The Calgary Flames aren’t a good hockey team – and that’s perfectly fine

Matt Larkin
Dougie Hamilton. (Photo by Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images)

The pun-packed headline read, “Internal Combustion: Young guns look to ignite the rebuild with a culture of accountability in place.”

Affixed to the top of the page: a prediction, “7th in Pacific,” and Stanley Cup odds of 125 to 1.

It was the Calgary Flames preview in THN’s Yearbook for the start of 2014-15. Oddly enough, 412 days later, it still rings true. If you fell off your bike Oct. 8, 2014 and sustained a coma-inducing head injury, only to wake up today, the Flames would be exactly what you thought they were. You wouldn’t believe the story of Calgary’s magical 2014-15 season.

“Jiri Hudler had 76 points and won the Lady Byng? Sean Monahan scored 30 goals as a 20-year-old? Little Johnny Gaudreau became a legit NHL star as a rookie? Kris Russell set a single-season record for blocked shots? Bob Hartley won the Jack Adams? MY Flames finished third in the Pacific Division, ahead of the Los Angeles Kings? And won a playoff series? That’s it. I’m going back to bed for another year.”

It was a mind-blowing season because the Calgary Flames were so darned ahead of schedule. There was a reason they picked fourth overall at the 2014 draft, snagging future franchise player Sam Bennett: they were deep in the rebuild stage, years away from contention, slowly trying to amass prospects. Then last year happened, and everything went haywire.

Of course, we knew what the advanced statistics suggested: that Calgary was among the NHL’s luckiest teams, that it played way over its head and would regress the next season, just as the Colorado Avalanche from 2013-14 to 2014-15 and the Toronto Maple Leafs from 2012-13 to 2013-14. Bad habits come back to bite you, and the Calgary Flames had too many. They finished with 97 points despite a pitiful 5-on-5 score-adjusted Corsi For percentage of 44.2, good for 28th in the NHL. They actually regressed from 2013-14 to 2014-15. They allowed far more shot attempts than they generated. Winning was not sustainable.

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First quarter report: What’s up with the Dallas Stars and what’s wrong with Sidney Crosby?

Jamie Benn (left) and Tyler Seguin have been on some kind of tear this season. Photo by Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images)

Monday night’s NHL games marked the official passing of the first quarter of the season and like Nathan MacKinnon, time flies, doesn’t it? It seems like just yesterday we were waiting for the league to rubber stamp the Las Vegas expansion application and allow Bill Foley into the annual owners’ croquet game. We’re still waiting on that and, if Jeremy Jacobs’ comments have any merit – and they do – we’ll be waiting a lot longer.

Off the ice, that was one of the big surprises of the season so far. Between the boards, here are some of the others that have surfaced after the first quarter:

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Bernier a star? Lindros in HHOF? Norris for Phaneuf? Counting down my biggest blunders

Toronto Maple Leafs Jonathan Bernier

I had an uncle who claimed he had never been wrong. Used to insist he didn’t know how it feels to be wrong.

“Is it like an itch?” he’d joke.

Me, well I sure know how it feels to be wrong. When you are as opinionated as I am, being wrong comes with the territory.

I’ll give you a few examples:

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Who will win the NHL All-Star Game’s 3-on-3? We rank each division

Matt Larkin
Tyler Seguin, John Klingberg and Jamie Benn. (Photo by Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images)

By now you’ve probably heard the news about the NHL’s 3-on-3 All-Star Game format for 2016 in Nashville. It pits each division against each other in a four-team tournament, likely with 11-man rosters, and quite possibly with a million bucks going to the winning squad. Wow. I’ll go on the record and declare this whole idea awesome. The fantasy draft format was fun in recent years, but the All-Star Game is at its best when it keeps morphing and innovating. Good on the NHL for trying something wild, especially given the actual game’s diminished reputation. If the public perception is that the players don’t try anymore, the league has nothing to lose in changing things up.

It will be interesting to see how players react and, once all-star teams are selected, which ones will pull out to rest their bodies (sorry, but I just can’t picture Sidney Crosby suiting up. He has played in one – ONE! – All-Star Game). But, for the sake of prognostication, let’s assume all teams are equal. Which division can ice the best 3-on-3 lineup?

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Are Shero’s New Jersey Devils really a playoff team?

Ken Campbell
Travis Zajac (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Holding down the last playoff spot in a weak Eastern Conference might not be considered much of a triumph for some teams in the NHL, but when you’re the New Jersey Devils, it’s all about exceeding expectations. And the Devils are doing just that in their first season under new GM Ray Shero.

In many ways, Shero is playing with house money here. Projections for the Devils were so low and he’s had so little time to make an impact on the roster that the stink of a bad finish this season would not be sticking to him. But sometimes and organization needs to hit the Refresh button and there was not a team in the NHL that needed to do that more than the Devils. For them to be competing for a playoff spot rather than the Auston Matthews Sweepstakes – and it’s still early here – is nothing short of remarkable.

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Top 10 non-rental blockbuster trade candidates

Matt Larkin
Jeff Skinner (Gerry Thomas/NHL via Getty Images)

We’re roughly 20 percent through the 2015-16 NHL regular season. Does that mean it’s time to start taking trade scuttlebutt seriously? Maybe. The latest Patrick Marleau chatter out of San Jose suggests as much. The Sharks’ all-time leader in games, goals, assists and points would reportedly accept a trade to three teams.

The Marleau rumor is fascinating because it feels more out of nowhere than, say, an Eric Staal or Cam Ward rumor out of Carolina. The latter two players are unrestricted free agents next summer. They’ll be talked up all year as potential trade deadline rentals.

The UFAs to be are obvious choices as trade candidates, but are there any other Marleaus out there, guys with multiple years left on their contracts who could be dealt? Here are 10 non-rental names to watch in the coming months. Note how many of these players have no-trade or no movement clauses. I don’t put much stock into clauses during trade speculation. Many players who pop up in rumors have reasons to want out of their situations, and being asked to waive a clause tells a player he’s not wanted, often prompting him to comply with a trade (like Scott Hartnell in Philadelphia last summer).

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Fantasy hockey mailbag: The Panic or Don’t Panic edition, featuring Crosby, Giroux and more!

Matt Larkin
Sidney Crosby

That twisted, charred pile of skate blades, black tape and fiberglass used to be your fantasy hockey team. Alas, you WASTED your first picks on bums like Sidney Crosby, Claude Giroux, Sergei Bobrovsky and Ryan Getzlaf. You’re in last place a week and a half into your season. You’re finished. FINISHED I say!

…or maybe not. Maybe the season is half a dozen games old for most NHL teams. Maybe you have the best team in the league, and it just had an off week, the kind that would go completely unnoticed in the dog days of February.

You shouldn’t panic. Or should you? That’s the theme of 2015-16’s first fantasy mailbag. Let’s calm a few panicked poolies – and stoke the fires of a few who may be onto something. Thanks to all who tweeted me which players are making them sweat the most. I compiled a list of the most frequent names that popped up.

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THN’s 2015-16 NHL season preview: Stanley Cup, standings, and award predictions

The Hockey News
Alex Ovechkin (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Hockey is back. The 2015-16 season kicks off Wednesday night with four games, including an Original Six matchup between the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs. Also, the Chicago Blackhawks will raise another Stanley Cup banner when they host the New York Rangers.

With the new season about to begin, it’s time for some predictions. You probably won’t be surprised to hear The Hockey News staff thinks the Maple Leafs and Coyotes are last-place teams. Or that Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby will battle it out for the top individual awards. But you may be surprised by some of the other predictions, including our Stanley Cup final pick. Scroll down for all our picks, and individual team previews.

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