As an avid hockey fan for decades, there were only 2 teams in the National Hockey League that I could say that I “hated”.
One was the Montreal Canadiens who were an arrogant, swaggering bunch that were able to use all manner of subterfuge to win the Stanley Cup almost every season when I was growing up.
Despite being a Calgary native who later moved to Edmonton and lived through the Oilers’ glory days, the other team I couldn’t abide was the Flames.
Most often the Oilers and Flames were odds on favourites to win the cup and, as you know, most often the Oilers prevailed.
However, in the wake of the continuing ineptitude of the Kevin Lowe regime in Edmonton, I’ve become a “free agent fan”, spending my time following teams that are the antithesis of the Oilers’ bumbling.
This season…I have to admit I am cheering like mad for none other than the Calgary Flames!
I’ve watched pretty much every Flames game this season and have to say the brand of hockey they play is fast, hardworking and relentless in the belief that the team can win every game.
Last night, on the heels of a win over the San Jose Sharks, the Flames went into the Staples Centre in Los Angeles in pursuit of their 3rd straight win over the Kings.
By the end of the 2nd period, the Kings had outshot the Flames 27-9 (although the play was much closer than the shot count) but the score was 0-0.
Jarret Stoll scored for the Kings halfway through the 3rd period but the Flames cranked up the intensity, tied the game last and then Dennis Wideman scored in OT to give the Flames a 3-2 win.
The game drove home several points that I think bear mention.
The Flames never take a shift off.
When discussing the Flames D, everyone gushes about Giordano and Brodie (deservedly) but decree the Flames depth on the back end. But that’s just not realistic. Both Dennis Wideman (12G 15A 27P) and Kris Russell (17A) are accomplished puck moving defensemen who provide offence from the back end and hold their own in the D zone.
As an acute observer of all things Oiler, I think it also bears mentioning that the Flames top 4 D is outscoring the Oilers’ top 4 forwards line by a wide margin.
Here’s how they rank by points:
Giordano – 39
Brodie – 29
Wideman – 27
Russell – 17
Total – 112 points
Hall – 29
Eberle – 28
Purcell – 19
Total – 103 points
You’ll note, of course, that the Oilers best weapon on D, the defensively challenged Justin Schultz does not appear in the top 4 and he has only 1 more point than the Flames 4th best D, Kris Russell.
And then, there is the comparison among forwards which, really is not much of a comparison.
Jiri Hudler has 39 points, rookie Johnny Gaudreau has 34, sophomore Sean Monohan has 29 after a very slow start and even relative grey beard Curtis Glencross is in the Hall/Eberle/Hopkins range with 26.
That’s balanced scoring folks and it’s no wonder the Flames are 22 points ahead of the Oilers.
Many Oiler fans like to blame their goaltending for their woeful season and it has been a factor but, let’s be honest, the Oilers “best” players have been awful.
Lots of talk over at Lowetide today about the Oilers “cluster” not being good enough and I think , based on the available evidence, they certainly aren’t.
As painful as that may be for Oiler fans to hear, it’s likely true and it bears repeating that Calgary, while being a better team now also has a much better prospect pool going forward.
The other issue looking ahead is that the Flames have the lowest payroll in the league and will have a tremendous amount of cap space and flexibility in the offseason to build on what has become a very solid foundation.
I imagine Brian Burke chortles mightily when he sees the results of the Oilers failed scorched earth rebuild since the chances of the Oilers catching the Flames in the standings in the foreseeable future are somewhere between slim and none.