As the Flames stagger into the Christmas break, the best present they might receive could be a few days off.
After playing their first 17 games in a vacation-like 42 days, the Flames played their next 17 in just 31 days, ending with a 4-0 debacle in St. Louis where Calgary gave every indication of being a team too pooped to pop.
The primary game plan for the Flames early in this campaign was to overwhelm the opposition and then beat them to death with superior conditioning in the third period.
A schedule that allowed relatively ample space between games made that plan a relatively easy one to employ. But a team that needs a high-tempo approach to be competitive can't handle playing catch-up with the schedule, as the Flames have had to do lately
But most Calgary fans - and probably management as well - would have taken a 16-10-6-2 record into Christmas jumping up and down with joy.
And so we feel it appropriate to cut the Flames a little slack for the moment and meld into the spirit of the season, surveying the roster to see who's been playing well and which of the group richly deserves a lump of coal in only a few days time.
Our annual Wish List:
For Marc Savard - a blow-up Jarome Iginla doll. That's as close as he's going to get to the real thing.
For Roman Turek - give him back the great team he had before he signed that giant contract.
For Mike Vernon - one last kick at the cat and, if you got some extra lying around, some health for his mom.
For Craig Conroy - Christmas came early for this guy when he was stuck with Iginla.
For Dean McAmmond - a big furry noogie delivered to each GM who gave up on him.
For Rob Niedermayer - a road map to the net. It ain't funny anymore.
For Jukka Hentunen - Fodors NHL Survival Guide to "Guys Who Can Beat The Crap Out Of You."
For Jarome Iginla - the recognition he's always wanted but, until this season, had never earned.
For Denis Gauthier - a new off-ice official counting hits at the Saddledome.
For Robyn Regehr - a peek, just a glimpse, of how great he's going to be five years from now.
For Al McNeil - more than one coaching victory every 20 years.
For Craig Button - Give him Glen Sather's murderous smirk, completing his transition to one of the more verbally aggressive GM's in the game.
For Chris Clark - Take away those Jim McKenny hands of his.
For Toni Lydman -How about some wingers who can finish those passes of his.
For Igor Kravchuk - a trade that would kick in that $1 million bonus before his contract expires next summer.
For Dave Lowry - just one more fluky season and he'll die a happy man.
For Scott Nichol - a spittoon.
For Petr Buzek - a name tag so everyone knows who he is.
For Jeff Shantz - a name tag so everyone knows who he is.
For Ronald Petrovicky - a healthier set of shoulders. Preferably made of granite.
For Clarke Wilm - Speaking of mitts, what did Wilm do with the one's he had last year?
For Bob Boughner - Something simple, like the return of the back-checking forwards who seem to have disappeared lately.
For Craig Berube - Removal of his name from Colin Campbell's speed dial.
For Steve Begin - some indication that he isn't just hanging onto the NHL by his fingernails.
For Jamie Allison - a Randy Travis CD and some hockey sense.
For Derek Morris - A belated berth with Team Canada.
For Coach Greg Gilbert - A hammer . . . . . . . and a Bryan Murray voodoo doll.
GOOD RIDDANCE TO DONALD BRASHEAR, LATE OF VANCOUVER AND NOW A PHILADELPHIA FLYER. The riddle is why it took so little to acquire Brashear, the price being a soft, one-dimensional Jan Hlavac and an exchange of draft picks. Brashear might have been the biggest goof on his side of the Rockies but he was an intimidating physical force with a drab of skill that few in the Western Conference could match. You can bet more than a few GM's in the West were doing handsprings of delight after the trade. It might have been too steep a price for Vancouver to pay to light a fire under the lengthy list of Vancouver's skilled forwards.
"I DON'T WANT TO HAVE TO TALK ANYONE INTO PLAYING for the Canadian Olympic team" - Wayne Gretzky on Patrick Roy.
"I WISH OUR ROLE PLAYERS PLAYED AND FINISHED THEIR CHECKS like their (Carolina's) young kids do. This would be a completely different team." - Penguins Alexei Kovalev, pointing fingers at his teammates after Pittsburgh was outshot at home 49-11 and annihilated 7-0 by the Hurricane. As if Kovalev hasn't been accused of floating at various times in his career. In fact, spending entire seasons floating.
"I HAVE RESEARCHED THIS AND THERE IS CONSISTENTLY LESS SCORING ON BIG ICE" - Kings coach Andy Murray backing up my claim made last year that replacing the small ice surface in NHL rinks would actually decrease scoring. "When you look at the big ice, scoring goes down," Murray told the Toronto SUN. "Players can be pushed out to the outside and it takes longer to get to the net from the outside. That results in fewer goals." The prediction made in this column before that scoring at the Olympics should be lower than in a typical NHL game, in spite of a tremendous concentration of talent, is looking safer by the minute.
THE MAKE-UP OF CANADA'S OLYMPIC TEAM reinforces the notion that speed has never been more important in hockey than it is today. After the Stanley Cup final last year I wrote the following paragraph on June 12th: "The Colorado Avalanche have probably turned the NHL back towards an emphasis on speed over brawn once and for all after their Stanley Cup triumph over New Jersey. There were subtle differences between the two teams which resulted in the Avalanche triumph, including better discipline shown by Colorado, but a key element might have been the Avalanche speedy forwards matching very well against the less swifty elements of New Jersey's lumbering defence, players such as Colin White, Scott Stevens and Sean O'Donnell. Martin Brodeur may have been superior to Patrick Roy as a puckhandler but the Colorado defence needed a lot less help than the three Devils mentioned above." Not surprisingly, one notable omission from the Team Canada lineup announced last weekend was Stevens, painfully outclassed last spring by Colorado's forwards. In turn, the entire Canadian lineup is built around the notion of transition and speed, the only proven antidote for the trap employed by most European teams, and, not surprisingly, a key element in the new Calgary Flames as well. It is also gratifying to see Team Canada turning back the clock a bit and putting out four lines that could easily serve as the number one unit for most teams in the league. This goes back to the 1987 Canada Cup where guys like Brent Sutter and Dale Hawerchuk were considered "grunts" but ended up playing huge roles in a comeback victory in a decisive final game against the Soviet Union, a game many consider one of the greatest ever played. It would certainly be my pick.
A SURE-FIRE QUALIFIER IN THE RACE FOR THE BIGGEST WASTE OF MONEY IN HOCKEY would have to be John LeClair in Philadelphia. LeClair made headlines last year when he turned down a $9 million contract extension from the Flyers even though he was crippled with a potentially career threatening injury that limited him to only 16 games. LeClair had second thoughts in the summer and the Flyers, rattled by the loss of Eric Lindros, threw the offer on the table once again, signing the perennial All-Star and adding Jeremy Roenick on top of it. But LeClair is off to a miserable start considering his normal numbers, with only 21 points in 32 games, leaving many a poolie shaking their heads. A close second might be Paul Kariya in Anaheim, although one wonders if the Kariya is simply mortified by his circumstances as his career wilts away into a lengthy blot of nothingness.