Season Wrap Up: Ciampa
Six straight years and no playoffs. One day after the conclusion of the season and it still hurts to hear those words.
A season that started out so promising turned into yet another disappointment and yet another year where the Flames are watching the postseason on television. There were a number of positives that the team can bring out of the season, though.
First, and most obvious is the season that Jarome Iginla had. 52 goals and 44 assists are well beyond anyone's expectations. Craig Conroy also had an amazing season, with 27 goals and 75 points. Conroy's season was largely overshadowed by Iginla's monster campaign but he had one of the best seasons any Flames player has had in the last six years. Since 1995, only Theoren Fleury (96 points in 95-96 and 78 points in 97-98) had bettered Conroy's total.
Roman Turek had a strong season as the clear-cut number one goalie, though he did struggle for a bit near the end. His 2.53 goals-against average was solid but perhaps not good enough. When the team was on their hot streak early on, his goals-against average was below 2.00. A big reason why the team played with the confidence they did was because they knew Turek wasn't going to let in more than two goals. When they didn't squeeze their sticks too tight, they were able to bury their scoring chances more effectively.
However, Turek also ended up the season with 30 wins. No Flame had accomplished that since the 1990-91 season. He was also several games over .500 (30-25-11-3) and played well down the stretch without showing signs of burnout or fatigue. If the Flames' backup were able to win at the same clip as Turek, the Flames would have finished with 86 points instead of 79 and would have been considerably closer to the playoffs. Perhaps if they can acquire a backup more capable than Vernon next season Turek will be more rested and his numbers will improve as well. It is clear that throughout the December and January doldrums Turek was putting too much pressure on himself and faltered consequently. However, For the Flames to get into the playoffs he likely needed to have a Theodore-esque season.
Another forward who exceeded expectations was Dean McAmmond. His career year of 21 goals and 51 points in 72 games was exactly what the Flames needed when they picked him up. He essentially replaced Valeri Bure's offence (Bure had 55 points last season) and was much better defensively than Bure ever was in Calgary.
A number of Flames defencemen had outstanding years. Denis Gauthier finally became a consistent top-three blueliner as he and Bob Boughner each were tied for third on the team in plus/minus at +9. Igor Kravchuk rebounded from last year's terrible season to be one of the Flames' most consistent defenceman. Toni Lydman had an outstanding season and will only get better.
In addition to all the positives, there were a large number of negatives that contributed to the downfall of the team in 2001-02. The two biggest disappointments have to be Derek Morris and Robyn Regehr. Morris started the season off so promising and it seemed like a spot in the Olympics was inevitable. He then ran into a wrist injury and wasn't the same after that. A big reason for Calgary's success was the play of this defensive pairing. Even the horribly biased Eastern Media was taking note of this, as Al Strachan wrote in his column in late October:
Greg Gilbert has the Flames playing a sound, sensible game.
That's why the two key players -- defencemen Derek Morris and Robyn Regehr -- are just that.
Neither had been living up to his potential until Gilbert arrived on the scene and instilled some accountability into the system.
Regehr was often a healthy scratch last season and Morris had simply flat-lined after bursting onto the scene as a highly touted rookie three years ago.
He got a late start last season because of a contract dispute then used teammate Phil Housley as a role model. That meant he might score the odd flashy goal but more likely, he'd be out of position or indulging himself with a high-risk play that backfired.
But today, Morris and Regehr are two of the most coveted young defencemen in the game. They are responsible in their own zone and, in Morris's case, an integral part of the Calgary attack.
After Morris went down to injury in mid-November, Regehr was never the same. And for that matter, neither were the Flames. His plus/minus rating quickly plummeted from +3 to –11 and even when Morris returned, Regehr continued to struggle. The Flames powerplay also went down the tubes with the Morris injury and when he returned it was never able to recover. A big reason for this is likely that Morris played the remainder of the season hurt.
Offensively, there were a number of disappointments, most notably, Marc Savard. The Flames were a horrendous 17-31-8 with him in the lineup and the reasons for this is perplexing. His 33 points in 56 games was well below expectations. Last season Savard had 23 goals, 42 assists and 65 points. A big reason for his drop in production could be that he didn't play with Iginla as much this year but a true number-one centreman should be able to make those around him better and not have to play down to the level of his linemates. He has shown he can be very productive when given the right opportunities and he is perhaps the second-most skilled Flames forward behind Iginla so if the team can find a scoring winger for him this offseason, that may be just enough to put the Flames over the edge offensively.
Another big disappointment has to be the projected number two centre, Rob Niedermayer. Most people, save for Craig Button, weren't expecting Niedermayer to return to his 25-goal, 60 point form but they likely weren't expecting him to top out at 6 goals and 20 points, either. His –15 rating was also one of the team's worst. Aside from Scott Nichol, Jamie Wright, Clarke Wilm and Ronald Petrovicky most of the third and fourth liners failed to live up to expectations. The fact that so many, including captain Dave Lowry, were often also defensive liabilities hurt the team.
So, what does 2002-03 have in store for the Calgary Flames? The lineup as it is right now likely would not be able to improve enough to get into the postseason in the tough Western Conference so Craig Button has his work cut out for him this summer if he hopes to turn things around.