In Canada Sports Betting’s second NHL Back to the Futures segment, the Wingman focusses on Canadian ongoings, with a particular focus on the Calgary Flames.
The Wingman also presents the first award for Canadian of the Week, or #COW. The Canadian of the Week is a prize given to our home and native land’s most recent standout performer.
You’ll have to watch the segment to find out who wins the first award of its kind, but Sidney Crosby, Patrice Bergeron and Jonathan Bernier are all in the running after exceptional weeks.
The Wingman then delves into which Canadian teams have a viable shot of winning the 2018 Stanley Cup. Unfortunately, four Canadian outfits – Canucks, Oilers, Senators, Canadiens – are all but out of futures contention.
That leaves the Maple Leafs, Jets and Flames vying for the Holy Grail, and Canadian supremacy. Headlining Calgary for this edition, the Wingman goes into what chance the Flames have of making a playoff run, where they’ve been successful and what needs to improve in the latter stages of the season.
Are the Flames viable Stanley Cup underdog picks?
He surmises that the Flames are a superb underdog futures pick if Mike Smith continues standing on his head, particularly in unfriendly confines. Calgary’s number one has the best save percentage (.945) on the road in the NHL and was just named one of the league’s stars of the week.
Teammate Johnny Gaudreau, who led the league with eight points in four games, also earned the plaudit, joining Smith as a star of the week.
Defenceman Dougie Hamilton is tearing through the opposition like a sharp skate rips apart soft ice. A major part of Calgary’s recent success, Hamilton has scored three game winners during the current winning streak.
If Hamilton and Gaudreau, both of whom endured a miserable series against Anaheim in the 2016-17 playoffs, maintain their current level of play, Calgary is an excellent outsider pick going into the postseason.
Even more important, though, is Smith’s performances between the pipes. Brian Elliott failed the organization by conceding suspect goals at the most inopportune times in the four-game Anaheim sweep.
Smith was acquired from Phoenix to ensure stability at the most important position, and the veteran is thus far exceeding expectations.
He could turn out to be the piece of the puzzle Calgary has been searching for since Miikka Kiprusoff retired in 2013.
If so, the Flames could make an improbable run, one that resembles their 2004 journey to the Stanley Cup Final, hopefully though with an altogether different outcome.
Donald Trump, by claiming he’s a “stable genius” in one of his latest Twitter tirades, provided hope for everyone who thought their unfulfilled dreams were dead and buried.
I’m not going to dive into the far-reaching political implications or the absurdity of his irresponsible, petulant Tourette-style tweets.
Instead, I’m going to focus on a silver lining, the fact that Trump’s comical defence of his questionable mental state has instilled me with the belief that it’s not too late to fulfil my childhood dream of making the NHL.
Sure, I’m two months shy of my 35th birthday, a touch too old by most sane people’s reckoning. Rustiness might also be a slightly hamstringing factor, as I haven’t laced up my skates for almost a decade.
But, like Trump, my mental stability is beyond reproach, so the physical impediments are mere blips to overcome on my journey to NHL glory.
It’s going to be a long, arduous journey but I’m up for the challenge. I must be strategic, though. Figuring that knocking on Brad Treliving’s door, or showing up to the Saddledome with a pair of skates in hand wouldn’t render desirable results, I’ve ruminated ad nauseam about how best to make an unforgettable impression.
To begin what will assuredly be a lengthy, gruelling training regime, I’ve decided to start on the mental side of things. To become an NHLer, I must think like one, and to do that there is only one place to start: EA Sports’ NHL 2018.
NHL 2018 Training Camp
To loosen up and learn the basics, after a decade hiatus from playing EA’s hockey series, I suited up and hit the ice for training camp. I’d like to say it was akin to riding a bike, but that would be bald-faced lie; there were, admittedly, a few teething problems, namely learning how to tie-up an opponent on the draw. It’s slightly embarrassing, I know.
And don’t get me started on the dekes.
After a few slight hiccups, I proficiently passed all training camp requirements. Confidence brimming, it was time to showcase my newfound talent by pitting my skills against an online opponent.
My first NHL 2018 online test
I realized quickly that, like the real thing, there is absolutely no tolerance for off-puck hits. A constant stream to the penalty box eventually ended up costing me, as my opponent, the name of whom I don’t recall, scored on one of his numerous man advantages.
That halted my original game plan, inspired by the brutes and enforcers in Slap Shot, the 1977 cult hockey classic.
But I was confident that training camp fitted me with the skills needed to compete in the online NHL 2018 world without running roughshod. I was sorely mistaken. Thoroughly outplayed for the lion’s share of the game, I managed to somehow score the equalizer. The goal, as you can imagine, wasn’t pretty, but they all count.
Tied at one, I managed to take Anaheim to overtime. Like an out-of-shape athlete coming out of retirement, I started to prematurely fatigue. My sore fingers were the most immediate concern. Like an NHLer playing through injury in the Stanley Cup playoffs, I battled on, the prospect of glory increasing my pain threshold.
More surprisingly than some of Trumps’s most ridiculous tweets, I potted the winner in double overtime. I leapt off the couch, celebrating like I’d won the Stanley Cup.
After some time to reflect, I’m deathly scared of putting my 1-0 record on the line. I know a loss isn’t far away, but quitting isn’t an option.
If I’m going to eventually make the NHL, I must re-enter NHL 2018’s online universe and take on all comers.
My NHL 2018 username is New_Age_Journo, so please have mercy if we happen to meet head-to-head online.
Just keep in mind that I’m NHL-bound and on a transcendent journey, largely in part because of a single, utterly laughable Trump tweet.
The Flames fell a victory shy of winning a franchise-record 11 consecutive games in a 5-2 defeat to the Bruins, but the result isn’t dampening the team’s soaring spirit.
There is tremendous optimism in Calgary, even in the aftermath of their recent 5-2 loss.
The Flames tied a franchise record with 10 wins on the bounce when they defeated the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins in a shootout on Monday. The Flames weren’t even in Calgary the last time a 10-game-winning streak was strung together.
The last time such a streak was achieved was in 1978, when the franchise was known as the Atlanta Flames.
Sure, lengthy winning streaks are more commonplace in today’s NHL, but this upstart Flames unit should be exceedingly proud of what they accomplished.
Had it not been for a rusty Chad Johnson, who started in place of the unwell Brian Elliott, I could be talking about history being made in Calgary last night. Johnson, prior to the Bruins defeat, last started in a 4-2 win in Florida on Feb. 24.
That’s a long time to sit on the pine. And boy oh boy did it show. It was as if Johnson had awoken from an extended winter hibernation.
He was culpable for two of Boston’s goals, the first of which was scored by David Pastrnak. Pastrnak burst down the wing and snuck an innocuous shot through Johnson’s five-hole.
The second came from a center ice backhand dump in. Johnson flubbed his attempt to control and Brad Marchand, the league’s hottest scorer, was the lucky recipient of the netminder’s unintentional generosity.
You’re only as good as your weakest link
The Flames, barring last night’s disappointing result, have a lot to be excited about. There is a multitude of reasons for the Flames recent success, none of which are more important than Brian Elliott’s transformation.
Elliott endured a rough start to his Calgary career, losing his first three starts in a Flames uniform. Things didn’t get much better for the 31-year-old netminder, who went on an eight-game losing streak in the inchoate stage of the season. Elliott had an unenviable 8-13-2 record to start his Flames tenure.
But anyone who understands hockey had reason to believe Elliott would turn it around. And turn it around he did. Elliott has won nine on the bounce and is 13-1-1, enjoying a .936 save percentage and a 1.93 GAA in his last 15 decisions.
Those numbers put him among the NHL’s élite netminders.
But Elliott’s success is just one of the innumerable reasons why the Flames have the best record, 15-2-1, in the last 18 games.
Rewind back to Jan. 24 when the Flames were embarrassed in a 5-1 trouncing away to Montreal. Flames coach Glen Gulutzan was not amused, his comments in the aftermath underpinning what he thought of his team’s anemic display.
“We were pathetic,” Gulutzan said in the post-game press conference.
“It was a pathetic display, No bite-back. No kick-back. Just accept it, right down. Our top guys didn’t do anything.
“We need somebody to step up.”
His words had their desired effect and galvanized the entire Flames squad. Since that defeat, the Flames are 15-3-1.
The Flames’ young offensive core
The Flames young, dynamic offensive core might be the most promising feature of this current, trailblazing team. Calgary’s offensive core is the second youngest in the league. At an average age of just over 25 years, the Flames, if they can keep this lively and energized unit intact, have a prodigious future to look forward to.
Johnny Gaudreau had a frustrating start to the 2016-17 season, the highest paid Flames player endured a run of just one goal in 20 games.
Gulutzan at one point demoted the diminutive star to the fourth line. But like most of his teammates, Gaudreau is back on the right track. A nightmare to play against, Gaudreau is once again at his elusive best, playing like a firefly possessed.
The Flames are enjoying balanced scoring from all four lines, but the Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Micheal Ferland line have picked up the most slack. They’re once again the team’s top line, both in name and practice.
And let’s not forget about the Matthew Tkachuk, Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik triumvirate. If not for this line carrying the team during the nascent part of the season, the Flames wouldn’t be in the playoff place they find themselves in.
The Michael Stone acquisition
Calgary’s general manager should also take a bow for his part in strengthening the squad.
In an astute piece of business, Brad Treliving masterminded the deal that brought defenceman Michael Stone to Calgary for third and fifth-round draft picks.
As if the Flames needed another Michael on the team. But this Michael has paid immediate dividends.
Stone has yet to lose since arriving in Calgary, the 26-year-old is 8-0 while patrolling the Flames’ blue line. He has missed the last three games due to an upper body injury, so the entire city awaits his return with bated breath.
With the playoffs less than a month away, this team have come into their own at the opportune time. You’d be hard pressed to find a Western Conference team excited about a prospective first-round matchup with the Flames.
Channeling their boundless energy and honing in on their fearless bravado, this team is firing on all cylinders.
Flames fans are starved for success as they haven’t seen their beloved team lift Lord Stanley for almost 30 years.
But the current excitement in the city is palpable, and it’s seems like the start of something special in Calgary.
Other NHL teams would be best served to stand up and take notice.
(This piece originally appeared on Flame for Thought.Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
After recently attending two Calgary Flames games – including the home opening 5-4 defeat to the Vancouver Canucks – the city of the 1989 Stanley Cup champions has been set alight at the prospect of the vibrant and fearless new-look outfit.
The Flames, through the first five games of the season, remain undefeated in regulation and boast a 3-0-2 record, which is good for a share – with five other teams – of second place in the Western Conference. But we all know the standings at this inchoate stage of a campaign are about as meaningless as an NHL All-Star game.
Sure, there is bound to be teething pains for this crew of energetic spark plugs. So first let’s run through the dark and gloomy: Calgary, allowing 17 against, is profusely bleeding goals, having the sixth worst goals against average; a squeamish 66.7 per cent penalty kill success rate is good for fourth worst, and in both losses the Flames have squandered multiple goal leads, maybe the most glaring of follies.
Lucky for Flames fanatics, the good most definitely outweighs the bad. Scoring in prolific fashion, Calgary sits in sixth spot on the NHL table with 3.60 goals per game. More impressive, though, is how threatening and venomous the team looks on attack thanks to a refreshing can-do attitude from the players and coaching staff.
And Flames supporters are absolutely loving it. The Scotiabank Saddledome’s atmosphere reached fever pitch for the home opener versus the arch-nemesis Canucks. Most fans get ramped up for home openers, but the ambiance inside the ‘Dome exceeded all expectations. Finally, the proverbial sixth man played its part.
Head coach Bob Hartley has implemented compulsory team skates on game day, nullifying any chance of complacency. Rookie Sean Monahan, who turned 19 on Oct. 12 (Happy birthday you old geezer), has started like a flame on an accelerant with four goals and two assists in his first five games in the big show. Heaven forbid the organization sends its sixth overall pick in the 2013 NHL entry draft back down to the juniors after his nine-game threshold. The squad doesn’t have enough depth to contemplate that scenario.
Most rousing is the camaraderie showcased by this upstart unit. Players are fighting for one another and their on-ice performances prove that. Few analysts and broadcasters have given the Flames any chance of making the playoffs.
And while the improbable feat may still just be out of Calgary’s grasp, I bet would-be experts may hold their tongues for a little while longer. The lion’s share of pundits, due to Calgary’s obvious inexperience, still expect the Flames to be doused and starved of oxygen in games to come.
But an impressionable team swelling with confidence and having everything to play for may yet raise some eyebrows in press boxes and locker rooms across the league.
Columbus, by drubbing the Flames 5-1, dealt Calgary their ninth consecutive road loss, the second worst away record (3-9-2) in the league.
Losses to Columbus, Nashville, Dallas, Anaheim, Colorado, Minnesota, Phoenix and back-to-back defeats to the Kings have all but negated any Flames’ playoff aspirations. The team has offered little hope to Flames’ faithful, being outscored 38-15 during the franchise’s longest road losing skid.
Outshooting their opponents in only two games, while allowing four goals or more in seven of nine encounters leaves a casual onlooker stammering in disbelief. Bleeding goals away from the friendly confines of the Saddledome, however, is nothing foreign for Bob Hartley’s inherited squad, whose 52 conceded road goals is the league’s fourth most.
Only lowly Nashville trumps Calgary in the Western Conference, having allowed 57 away tallies. The aforementioned stat is somewhat misleading, though, as the Flames have played four less away games than their Music City counterparts.
Only the Colorado Avalanche, with two road victories, have amassed fewer road wins in the abbreviated 2012-13 campaign.
Even Calgary’s recent dominant home form – six wins on the skip – is not enough to offset the club’s abysmal away showings.
Unless Calgary strings together a Penguins-like winning streak (I’m not sure stranger things have happened), Mikka Kiprusoff and company will invariably find themselves with another extended offseason.
Many questions remain unanswered, two of which are bound to ignite heated debate in forthcoming weeks: What team, other than Calgary, will Jerome Iginla suit up for come deadline day? And, when will fickle Flames fans (you know who you are) fall off the chuckwagon and become disillusioned with their faltering franchise?
The 2011-2012 Los Angeles Kings should pay homage to the NHL’s 2004 lockout rule changes, as the Holy Grail-lifting outfit scraped and clawed their way into last season’s playoffs on the back of 15 overtime/shootout losses.
That’s not, in any way shape or form, meant to diminish the Kings’ accomplishment. Their breathtaking late-season form saw the lads from LA LA Land manhandle all comers en route to an unprecedented 10-1 playoff away record.
Implemented to amp excitement, four-on-four overtime sessions and subsequent decisive shootouts have unarguably transformed, in certain arenas, docile fans into ravenous bloodthirsty fanatics. Tearing them from their glutinous, imprinted seats, supporters have found reason to stand, scream, shout and let it all out. (My sincerest apologies for referencing the latest Britney Spears song.)
But other than elevated fan interest, have the tiebreaker rule changes made a staggering difference to the league and the complexion of its playoff picture?
Until last year not earthshakingly so, but exceptions still warrant a closer look.
Five other teams, in addition to the 2011-2012 Stanley-Cup winning Kings, would have been forced to hit the links before the puck dropped on their respective playoff campaigns had it not been for the consolation point’s 2005 introduction: The 2005-2006 Edmonton Oilers (the only other finalist), the 2006-2007 New York Islanders, the 2006-2007 Calgary Flames, the 2007-2008 Boston Bruins and the 2011-2012 Southeast division champion Florida Panthers.
The aforementioned six teams, however, may have radically altered their strategy during overtime, perhaps ineffectively employing a run-and-gun style in search of an invaluable bonus point.
Tactically and hypothetically speaking, it’s easy to find value in pining for regulation draws, especially away from home. It guarantees both teams a point, which could eventually be enough to pole-vault a tenuously positioned squad into the postseason.
At closer look, however, trends before and after the infamous 2004 lockout are rather indistinguishable, rebuking the play-for-a-regulation-draw sentiment.
According to NHL.com, an average of 284 games in the seven seasons prior to the 2004 lockout went into overtime, compared to 288 games in as many post-lockout seasons.
Word on the street suggests some traditional hockey puritans irrefutably loath the tiebreaking amendments, while other more contemporary fans relish the pulsating, high-octane on-ice product. Regardless of which side of the fence you may sit, the Kings, as disconcerting and sacrilegious as it may sound, owe Gary Bettman and his revenue-hungry litigious crew a sip, albeit a brief one, from Lord Stanley’s Cup.