The two hottest teams in the NHL both currently reside in Alberta. Just as the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers were being left for dead and looking at lottery picks again, both teams have gone on their best runs of the season.
With an Oilers win on Friday night, and the Flames’ win on Saturday, both over the Rangers, each team completed perfect 5-0 homestands. Suddenly there’s hope that both teams can salvage their seasons.
Justice is swift and unmerciful in the OHL and since they’re dealing with teenaged victims, it’s probably for the best. But that’s probably cold comfort for Team Canada and Mackenzie Blackwood after the world junior goalie and Barrie Colts starter was suspended eight games by the OHL – a long enough ban to see him miss time at the world junior tournament in Finland.
The irony was inescapable. The same day the richest and most powerful men in hockey gathered to discuss concussion protocol, the family of former NHLer Steve Montador filed a lawsuit against them alleging they had not done enough to protect him from the effects of multiple concussions that led to his retirement, significant memory loss, depression, anxiety, a substance abuse issue, and, ultimately his death at the age of 35.
Had Montador not died in February, his name and not his father’s would have been the one on the lawsuit that was filed Tuesday against the NHL and the league’s board of governors today in Chicago. Montador had every intention of suing the league when he was alive, but that task and crusade is now up to his family.
If a league is only as good as its worst team, there’s never been more parity in the history of the NHL.
Heading into Monday night’s games, the Calgary Flames currently stand in 30th (and last) place with 22 points in 26 games. Never before in an NHL season has a last-place team had more than 20 points on Dec. 7, which is about the one-third mark of the season.
Two previous last-place teams in the shootout era had 20 points on Dec. 7. The 2008-09 Tampa Bay Lightning and the 2007-08 Washington Capitals were cellar-dwellers after 26 and 28 games respectively. And on three occasions last-place teams had as many as 19 points.
Parity, of course, can have a variety of definitions, but the quality of the lowest-place team is one of them. The 10-14-2 Flames have actually done OK lately. They have six straight wins on home ice and points in six of their last nine games overall.
Remarkably, Calgary is just five points out of a playoff spot with a game in hand on the Arizona Coyotes. And the Flames are within six points of a dozen other NHL teams.
Few would have realistically expected the Calgary Flames, who bucked their underlying numbers to a post-season berth in 2014-15, to compete for a Stanley Cup this season. Another playoff appearance, though, wasn’t entirely out of the question. However, through 26 games, the Flames are deeper in the race for the top selection than they are the hunt for a wild-card spot in the Western Conference.
Flames GM Brad Treliving had quite a successful off-season, too, which makes the current state of his club more concerning. His signing of Michael Frolik brought the Flames a skillful two-way winger who would help drive puck possession, even if you could argue the $4.3 million annual salary might be a slight overpayment. And few could have seen the acquisition of young defenseman Dougie Hamilton coming. Treliving prying Hamilton out of Boston to help bolster the blueline in Calgary was one of the off-season’s most surprising and heralded moves.
And it’s not as if both big name off-season moves haven’t made an impact. They have. The Flames’ shot attempts for percentage through two months has improved more than four percent from last season’s 44.5 percent figure, which was third worst in the league in 2014-15. Those are positives. So, why are the Flames struggling so mightily? Well, it doesn’t help when the team can’t get a save. Read more
Friday night’s game between the Calgary Flames and Boston Bruins had just about everything fans could ask for. The contest was back and forth, saw a penalty shot tally and a literal last-second game-tying goal. But maybe the biggest highlight came in the second frame, when Flames netminder Karri Ramo robbed Bruins winger Brett Connolly.
However, the save would have never come to be if it weren’t for an incredible move by Boston winger Brad Marchand. Coming down the left wing and defended by Flames blueliner Derek Engelland, Marchand pulled off a slick outside-inside move that undressed Engelland.
After slipping Engelland, Marchand laid a pass over to Connolly, who looked to have Ramo beat. That is until Ramo stuck out his glove and stole what would have been the go-ahead goal from Connolly: Read more
Canada’s world junior camp roster is out and there weren’t a lot of surprises. The biggest was previewed by TSN’s Bob McKenzie, who revealed on the weekend that St. Louis Blues prospect and star Providence College defenseman Jake Walman was deemed ineligible for Team USA by the IIHF. Walman is a dual citizen and will now try his luck with Canada.
“We’re excited to have him,” said Ryan Jankowski, Hockey Canada’s director of player personnel. “It gives us another element on the blueline, with his ability to score goals. He’s got a nice shot.”
Otherwise, the Canucks are once again going with just two goalies at camp – New Jersey pick Mackenzie Blackwood and Calgary prospect Mason McDonald. With no other competitors, these two can now spend camp fighting for the starter’s role. This is the third year in which Canada has gone into camp with just two netminders, but it’s not a snap decision – rather a strategic one.
“We take their whole body of work into account from the past two or three years,” Jankowski said. “Historically it’s been tough to make decisions on goalies based on the CIS (exhibition) games, so this streamlines the process.”
Canada is always deep in terms of talent, so there will be hard decisions to make, though I also believe there are plenty of roster spots yet to be locked up here, making for an interesting camp (which begins next Thursday).
With all that in mind, let’s take a look at the world of prospects, as per custom:
Heading into the American Thanksgiving long weekend, USA Today’s Kevin Allen listed six NHL players most likely to be traded this winter. The candidates are New York Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic, Carolina Hurricanes center Eric Staal, San Jose Sharks left winger Patrick Marleau, Columbus Blue Jackets center Ryan Johansen, Chicago Blackhawks blueliner Trevor Daley and Calgary Flames rearguard Dennis Wideman.
Of this group, the closest to a certainty is Hamonic. The 25-year-old requested a trade during the off-season for family reasons and Isles GM Garth Snow is trying to accommodate him. A Manitoba native, Hamonic’s preference is Winnipeg or another Western Canadian NHL city. The Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche are also possible destinations.