Season Wrap Up: McGrath
Back when Bob Johnson was the top shirpa in these parts a challenge was likened to climbing a mountain. At the time the Edmonton Oilers were that mountain, a formidable force led by a sextet of future hall of famers forming a difficult speed bump in the way of ultimate Flame success.
My how things have changed.
The climbing team isn't anywhere near as skilled, nor the mountain even remotely as high, but a challenge is a challenge, and in that sense the Flames came up empty again this season.
This season some headway was made, the group broke camp and headed up the hill, but came well short of the summit once again, settling down an hour into the hike unable to go much further.
As depressing as that sounds ... it is a marked improvement from previous expeditions that featured climbing teams too terrified to unpack the gear and leave the parking lot.
Progress has been made.
For the group to reach higher plateaus they'll need a busy off season, and a much more consistent approach to the summit.
Who are these guys?
The Calgary Flames were many different teams through the course of the 2001-02 season. Are they the club that set the league on it's collective ear, losing only twice in their first 21 games? Are they the club that then fell flat on it's collective face from late November through January tossing aside a season once so promising? Or ... are they the moderate group seen in all other parts of the season, able to win as many as they lose, but not much more?
The Flames didn't win with mirrors at the start of the season, nor did they lose by a stroke of bad look or simply sour fate.
They can be that good … they can be that bad … the key is to find a consistency, and to level out the peaks and valleys.
With that we gaze back to a season that was.
A lot of good things happened in Calgary this season.
A blazing start had the city talking hockey again, a fervour that luckily lasted much longer than the actual streak itself managed.
The swing of good to bad play has at least made it possible to believe the team is due for better times.
The high point of the season could be found from October 25th against Nashville to November 22nd in Ottawa … a run that featured a Flames team unbeaten in 11 games and pushing Detroit for the league lead.
Individually, Calgary fans witnessed the emergence of a superstar in Jarome Iginla, and a break out season by Craig Conroy, making GM Craig Button the victor on his first major trade.
Dean McAmmond proved that a player can't be judged by his acquisition cost, putting up career marks for goals and points.
And in the nets Roman Turek gave the team the most solid goaltending they've enjoyed in the last ten years.
The bad can be found in many facets this season.
The team basically tossed their great start out the window when they only managed four victories in 19 games on the heals of that aforementioned high period in their season.
But off the ice is where things really turned bad.
Marc Savard became the first focus of controversy when he came back from an injury and failed to recapture his position. His play soon deteriorated, as the pivot became a constant minus player on the ice, a statistic that soon mirrored his attitude. Finally Savard requested a trade throwing the Flames and general manager Craig Button into a situation he could not win.
Later in the season the off ice lion roared again and again with public and messy situations surrounding captain Dave Lowry and future hall of fame goaltender Mike Vernon. The team could learn a little about etiquette in the off season.
If you can't be great on the ice, it would be nice if they could at least manage to be good off the ice, something the team is hoping to rectify with the return of Lanny McDonald and appointments of Ken King and Jim Peplinski.
The Flames essentially dashed their season with the ineffective play of their powerplay and especially their penalty killing.
Early season success with the man advantage evaporated with a wrist injury to Derek Morris. Even with Morris back in the fold the Flames were better to decline the powerplay and stay five on five.
The penalty killing was much worse than that.
Five on five the Flames were a very competitive bunch, but without an improvement in special teams next season they are likely doomed to fail again.
Jarome Iginla …clearly.
A title that looked to be Roman Turek's early, Iginla took the mantle away and dominated from pole to pole in the season.
The superstar winger scored more than 25% of the team's goals, and was in on over 50% of them.
He became the ambassador and figure head for the franchise to a level not seen in these parts since the retirement of Lanny McDonald.
I would suggest he's a key signing in the off-season.
An honourable mention could go out to both Craig Conroy and Roman Turek, as both players had solid seasons in Calgary.
A battle between a trio of players that had brutal to disappointing seasons.
Mike Vernon was simply not good enough as the Flames back up goaltender. Truth be told he didn't receive the goal support to put up wins when he did play well, but all too often he struggled putting the Flames in a position where they were afraid to rest Turek.
Rob Niedermayer didn't deliver on his preseason promise. Instead of rejuvenating his career in Calgary he simply took another step backward, only scoring six goals. Now likely at rock bottom, it will be interesting to see if he can bounce back to at least his career average for output. At 2.1 million to qualify the Flames will have to think long and hard about his contract this summer.
But the true goat of the season would have to be Marc Savard.
The talented pivot just didn't hold his own on either side of the puck. The emergence of Craig Conroy afforded the Flames a great opportunity to fill out two scoring lines for the first time in recent memory, but Savard couldn't hold his side of the bargain.
A scorer that isn't scoring, can't play defence, and adds an off ice distraction to the works? Take a look in the mirror Marc.
Many a pundit shook their head when the Flames signed defenceman Bob Boughner to a three year, 6.3 million dollar contract.
No heads are shaking now.
In seven months Boughner proved to be more than the sum of his parts; rounding into a defensive force in his own zone, a physical force all over the ice, and then eventually a leadership role as the Flames co-captain.
The Flames have made a conscious effort to acquire experienced player to lead the way; players that have won, and can teach a young group how to win.
Boughner, along with Craig Conroy has the squad's leadership mantle in good hands for years to come.
Where to from here?
Despite the cage rattling fear being spread by a certain Calgary Sun columnist, the Flames will be in Calgary again next fall. And the fall after that.
What the team itself looks like is a matter much more up in the air.
Offence needs to be added, and accountability demanded to get this team to the next level.
It will be a busy summer indeed.