The Calgary Flames, like every other NHL team, don’t have a lot of memories from the latter half of 2012. That’s simply because they haven’t been playing hockey. Even with the first half of the season wiped out, the last 12 months have given us lots of memorable Flames moments, good and bad.
The first month of 2012 didn’t start well for Calgary at all. A New Year’s Day loss to Nashville was followed by a 3-1 loss in Washington which set up the end of their season long seven game road trip in Boston. The Flames had played away from home throughout late December and early January with the World Juniors taking place in Calgary and Edmonton. Their last game before returning home would be a forgettable one.
The morning of January 5th foreshadowed what would happen that night against the Bruins. Head Coach Brent Sutter emphatically halted morning skate due to a lack of energy and commitment. He tried to deliver a message aimed at how that same type of approach would hurt them later that evening. Hurt them it did. The defending Stanley Cup champions took the lead 74 seconds into the first period and never looked back, scoring in almost every way en route to a 9-0 victory that punctuated a five game losing skid. Calgary went quietly into the night, or in this case afternoon, and let the Bruins walk all over them on a day where defenseman Chris Butler would finish with a nightmarish -7 beside his name.
It’s weird what happens after days like that, however. The Flames would respond rather favourably to their humiliating defeat, rattling off wins in five of their next seven games and getting points in six of them. Contained in that stretch were the night of January 8th and January 12th, which would be two of the most significant dates of the season.
The first game after the ‘Beatdown in Boston’ Calgary welcomed the Minnesota Wild and picked up 3-1 home ice win thanks to their captain. Jarome Iginla’s third period winner took on a little more significance, however, as it also happened to be his 500th career goal. Coming down the right wing, Iginla attempted a pass to the front of the net, but the puck bounced off two Wild skates instead on it’s way past goaltender Nicklas Backstrom. Iginla became just the 42nd player in NHL history to hit the milestone and only the second member of the Flames; he’d been stuck on 499 for the previous two games.
Four days later, after a bizarre home ice win over New Jersey, Calgary would fire just six shots on net in the first two periods at home to the Anaheim Ducks in a game they’d win 1-0 in overtime over the Anaheim Ducks. Freshly acquired Blair Jones had the winner in a game mostly devoid of excitement prior. Fortunately, fans at the Scotiabank Saddledome had already had their fair share of excitement that night thanks to dealings off the ice.
Just as the night’s contest was starting, reports started to surface of an odd situation developing in Montreal. Flames fan favorite Mike Cammalleri had been pulled off the ice midway through their game against the Bruins, leading to mass speculation he was on the move. While fans in Calgary crossed their fingers he’d be on his way back, it still caught most everyone by surprise when the news broke that he was indeed coming back west. When it was all said and done, the Flames had acquired Cammalleri, the rights to goaltender Karri Ramo playing in the KHL, and a 2012 5th round pick in exchange for forward Rene Bourque, prospect Patrick Holland, and a 2012 2nd round pick.
Much of the month of February saw the Flames biting, clawing, and scratching for points and wins in any way possible. They were without all kinds of regular players but had fought their way back into contention in the Western Conference. For a team who had languished near the bottom of the conference for much of 2011, a stretch of 3-0-3 in the first six games of February was pretty significant.
The seventh game of the month fell on February 18th and saw Calgary on the outside looking in, but just barely. For the first time all season, they had an opportunity to crack the top eight in the West, an achievement that seemed pretty noteworthy for Flames’ supporters. A hard fought, defensive struggle at the Staples Center in Los Angeles went Calgary’s way with Miikka Kiprusoff making 28 saves for his for his fourth shutout of the season. Mike Cammalleri had the only goal early in the third period in a 1-0 victory that put the Flames in eighth place in the conference.
But while Calgary did a nice job of responding to its loss in Boston, they didn’t do a very good job of responding to its first appearance in the playoff picture. Three nights later, it seemed like another Flames’ victory was a sure thing, seeing as who their opponent was going to be. Calgary had won all four previous meetings with the Edmonton Oilers and had won nine consecutive Battle of Alberta tilts, so why wouldn’t the Flames win on February 21st?
They wouldn’t win because one team had other ideas. Being inside the Oilers locker room that morning, there was a clear focus on ending an embarrassing streak in this once strong rivalry. Edmonton knew the playoffs weren’t happening, but sending a message to their provincial rivals was very much what the aim was. That message was received loud and clear.
After skating circles around Calgary for much of the opening frame, the Oilers found themselves down 1-0 late into the first period with Scott Hannan putting the Flames ahead. I still wonder how frustration would have manifested itself had Edmonton trailed after 20, because they had played so well and seemingly weren’t going to be rewarded for it. That is, until Jordan Eberle took matters into his own hands with 72 seconds remaining in the period. Eberle’s 26th of the season gave the Oilers the reward they deserved, and they built off it in impressive fashion.
After putting 17 shots on the Calgary net in the first period, Edmonton would fire 17 more in the middle frame and they’d see those pucks go in on a much more frequent basis. The Oilers would score four in the second and once more in the third to come away with a 6-1 victory, their first against the Flames since October of 2010. Calgary would lose four consecutive to finish off the month of February.
March was the month that sparked some of the most excitement of the season for the Flames, and also gave way to some of the biggest disappointments. An up-and-down third month of 2012 was a microcosm of what was an inconsistent season for Calgary. March sure did start with a bang, however.
With the injury bug taking a large toll on the Flames’ roster, the team had started to run thin on AHL replacements. So, with the ability to look to the Western Hockey League for an emergency recall available, Calgary called on their most exciting prospect in years on March 7th. In the midst of a 94 point season (in just 47 games) with the Portland Winterhawks, the Flames brought 2011 first round pick Sven Baertschi into the fold for a five game stretch.
Baertschi’s early introduction to the NHL was a successful one. Calgary won four of the five games he played in while the dynamic Swiss sniper scored in three-consecutive games. Baertschi ignited excitement about the future of the Flames unseen in a long time with his performance, but everyone knew his stint was temporary.
All good things must come to an end, and this fairytale ended with another loss to the Oilers. Riding a five game win streak, and back in a playoff spot once again, the Flames rolled into Rexall Place on March 16th and lost in unimpressive fashion. Unlike their home loss to Edmonton the month prior, this game didn’t see their opponent skating circles around the Flames. The Oilers were good, but Calgary played one of their most uninspired games of the season and mounted but a whimper in a 3-1 loss.
The loss in Edmonton was the true beginning of the end for the Flames, as it started a stretch where the Flames lost eight of nine games en route to being officially eliminated from playoff contention. The team was thoroughly dismantled 3-0 on March 28th by the LA Kings before being put out of their misery on the final day of March in Vancouver. Needing two points to keep miniscule postseason hopes alive, Calgary fell 3-2 in overtime at Rogers Arena with Andrew Ebbett sealing their fate in the extra frame. The final day of March was also the final meaningful game of the season for the Flames.
Calgary played two games in April with the only highlights coming from Akim Aliu. Called up for the final two contests of the season, the Abbotsford Heat reclamation project made quite the impression. Aliu had two goals (both scored in the season finale against Anaheim) and three points in his brief stint, but did more than just help the Flames on the scoresheet. Aliu got under the skin of opponents on the Canucks and Ducks unlike anyone had done all season long, adding an element sorely missed in Calgary’s game. Far too often during the 2011-2012 season, the Flames had gone far too quietly into the night when faced with adversity. Aliu seemed to be a guy who wouldn’t let that happen.
April was more notable for what happened off the ice, however. Five days after their season ending 5-2 win over Anaheim, Calgary mutually parted ways with Head Coach Brent Sutter after three seasons on April 12th. Sutter went 118-90-38 behind the Flames bench but failed to lead his team to the playoffs. The search for Sutter’s replacement would end up taking more than a month-and-a-half.
Calgary would find their new Head Coach in May, but made a rather interesting acquisition a few weeks before announcing their new bench boss. On May 2nd, the Flames announced the seemingly innocuous signing of Czech forward Roman Cervenka. In the days following the signing, it would become a little more clear why Cervenka was given the maximum allowable on an entry level contract.
A good number of teams were bidding for Cervenka’s services after seeing him score 54 goals in two seasons with Omsk in the KHL. The Flames believe bringing him into the fold was somewhat of a coup, and have top six expectations for Cervenka if and when a season starts. There’s one big question, though. Will a season start? And if it doesn’t, will Calgary retain Cervenka’s services if his one year contract expires?
The final day of May finally saw the Flames hire a new Head Coach, and it was filled by a man who had been mentioned right from the get-go. Bob Hartley was an automatic candidate for the job thanks to his previous association with General Manager Jay Feaster, dating back to their time in Hershey of the American Hockey League.
Fresh off a Swiss League title with Zurich, Hartley scored his third NHL coaching job with Calgary after four years away from the NHL. His two prior stops did see measured success. In parts of five seasons with the Colorado Avalanche, Hartley lead a star studded squad to a Stanley Cup and three appearances in the Western Conference Final. He spent parts of five seasons with Atlanta and still remains the only Head Coach to lead a team to the playoffs in the history of the Thrashers/Jets.
So how will Hartley do in the NHL after four years away? Darryl Sutter proved that an extended period away from coaching won’t necessarily have a negative affect.
The month of June is usually all about the NHL Draft, and that was very much the case for Calgary. On June 22nd, with the 14th overall selection at the Draft in Pittsburgh the Flames would select…nobody. Instead, Calgary moved down to 21st overall in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres that saw the Flames acquire a pick in the second round, where they didn’t have a pick prior.
At number 21, Calgary would draft forward Mark Jankowski out of Stanstead College High School in Quebec. The selection outraged many Flames fans who had seen names like Cody Ceci, Teuvo Teravainen, and Olli Maatta go ahead of their selection. A team in need of a new direction selecting a relatively unknown out of Quebec prep school was not something that sat well with many supporters.
Calgary, however, was bullish on their selection. The Flames believe Jankowski could be the steal of the Draft. The Flames like his skill, vision, and frame and view him as a longer term pick who may be further away from the NHL than others selected in the first round. Now playing his first season at Providence College, Jankowski has eight points in 14 games.
Calgary selected seven players overall in Pittsburgh: defenceman Patrick Sieloff (2nd round, 42nd overall); goalie Jon Gillies (3rd round, 75th overall); defenceman Brett Kulak (4th round, 105th overall); Ryan Culkin (5th round, 124th overall); Coda Gordon (6th round, 165th overall); and Matt DeBlouw (7th round, 186th overall).
Just a few days after returning from Pittsburgh, the Flames made a free agent splash just days before the frenzy was set to begin. Calgary sent defenceman Jordan Henry and a 2013 5th round pick to the Washington Capitals in exchange for pending unrestricted free agent defenseman Dennis Wideman. Shortly after the acquisition, the Flames would announce a new 5 year, $26.25 million dollar deal for their newest player.
Wideman comes to the Flames after just over a season with the Capitals; he had 46 points in 82 games during 2011-2012. Wideman’s best season came with the Boston Bruins in 2008-2009 when he put up 50 points. The former Sabres 8th round pick is expected to give a boost to Calgary’s power play and help solidify their top four along with Mark Giordano, Jay Bouwmeester, and Chris Butler.
Canada Day saw teams like the Dallas Stars make huge splashes in unrestricted free agency, but also saw the Flames remain very silent. July 2nd, however, was a different story. After going through day one of free agency without signing a contract, slick Czech forward Jiri Hudler would sign a 4 year, $16 million deal with Calgary after spending his first six NHL seasons with Detroit.
Hudler adds more skill to the Flames top six after putting up 50 points in his last season with Detroit. He’s a slick playmaker and comes from an organization where winning is the only expectation. Maybe an infusion of that type of attitude is exactly what the doctor ordered in Calgary.
Highlights, and lowlights, seem to drop off after the summertime. Now, with 2012 about to go in the books, the hope is that this same submission in one year’s time goes all the way to December.