Why the NHL should copy baseball’s playoff format

Ronnie Shuker
(Photo by Noah Graham/NHL)

If the NHL playoffs were similar in spirit to Major League Baseball’s, there’s a good chance the Los Angeles Kings wouldn’t have won the Stanley Cup in 2012. They would’ve had to play the Calgary Flames in a one-game showdown just to get into the playoffs and probably would’ve lost.

More on that later, but first to the matter at hand.

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THN’s 2014-15 NHL season preview: Calgary Flames

The Hockey News
Johnny Gaudreau and Joe Colborne of the Calgary Flames. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)

2013-14 record: 35-40-7

Acquisitions: Devin Setoguchi, Jonas Hiller, Mason Raymond, Deryk Engelland, Brandon Bollig

Departures: Shane O’Brien, T.J. Galiardi, Chris Butler, Joey MacDonald, Blair Jones, Mike Cammalleri

Top five fantasy options: Jiri Hudler, Mark Giordano, Sean Monahan, Mason Raymond, Mikael Backlund

Boom, Bust and Bottom Line: The best, worst and most likely scenario
Boom: Even though the Flames were fourth worst in the league last season, Calgary fans were patient and rallied behind the rebuild because for the first time in a decade, there’s skillful youth coming through the system.

Sean Monahan made the grade as a 19-year-old, T.J. Brodie emerged as a top-two defender and Mikael Backlund, Joe Colborne and Karri Ramo made positive strides.
Expectations are high for Johnny Gaudreau, who lit up college hockey with 80 points in 40 games to win the Hobey Baker Award, Sam Bennett, who was selected fourth overall (though he’s not guaranteed to make the team as an 18-year-old) and Tyler Wotherspoon, who has a top-seven spot on the blueline. And soon there will be Sven Baertschi, Markus Granlund and Emile Poirier.

The Flames are still outmatched by most teams in all areas, but expectations are realistic. The fans know there will be another top-five pick in the pipeline a year from now.

Bust: Most prognosticators have the Flames finishing among the bottom three teams, so there’s not a lot of busting that could happen that would surprise or disappoint fans. Still, question marks remain.

What if Monahan struggles in an increased role in his sophomore season and can’t match the 22 goals he scored in 2013-14? What if the loss of proven scorers Mike Cammalleri and Lee Stempniak dries up the offense and the young forwards spin their wheels? What if small-man Gaudreau just can’t handle the size of the NHL? What if Baertschi is another Swiss miss? What if the career seasons for Mark Giordano and Backlund in 2013-14 were aberrations?

Calgary will need a lot of standout performances if it’s going to avoid finishing in the bottom five again. But if the Flames remain among the cellar dwellers, we can’t really call that a bust. For a team with low expectations, the worst-case scenario is finishing just outside the playoffs and missing out on a prime draft position.

Bottom Line: If things go better than expected in Calgary, the Flames will miss out on one of Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel or Noah Hanifin as top prospects in the 2015 draft, but still miss the playoffs. If the Flames predictably struggle, they’ll add another high pick blue-chipper to the prospect stable. Expect Calgary to grind out a lot of close games under well-liked coach Bob Hartley, keeping in mind that most of those matches will be losses.

Prospect to watch: Flames GM Brad Treliving said he’d be “shocked” if No. 4 overall pick Sam Bennett made the team out of camp, so we’ll turn our attention to Gaudreau. A super scorer with Boston College for three years, Gaudreau comes with high expectations. Flames fans would like to see him at least contend for the Calder Trophy this season and provide a glimmer of hope that Sean Monahan did last season. Gaudreau played one game for the Flames at the end of last season and scored a goal.

THN’s Prediction for 2014-15: Seventh in Pacific Division


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Contributors: Brian Costello, Rory Boylen

Calgary prospects Gaudreau and Bennett dream about the future

Ryan Kennedy
Johnny Gaudreau's impressive pre-season has him shooting up the fantasy draft rankings, including THN's. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)

Not a lot of wins have come out of Alberta in recent years, but at least there is hope in both markets. Edmonton has toiled for years and had the more high-profile rebuild, but Calgary is quickly putting together a nice coterie of players as well.

Sean Monahan has already made a dent in the NHL and two other names are poised to join him up front on the Flames sooner than later: Johnny Gaudreau and Sam Bennett.

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Mark Giordano says breakout was about confidence, not stats

Matt Larkin
Mark Giordano

We still have a month left of summer, but you wouldn’t know it standing face to face with Mark Giordano. He’s in great shape, and he has great posture. He’s alert, almost bouncing on his heels. He very much looks ready to play NHL games today.

He’s enjoyed the usual hockey player off-season, full of golf – more than he’d like, considering he was free to hit the links in April – and visiting family. But Giordano, 30, says all the activities designed to get his mind off the game are winding down now.

“At this point of the summer, now you’re getting those butterflies, because you know camp is coming back,” he said.

Back to that exemplary posture of his. He’s by no means cocky, but he has a quiet confidence about him. He doesn’t look like someone just one year into life as an NHL captain. That or it’s simply clear the Calgary Flames made the right choice.

He says his life hasn’t changed too much since the ‘C’ was stitched onto his jersey for the start of 2013-14, that he simply leads by example, and that he believes young players look up to that more than anything. After all, Giordano says, that’s what he always did in his early years in the NHL.

“Lead by example” has become a classic hockey cliché in this era of captain by committee, but Giordano sure seems to back up what he says. His first season as captain was the best of his career. His 14 goals and 47 points were career highs, and he hit those marks despite missing 18 games. He still ranked sixth and 11th among NHL blueliners in those two categories, higher when you exclude Brent Burns, who played forward last year but was listed among D-men. Pro-rate Giordano’s totals over 82 games and he’d have 18 goals and 60 points. Only Erik Karlsson and Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith averaged more points per game. Giordano finished 10th in Norris voting (with one first-place vote), and would’ve been higher if advanced statistics carried more weight on the ballot. Giordano’s Corsi was the best in the NHL relative to who he played with and who he played against.

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Rumor Roundup: Flyers need help on the blueline, but don’t expect it to come soon

(Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)

The state of the Philadelphia Flyers defense core remains a troubling issue. They’ve lacked a true top-two defenseman since Chris Pronger’s career was ended by injury nearly three years ago. They attempted to address that issue in July of 2012 by signing Nashville Predators captain Shea Weber to an expensive offer sheet, but the Predators swiftly matched it.

Former GM Paul Holmgren attempted to bolster the overall blueline depth, acquiring Luke Schenn, Mark Streit and Andrew MacDonald via trade and free agency. None of them, however, can fill Pronger’s skates.

The Flyers underwent a front-office shakeup this spring when Ron Hextall took over as GM. Despite Hextall’s stated preference for building from within, rumor-mongers believe the Flyers still seek a stud defenseman, linking them to Winnipeg Jets blueliner Zach Bogosian. Read more

The oral history of the 1989 Stanley Cup champion Calgary Flames: Part Two

Adam Proteau
Flames Oral History

In 1989, the Calgary Flames and Montreal Canadiens competed in the Stanley Cup Final. It was one of the rare occasions the NHL’s two best regular-season teams collided in the championship round and the recent history between the two franchises – they had clashed in the Final two years prior, with the Habs emerging victorious – ratcheted up the tension before the series began. This time, however, the victor was different: Calgary won in six games and clinched the Cup on the road – the first time the storied Canadiens were ever defeated on home ice.

The Hockey News spoke to a selection of players and management members from that 1988-89 Flames team for an oral history of the 1989 Final – the last series to feature two Canadian squads squaring off for the Cup:

(This is part two of the Flames Oral History. To read part one, click here.)

GAMES FOUR AND FIVE: TURNING TABLES

The Flames were in the same position after three games in 1989 as they were in 1986: trailing the Habs two games to one and facing a crucial Game 4 in Montreal. Three years earlier, they lost the final two games. But their 4-2 win over the Canadiens May 21 – featuring two goals from Mullen and one from Gilmour – breathed new life into the dressing room and evened the Final at two games apiece.

By this point, the series began to burnish the legends of particular players in the Flames’ dressing room. Although Calgary could boast of employing future stars Joe Nieuwendyk and Gary Roberts (who both were in their early twenties), the 1989 Final was about the emergence of Gilmour and MacInnis, both of whom were just 25 years old and entering the prime of Hall of Fame careers.

TERRY CRISP Everybody always talks about Al MacInnis and his cannon shot. Yes, Al MacInnis had a cannon, but he also had a big pump step–around. He had a snapshot. He had a wrist shot. He could find either Nieuwendyk or Mullen for a tip-in or a one–timer off to the side. He was like a football quarterback. He had it all. Read more

The oral history of the 1989 Stanley Cup champion Calgary Flames: Part One

Adam Proteau
Flames oral history

In 1989, the Calgary Flames and Montreal Canadiens competed in the Stanley Cup Final. It was one of the rare occasions the NHL’s two best regular-season teams collided in the championship round and the recent history between the two franchises – they had clashed in the Final two years prior, with the Habs emerging victorious – ratcheted up the tension before the series began. This time, however, the victor was different: Calgary won in six games and clinched the Cup on the road – the first time the storied Canadiens were ever defeated on home ice.

The Hockey News spoke to a selection of players and management members from that 1988-89 Flames team for an oral history of the 1989 Final – the last series to feature two Canadian squads squaring off for the Cup:

PROLOGUE TO THE FINAL

For the second year in a row, the Flames had finished the regular season with the NHL’s top record. In 1988, they’d won their first-round series against the Kings, only to be swept by the Edmonton Oilers in the Smythe Division final. Two years earlier, they’d made it to the first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history, falling to the Montreal Canadiens in five games.

But in 1989 – their second year with Terry Crisp as head coach – the Flames proved a more resilient squad. And they had to be right away; In their opening-round series against Vancouver (a team that finished with 43 fewer points in the standings that season), Calgary lost key defenseman Gary Suter in the first game with a broken jaw, then found themselves pushed to the brink of elimination as the Canucks forced a heart-stopping seventh game – and overtime – and yet managed to move on thanks to astounding goaltending from Mike Vernon and the series-winning goal that banked in off Joel Otto’s skate.

TERRY CRISP, HEAD COACH We really dodged a bullet in that first round. You’re that close to being gone and maybe never getting another crack at it. When I look back, I think there must have been a divine destiny somewhere in the first round, because Vancouver took us right to the wall.

CLIFF FLETCHER, GENERAL MANAGER The pressure of the first round nearly did us in. We weren’t the hockey team we had been over the course of the regular season. We were very fortunate to win that series. Mike Vernon had to make three outstanding saves before we managed to shovel a goal late in the first overtime.

AL MACINNIS, DEFENSEMAN If Mike doesn’t make those saves, we don’t move on. But when we got by Vancouver, that’s when I think that pressure was relieved from us, and we felt just felt that, ‘Man, we’re really on our way.’ After that, we lost three games total in the next three series.

TERRY CRISP After that, the guys just put it into gear and away we went. Read more

The Kevin Hayes sweepstakes are about to heat up

)Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images Sport)

If Kevin Hayes doesn’t sign with Chicago by Aug. 15, he’ll be this summer’s version of Justin Schultz and become a UFA.

A first-round pick of the Blackhawks in 2010, Hayes is a playmaking power forward who had a terrific senior season at Boston College with 27 goals and 65 points in 40 games. He’s not keen to sign with Chicago because the Blackhawks are so deep on the right wing, both at the NHL level and in terms of prospects. He’ll surely get a rookie max deal regardless.

Hayes, 22, probably has a short list of three teams:

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