Season Wrap Up: McCracken
New Style, Same Result
Ho Hum…. Another season, another year without the playoffs for the Calgary Flames.
The end result isn't any different than it has been for the last six seasons, but 2001-02 may be remembered more for Jarome Iginla's accomplishments, than for the team's losing record.
The bright side…
Jarome Iginla. There's not much more that can be said about the first player to win the Art Ross trophy since 1980 that hasn't been named Gretzky, Lemieux, or Jagr. Iginla's heroics gave Flames fans something to cheer about from his emergence in October, to his empty net goal that knocked the Oilers from the playoffs in mid-April. Sandwiched in between were 50 goals, an all-star appearance, a gold medal, and countless articles in newspapers around the continent. It was truly Iginla's year to shine.
But there were other positives for the Flames aside from number twelve. Craig Conroy emerged as one of the NHL's elite two-way forwards, while Dean McAmmond set a career high in points with 51. Young forwards Chris Clark and Jamie Wright proved that they belonged in the NHL. Both set career highs in points and spent time on both scoring and checking lines, a testament to their versatility.
The Flames defence showed signs of becoming one of the better blueline groups in the NHL. Toni Lydman enjoyed a solid sophomore season, while Denis Gauthier and Bob Boughner provided a consistent physical presence. Veteran Igor Kravchuk quieted his critics with a solid, although unspectacular campaign.
Finally, Roman Turek, the Flames' biggest off-season acquisition, gave the squad a legitimate number one goaltender for the first time in six years. Turek was a big part of the team's great start, and gave the team a chance to win in virtually every game he started. His 30 wins were the most for a Flames' goaltender over a decade.
The not-so-bright side…
Where to begin?
Likely the biggest disappointment in Calgary was center Marc Savard. The Flames were 17-28-9-2 with Savard in the line-up and 15-7-3-1 without him. Savard had arguably the worst season of his young career, and that wasn't limited to his on-ice performance. His trade demands and frequent stays in Coach Gilbert's doghouse made him a logical whipping boy for players, coaches, and fans alike.
But Savard wasn't the only forward to underachieve. Veterans Rob Niedermayer (6 goals and 20 points), Dave Lowry (13 points, -20), and Jeff Shantz (6 points in 40 games) all but destroyed any chance of the Flames having a productive 2nd line.
Blue-chip defencemen Derek Morris and Robyn Regehr failed to progress as expected. The former battled a wrist injury for much the season, while the latter was subject to mental lapses and confidence problems that resulted in him ending the season as a team worst –24.
Of course, there's also the much-maligned Mike Vernon, who was able to win only two games for the entire season, and may become one of the first hall-of-famers in history to have been demoted to the minors in his final season.
But maybe the biggest disappointment for the Flames wasn't any one individual in particular, but a general lack of focus and commitment to the little things that help teams win. For example: the 27th-ranked power play on a team full of grinders, countless early goals to put the team behind, and the regular inability to perform in clutch situations.
A few more third period goals, a few less third period goals allowed, and a better effort against the league's bottom-dwellers was likely the difference between 79 points in 11th place and 94 points in 8th place.
The bottom line…
There are some very good memories from the past season. The 1-0 season opener against the Oilers, wins against Detroit, Toronto, and St. Louis in October, and numerous individual efforts from Jarome Iginla, Craig Conroy, and Roman Turek.
But it's hard to forget moments like the nine-game winless slide in mid-March, the 1-0 loss in Atlanta, or the 202 penalty minute melee against Anaheim.
The bottom line is that the Flames now have the longest current streak of missing the playoffs in the NHL, and no amount of highlight reel goals, unlikely road wins, or individual player trophies is going to change that.
But there's always next season…