Did Miikka Kiprusoff save the Calgary Flames?
Difficult to truly say, but his arrival on November 16, 2003 clearly turned the team’s direction around.
When Kiprusoff was acquired by general manager-coach Darryl Sutter, the Flames were a point out of last place in the Western Conference, having won just six of their first 16 games.
Sutter, who just a year prior was the coach of the Sharks, had knowledge of the goalie from Finland. He was behind Evgeni Nabokov and Vesa Toskala on the depth chart, and six weeks into the season, Kiprusoff hadn’t seen any action. They needed to make a move.
The Flames needed a netminder with No. 1 netminder Roman Turek out with a knee injury and the team in danger falling out of the playoff race early.
It was a sunny Sunday morning in Calgary when Sutter secured Kiprusoff for a second-round draft pick in 2005. The pick turned out to be defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who has spent six years with the franchise. Vlasic has been a solid blueliner, but Kiprusoff far exceeded Sutter’s expectations.
"When I made the trade I knew Kipper was capable of being a No. 1 NHL goalie, but he turned out to be much more than that," Sutter reflected on the trade recently.
The 2010-11 campaign marked the seventh straight in which Kiprusoff, who will turn 36 on Oct. 26, played 70 or more games. He’s averaged 72 games over that span, more than any other NHL puck stopper.
He captured the Vezina Trophy in 2005-06 and was runner-up the next season. However, it was the season he played his fewest contests that the suggestion was made that he may be the Flames’ savior.
In his first 17 games with the Flames, Kiprusoff compiled a 13-2-2 record and was the main reason the team vaulted from 14th to fifth in the West. Then he sustained a knee injury, which kept him out 19 games. Turek and Jamie McLennan played well enough in Kiprusoff’s absence to keep the playoff spark alive.
Kiprusoff returned to win his first three starts and carried on as the Flames made the playoffs for the first time in eight years.
That was only the warm-up.
Kiprusoff was in the net for all 26 playoff games as the Flames upset three division winners — Vancouver, Detroit and San Jose — to reach the Stanley Cup final. Despite his brilliant 1.72 GAA and .926 save percentage, the Flames lost the championship series in seven games to Tampa.
Overall in the playoffs, Kiprusoff won 15 games with a club record five shutouts.
Captain Jarome Iginla had a club record 13 goals and 22 points with Martin Gelinas clinching all three series wins, but without Kiprusoff’s arrival one wonders where the team would be today.
Late in 2003, the Flames established some Saddledome records for low attendance. Considering that, if it had been eight straight years without playoffs and then a full season lost to the ’04-05 Lockout, what kind of crowds would the Flames have attracted?
Thanks to that great run, it’s a moot question. The Flames have sold out every game in the Saddledome since the start of the 2005-06 season.