Soon to start the second 48-game schedule in their history, the current Calgary Flames resemble their foreskaters from 18 years ago in a couple of areas — a team laden with veteran defencemen and forwards.
And that 1995 squad did alright in the regular season, winning the pennant in the Pacific Division before bowing out in seven games to San Jose in the opening round of playoffs.
The Flames were also No. 1 in the Division in the 1993-94 campaign but lost Game 7 then to Vancouver in the playoffs’ first round. When the NHL came off its first lockout in ’95, Dave King was coaching the club for a third season after gaining playoffs spot in the first two.
Now the Flames are coming off three-straight years without post-season play, featuring a coach, Bob Hartley, guiding the team for the first time. However, Hartley has an impressive eight-year history as an NHL head coaching posting a record of winning almost 60 per cent of his team’s games overall in both regular season and playoffs at Colorado and Atlanta. Last winter, his team in Zurich won the Swiss League championship.
Another major difference is that the Flames of 18 years ago were auditioning a new No. 1 goalkeeper in Trevor Kidd after dealing long-time standout Mike Vernon to Detroit.
Kidd was 23 years old when he tied for second in NHL goalie wins with Ed Belfour with 22. He also played all seven playoff encounters.
This current Flames sport a netminder starting his ninth season as top guy, Miikka Kiprusoff, who is now 36 years old. He may have to consume a workload equivalent to Kidd in ’95. The native of Finland has played almost 89 per cent of the Flames games over the past seven seasons while breaking many of Vernon’s club records.
The Flames of 18 years ago had a host of skilled veterans as they do now. Theoren Fleury, Joe Nieuwendyk, Robert Reichel, Gary Roberts, Kelly Kisio and Joel Otto were among the forwards. Phil Housley, Zarley Zalapski, James Patrick, Trent Yawney, Frank Musil and the late Steve Chaisson patrolled the veteran-studded blueline.
The current Flames have vets Jarome Iginla, Mike Cammalleri, Alex Tanguay, Jiri Hudler, Lee Stempniak, Curtis Glencross and Matt Stajan among its forward roster. On defence it’s more experience with Mark Giordano, Jay Bowmeister, Dennis Wideman, Cory Sarich and Chris Butler.
In their 48 games in ’95, the Flames fashioned a 27-17-7 for 61 points, winning the division by seven points over Vancouver. That was No. 3 in the then 12-team Western Conference (the NHL had 26 teams). A similar posting this season would be more than enough to return post-season play to Calgary. This week Flames’ director of video and statistical analysis Chris Snow assessed it would take at least 56 points to make the playoffs in this abbreviated season with the extra points that are now awarded for teams losing in extra time.
Eighteen years ago, the Flames started off with two wins and a tie in their first three games, then levelling off and playing .500 the remainder of the season’s first half. It was a strong second half with only six losses in 24 games, which propelled that squad to a first place finish.
The disappointment was losing out to the Sharks in the playoffs after holding a 3-2 series lead before dropping the last two games including Game 7 at home.
During the ’95 regular-season, Fleury, who was then 26 years old, led the Flames with 29 goals and 58 points in 47 games finishing sixth in NHL scoring. Nieuwendyk had 21 goals and 50 points in 46 games. Reichel has 18 goals. Housley was top playmaker with 35 assists in the 43 games he played. Housley, who last Saturday coached Team USA to the gold medal at the World Junior Championships in Ufa, Russia, tied for second in NHL scoring among defencemen in ’95 with 43 points tying Ray Bourque and behind Paul Coffey.
Despite playing a condensed schedule of 48 games in 102 days, 10 Flames played in at least 43 games but injuries put key players out for long stretches. Roberts, coming off a 41-goal campaign, suffered a serious back injury in the eighth game and was out the remainder of the season. Kisio missed all but 12 games. A broken wrist kept promising young centre Michael Nylander out of 42 games.
Iginla, who has scored 30-or-more goals in 11-straight seasons and 20-or-more in the past 13, enters his 15th season at the age of 35. Iginla is well known for his slow scoring start to seasons. The Flames need him producing immediately in this short slate. For what it’s worth, over the last six seasons, the captain has produced almost half his goals (49.8 per cent of them) from Jan. 19 forward. That’s 115 goals in 230 games — a goal every other game.
A similar production now from Jan. 19 onward would give him 24 goals. Enough to keep his string of 20-goal campaigns intact, and, more importantly, a good boost in getting the team back to playoff action.