Flames’ road trip success proves doubters wrong

Last week in Philadelphia, with his Calgary Flames about to embark on life after Mark Giordano, Flames head coach Bob Hartley was notified that many voices in the hockey world had officially placed Calgary’s playoff hopes on the gurney right next to their captain.

Of course, Hartley only laughed.

“It’s probably the same people who put us 29th and 30th at the start of the year,” he said. “Deja vu.”

I will admit to being one of those who thought the Flames wouldn’t be able to survive the loss of their captain and best player. Frankly, the argument wasn’t whether or not the Flames would wilt without Giordano, it was how they would wilt. Would the on-ice deficit hurt more than the mental kick in the teeth that losing your best player down the stretch can produce?

It was all up for discussion, but either way the Flames were dead, right?

Full disclosure: if I told you I lost faith in the Flames only last week, I’d be lying. There was that seven-game trip when The Brier invaded the Saddledome; the one that general manage Brad Treliving assured us “the GM ought to be bald” upon its completion. Calgary was supposed to get crushed on that trip. I thought they’d be lucky to go .500.

They ended up grabbing nine out of 14 points, the final point coming when Calgary erased a 4-0 deficit after 40 minutes in Ottawa, only to lose in a shootout. It was sheer larceny. “Let's leave the building,” Hartley advised reporters after the game, “before the O.P.P. shows up.”

There was that point early in the season when three of their top four centres were on the shelf. Who survives that? Certainly not Calgary, we opined.

Or the time in January where goaltender Karri Ramo was injured, and the shine had come off of Jonas Hiller a bit. Calgary brought up some kid named Joni Ortio to play goal, and at that point, we all thought that Hartley had run out of cards to play. Well, Ortio debuted with a shutout and won four games in a row. The kid looks like the next Mikka Kiprusoff, and yes, Calgary didn’t knuckle under then, either.

I am not sure when or why I was so sure that Calgary’s rebuild would be painful, the way everyone else’s have been. Maybe it was when I was assured by people “in the know” in Calgary that Hartley was only going to babysit this team through the New Year, and then Treliving and Brian Burke would move him alone before hiring their own guy. (They ended up giving Hartley a contract extension.)

It could have been at the 2014 draft, when anybody who knew anything was aware that defenceman Dennis Wideman could have been had in a Clarkson-for-Horton type deal, with the Flames taking on someone else’s problem simply to get rid of a hefty contract tied to an under-achieving player. (Today, Wideman is a pillar for the Flames, on pace for 50 points and averaging nearly 30 minutes a night post-Giordano.)

I recall stating when Jiri Hudler was signed, as well as Wideman, that this was emblematic of a small market rebuild overpaying ‘B’ free agents to come on board. And even when Hudler racked up 54 points last season, he was never going to be the answer when we asked the question “Where are all the goals going to come from?” after Mike Cammalleri left the Flames high and dry. (Hudler is likely to post career high in goals and points this season.)

Johnny Gaudreau? He was even smaller in real person than he looked on all of those highlight packages. He might need time in the AHL. (Gaudreau just might lead all rookie scorers this year.)

Sean Monahan? Great rookie season, sure, but young players always take a dip in season No. 2. (He had 34 points and a minus-20 last year. Has 47 points through 66 games, and is plus-23 this season).

All of those big, heavy California teams? How could Calgary possible compete with them? (At 18-6-1 versus the Pacific, no team has more wins inside the Pacific Division than Calgary.)

Yes, there is no way this Flames team could be anything more than a lottery team. Anyone who knows anything about the game could have told you that.