The Calgary Flames enjoyed a great start to the 2014-15 season before falling on hard times with their current seven-game losing streak.
Don Cherry believes the reason the Flames are sputtering heading into the New Year is because they’re not tough enough.
“Teams were terrified to go into Calgary [last season],” Cherry said. “You had [Kevin] Westgarth and you had [Brian] McGrattan and if you go in and look sideways at any of those players they would take care of you. Everybody grew.”
The Flames brought in some toughness this past summer, signing Deryk Engelland to a three-year, $8.75 million deal and acquiring Brandon Bollig via trade from Chicago. McGrattan also remains on board, playing out the final year of a two-year contract.
Injuries, inconsistencies, and the rise of some of the Flames’ younger, more skilled players have limited how much the Flames’ trio of pugilists have been used, though. That’s something Cherry says has resulted in the club’s slide down the standings of late.
“This year, when they started off, everybody coming in thought McGrattan was going to play and they thought Bollig was going to play and they were afraid. All of a sudden it got around the league that ‘you don’t have to worry about Calgary anymore, they’re not tough anymore.'”
“Last year teams were terrified to go to Calgary and now they’re not,” Cherry reiterated.
Fighting is certainly down in Calgary through 34 games.
The Flames finished the 2013-14 season in the middle of the pack with 32 majors last season. They averaged 0.39 fights per game and 10.46 penalty minutes per game. The 2013-14 Calgary Flames finished second-to-last in the Western Conference with a 35-40-7 record (77 points) and a -32 goal differential.
This season, the Flames are averaging 0.29 scraps per night and 8.41 penalty minutes. In order to reach 77 points for 2014-15 the Flames would have to go 18-25-5 (figures via sportsclubstats.com) the rest of the way, which is hardly a desirable finish.
The Flames’ provincial counterparts in Edmonton were also a target of Cherry on Saturday night. In order for the struggling Oilers to take the next step they need to get older, Cherry said.
It’s not easy being an NHL team from Alberta right now.