year, players didn’t come into the season with “high-level” competitive play under their belt. It might take some guys more time to heat up and really show their true worth.

Conversely, the teams that are hot to start the season aren’t necessarily going to be that way through the entire season. The Golden Knights may start to look like an expansion team come December, injuries could rack up for the Devils (or any team for that matter) come next month, and other teams could regress to the mean sooner rather than later.

So take a deep breath people. New players in new places need time to gel. New contracts need time to have their ink dry. Older players need time to get warmed up and rolling. It’s a matter of time where the true teams will come out firing and actually succeed, lest the management who made these teams who were supposed to be good this season be fired.

What I’m Looking Out For This Year

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With the pre-season over, what more is there to say that hasn’t been said by talking and typing heads around TV and the internet?? Well….probably not a lot, but that’s fine, it’s fine. I’ll just pile onto some topics because what else would I do?? It’s not like original content can get much hits…but not bitter….not at all.

In any case, here we are– another year older, another team bigger, and all the ish is happening. So, here’s what worth looking forward to this season:

-The Golden Knights are obviously going to be one of the main topics of work. Now, I won’t go with the “Swingers” line because everyone is going with that and I’m not that hacky….yet. However, the thing that I have said is that I’ll get sick of the First that will come from this year, but it’s something understandable. One thing I will be interested in towards the end of the season is how they’re keeping pace with past expansion franchises. Shouldn’t take long (hopefully) for them to past the 1974-75 Washington Capitals– so they’ll have that going for them.

-Goalies being in new places will definitely be a talking point, especially since so many faces switched places. Ben Bishop being Dallas, Mike Smith in Calgary, Brian Elliott in Philadelphia, Steve Mason in Winnipeg– all of them are being touted as the true goalie to stop their woes. In Elliott’s case, he’s #17 in the long line of Flyers goalies to have this title, though he’ll fight Michal Neuvirth for the starting position. While none of them may be the franchise changing goalie, they could be a vast improvement on what the teams had…until they aren’t because goalies are totally replaceable.

-Is there any stopping Connor McDavid?? Sure, it seems like we’ve heard the whole “next one” conversation a lot, but McDavid really has been as good as advertised since coming in. There’s plenty to be happy about in Edmonton, especially since he’s not going to have those World Cup of Hockey games under his belt. If he can command the scoring pace for the league again, the buzzing of this team bringing back the glory days in Edmonton will be hard to block out.

-While it’s great Nico Hischier and Nolan Patrick are out there, there’s plenty of Calder candidates out there for this season. Arizona has Dylan Strome and Clayton Keller, the Isles have Josh Ho-Sang and Matt Barzal, former UND players in Brock Boeser (Vancouver) and Tyson Jost (Colorado) could be in consideration. It’s a wide open field and this new wave of young talent is going to be a fun time to watch…only until your team losing becomes unbearable and even this silver lining can help you get over their horrid play.

-It’s the 100th year– not season because the NHL lost one, but it’s the 100th year and it’ll be interesting to see how deep the league goes for this. Of course, they’ll have the outdoor game between Ottawa and Montreal to commemorate the first NHL game, but outside of that– they announced the top 100 players, they’ve been going around with the Centennial Museum on wheels, but you’d have to think there’s got to be more to this year than what we’re seeing…I hope there is. If that’s all there is, then it’s been a bit of a letdown.

There’s some other out there– like the Penguins possible three-peat, what’s going to happen to Alex Ovechkin, who will care about the Olympics when they’re on– but I think those topics will come a bit more to light as the season goes on.

Puck drops tomorrow– strap it and enjoy the ride.