Calgary Flames

Credit: Bill Turianski www.billsportsmaps.com

CtA Season Preview: Northwest Division Edition

Credit: Bill Turianski www.billsportsmaps.com

Credit: Bill Turianski www.billsportsmaps.com

(Now we’ll take a look at the division the Canucks win every year in a cakewalk and managed to feature exactly one playoff team last year.)

Northwest Division

2011-2012 Standings
#1 Vancouver (111) Calgary (90) Colorado (88) Minnesota (81) Anaheim (80)

Vancouver Canucks

New guys: Jason Garrison (I wanted him), Cam Barker (you’re all horrible people for making fun), Jim Vandermeer (?) and Derek Joslin.

Gone: Samuel Pahlsson (yup, that one), Sami Salo (one ball joke) and Aaron Rome.

Not yet gone: Roberto Luongo

Young players to keep an eye on: There really isn’t a whole lot here. With injuries to guys like Ryan Kesler and David Booth, hulking winger Zach Kassian will get a shot to play in the Vancouver top six. Chicago Wolves defenseman Kevin Connauton scares the shit out of me – but at least it looks like he’s at least another season away from leaving Rosemont. Should Kesler or Booth miss more time than expected, puny 5’8 center Jordan Schroeder could be called upon to fill the void. Due to all the injuries, 2011 1st round pick Niklas Jensen will get a shot to make the roster out of camp, but that appears to be a long shot.

Outlook: Think a team with Barker and Vandermeer can’t make the playoffs? Think again. Edmonton and Minnesota aren’t pushovers anymore, sure, but the Northwest still belongs to the Canucks. Their depth looks questionable, but as soon as it *really* starts to hurt, they can pull the trigger on a Luongo deal and probably improve multiple spots. Garrison should more than make up for the loss of Sami Salo and I can’t imagine the Sedin’s letting this team nose-dive. As much as you don’t want to hear this, it looks like Vancouver probably gets home ice for at least the opening round.

Edmonton Oilers:

New guys: Nail Yakupov (clearly a cancer in the dressing room) , Justin Schultz (this guy could have played anywhere in the NHL and chose Edmonton), and Mark Fistric (became an Oiler just the other day).

Gone: Taylor Chorney.

Young players to keep an eye on: All of them. Yakupov, Schultz, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall and the list just goes on and on. All of these damn guys are probably going to be superstars (if they aren’t already) and constitute a fine young core for Edmonton. How the hell they plan on paying all these #1 picks in the future is beyond me – but that’s their problem. Should injury strike their defense, 6’3 Swede Oscar Klefbom (a fine hockey name) could see his first NHL action. 2011 2nd rounder David Musil would be another option here.

Outlook: Is this team closer to the ’07-’08 Blackhawks or the ’08-’09 Blackhawks? It’s impossible to say. Some analysts have suggested that the lockout could benefit younger teams. If that’s the case, then the Oil should be in decent sharp – even with Nikolai Khabibulin in net. In my view, the weakest area on this team is the blue line. Yes, Schultz is a great young prospect, but this isn’t a unit many teams are going to fear as they move into the Oilers zone. The offensive potential is pretty much unlimited. If the trio of #1 overall picks click right away, those defensive problems may not matter much. Edmonton is one of the tougher teams to judge this year. Could go either way. Sorry, total cop-out.

Minnesota Wild

New guys: Zach Parise (now sporting a Mr. Monopoly monocle at all times) , Ryan Suter (ditto Parise), Zenon Konopka, Jake Dowell and Torrey Mitchell.

Gone: Guillaume Latendresse, Erik Christensen and Mike Lundin.

Young players to watch: The Wild have a pool of prospects that should make any Blackhawks fan who supports realignment strongly reconsider. They are stocked pretty much everywhere. Center-icemen Mikael Backlund and Charlie Coyle, along with defenseman Jonis Brodin and Matthew Dumba, are elite prospects. While it’s unlikely any of them except Backlund (and maybe Dumba) see time in the NHL this year, all are worth keeping an eye on in the future. Guys that have seen NHL time like Brett Bulmer and Jason Zucker could be called upon again if needed. Mario Lucia, Zach Phillips, Johan Larsen and Matt Hackett round out their prospect poll. Not too shabby. In fact, it’s absolutely terrifying.

Outlook: As good as this team may one day be, expectations are probably set a little too high for this season. While you can’t blame Minnesota fans for being excited with the arrival of Parise and Konopka Suter, there are still a lot of question about this teams defensive depth and nobody knows how quickly this semi-overhauled roster will take to gel. The improvements are impossible to ignore, but this is still a team that looks scarier for what they might one day become – as opposed to what they currently are.

*We should mention that their owner, Craig Leipold, was a big driver of this lockout on the owners side. So fuck him and his team. Hating Minnesota is going to be a lot of fun.

Colorado Avalanche

New guys: PA Parenteau (the rare player who wants to leave the Islanders), Greg Zanon and John Mitchell.

Gone: Peter Mueller (getting a second chance with Dale Tallon) and Jay McClement.

Young players to keep an eye on: Colorado’s defense is a disaster, so guys like Ty Barrie, Stefan Elliott and/or Duncan Siemens could get a look once this team is out of the playoff race – which will probably be about three weeks from now. Often injured prospect Joey Hishon may finally get a look if they can’t lure back Ryan O’Reilly from Russia. Mark Olver went to Northern Michigan University, which makes him awesome.

Outlook: This team sucks and will be even suckier if they can’t re-sign O’Reilly. Sure, Gabriel Landeskog is a monster and they have a number of talented forwards, but like we mentioned already, that defense is just terrible. The goaltending behind it is almost as bad. Not a playoff team. Moving on.

Calgary Flames

New guys: Sven Bartschi (remember this name), Roman Cervenka, Dennis Wideman (contain your laughter) and Jiri Hudler (condolences to Hudler on the recent passing of his father).

Gone: Olli Jokinen (obligatory waffle gif), David Moss and Scott Hannan.

Not gone because Jay Feaster is delusional: Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff.

Young players to keep an eye on: Bartschi and Markus Granlund (coming over from Finland). The Flames also drafted John Gaudreau, but he’s a few years away. T.J. Brodie is an option on the blue line if they don’t want to torture themselves with Anton Babchuk and Corey Sarich.

Outlook: This team has some talent, yes, but still drag around entirely too much dead weight. The guys over at Hockeenight are always making fun of Flames for giving out no-trade clauses to any and all comers – and its’s completely true! It’s like this roster was carefully booby trapped to guard against any and all rebuilding efforts. Even if they wanted to give up the chasing the dragon and start over, they couldn’t do it.

Oh, and Mike Cammalleri is still a douche.

Western Conference playoff picks:

Los Angeles-St.Louis-Vancouver-Chicago-Phoenix-Detroit-Minnesota-San Jose

(That concludes the Western Conference portion of our season preview. We’ll be back in the next day or so with a look at the East.)

Recap: This Fire is Out of Control

AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jeff McIntosh

A first period goal from Olli Jokinen was not a comforting way to start the game.  It was a gorgeous slapper to the top the net that surely made some Hawks fans think, “Oh boy, here we go again.”

The Hawks responded in clutch form by knotting it up with 29 seconds left in the first period.  Patrick Kane delivered a gorgeous pass Brent Seabrook who buried it in the net to tie it up.

Last second goals like Seabrooks, are huge going into the intermission to grab some momentum back and come out strong in the second, as the Hawks did for the most part.

The Hawks played a fairly solid second period until Michael Frolik took a stupid double minor penalty with 3:24 left in the period.

Jay Bouwmeester capitalized on the back end of the power play scoring with a little over a minute left in the second.

The Hawks played a much more physical second period, going after the body and at least tried finishing their checks, which is more than they do on a typical night. More >

Brace Yourselves, There’s A Game Tonight: Blackhawks Take On Calgary

Photo: AP

I tell you, the last time I had that much fun, I was getting a barium enema. Last night’s game against Edmonton made my intestines seize up in exactly the same way. Hopefully tonight against Calgary we can maybe back off the severity to manual rectal exam.

The Flames team that we face tonight has a slightly different look than when we visited them back in November. Gone is former Blackhawks power winger Rene Bourque, and in comes former Canadiens’ center Mike Cammalleri. The impact has been minimal so far, with Cammalleri notching 2 goals in the 6 games he’s played with Calgary. Also gone is center Brendan Morrison who was traded to… well, to us! He’ll be taking on his former team for the first time tonight at the ScotiaBank Saddledome.

The Flames are chasing a playoff spot right now, sitting 5 points back of 8th-place Minnesota in the Western Conference. Calgary GM Jay Feaster is trying to make a few last-minute moves to shore up his roster for the push to the finish, though he has stated for the twelve-thousandth time that he is not trading Jarome Iginla. In case you were wondering…

More >

Welcome, Stalberg

CHARLES REX ARBOGAST / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

If you’ve even barely been paying attention to the Hawks lately, then you have undoubtedly heard of the emergence of Viktor Stalberg.

We are all surely familiar with his skating abilities and blazing speed.  Sadly, we are also familiar with his knack for poor finishing and lack of patience when shooting.  Had you mentioned Stalberg to me earlier in the season, even I would have rolled my eyes in frustration.

That all changed with his recent point streak (seven points over four games).  It seems his shooting patience and accuracy are finally catching up to his speed.  Stalberg producing, you say?  Go ahead, I’m listening.

The fairy tale, surge, or whatever you want to call it that began on December 18 with an assist against the Calgary Flames and ended last night against the Los Angeles Kings has gathered the attention of everyone from Joel Quenneville to ESPN fantasy hockey owners (myself included).

More >

Bittersweet: Boxing with ‘Hawks and Flames

(Credit: Scott Stewart, Sun-Times)

Joel Quenneville became the second-fastest coach to reach 600 career victories after the ‘Hawks beat Calgary 4-2 on Sunday at the United Center, but it may have come at the expense of losing Brent Seabrook for a period of time.

While Quenneville’s accomplishment deserves some recognition – only Scotty Bowman reached 600 quicker – it became a bit easier to come by in the era of no ties. Nevertheless, this team became what it is now with Q behind the bench. Good for him.

Beyond that, the loss of Seabrook means some more shuffling amongst the blue liners, and it comes after a ridiculously dirty hit by Rene Bourque that simply shouldn’t have happened. While Seabrook hasn’t exactly been playing his best lately, his absence is not something to sneeze at.

Hopefully when we find out more, the news won’t be too terribly bad.

I’m very tired, so we’re going to get straight to Boxing. One of us will be back in the afternoon with some further thoughts as the ‘Hawks continue a stretch of three games in four days on Tuesday.

More >

Fuel To The Fire: Blackhawks Try To Set Calgary Ablaze

Photo: AP

Has Jarome Iginla been traded yet? No? Just checking…

What about now?

It seems that whenever things go south in Calgary the entire hockey media north of the border asserts, en masse, that a deal is imminent. It’s the solution for everything — like duct tape, or chicken soup, or re-booting. Or at least, that’s what the hockey elite in Canada seem to think.

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Firestarter : Blackhawks v. Flames

The Flames actually wore this abomination on their uniforms once.

Remember a few years ago when the Calgary looked like they were going to become a big rival of the Blackhawks? The Hawks faced the Mike Kennan-led Flames in their first playoff series since 2002 in the opening round of the 2008-2009 postseason. The series (which the Hawks won 4-2) started with Marty Havlat scoring just 12 seconds into overtime in Game 1 and ended with the Hawks knocking out the Flames 4-1 in Calgary in Game 6.  The Hawks went on to lose in the Western Conference final that year to Detoilet but won the Stanley Cup the following season.  They have appeared in 7 playoff series since defeating the Flames. Calgary has not been to the postseason since – their last postseason goal was scored by criminal Todd Bertuzzi. Sucks to be them.

Yup, it’s been all downhill for the Flames since that point and things aren’t getting any better. Jarome Iginla continues to be one of the best hockey players of all-time, yet is still inexplicably surrounded by dogshit. One of the great mysteries of all time will be why the Flames never got this man a true center to play with.  The Flames are 6-7-1 coming into the game tonight and are coming off a 3-0 loss to a surprisingly good Minnesota Wild team. Nothing about this Flames team is special (except Iginla), their PK is right in the middle of the pack and their PP only converts on 15% of its chances (a number the Hawks pathetically envy). The Flames hold the distinction of having the worst FO% in the league (46%) and won just 35% of their draws against the Wild on Tuesday night. One bright spot for Calgary tonight will be their 2007 1st round pick Mikael Backlund appearing in his 1st game of the season after missing time with a broken pinky finger. Apparently, Backlund will center a line with  Iginla on it – lucky him!

More >