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MILLIONS: Flames rebuild ready to burn

Roger Millions profiles the changes the Flames have made toward the 2021 season.

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When the Calgary Flames fell to the Dallas Stars in last fall’s NHL Bubble Playoff, it became clear GM Brad Treliving was determined that his team would go forth with the motto “less is more”.

The franchise needs to drastically reduce the number of avoidable errors that led to so many goals against them last year. And most importantly, they need to put an immediate stop to the upheaval on the team. And it appears that they have.

What happened to Bill Peters was well documented. The ramifications to the Flames however was barely touched. Whether it was right or wrong while significant, didn’t really tell the whole story. Imagine the shock to the dressing room and the front office when that bomb dropped. No one was left untouched.

Fortunately for the Flames, Geoff Ward did a good job and was rewarded with a full-time gig. Treliving avoided unneeded time delay and additional questions by making this move. The general manager – while doing a great job – can ill afford another coaching mishap. No team can deal with that and he needs continuity. Like right now.

The passing of former President and CEO Ken King also was a factor. King was larger than life within the organization. John Bean is a fine replacement and his intelligent demeanor will provide a calming influence going forward.

The acquisition of free agent Jacob Markstrom showed the team clearly had enough stop gap measures. Again, a six-year contract with a $6,000,000 AAV means Markstrom will stop the revolving door, removing another key distraction. The Flames hope his outstanding performance as a Canuck will carry over to Calgary. Despite the risk, the move should provide a big reward.

Speaking of the Canucks, defenceman and former foe Christopher Tanev joined the Flames on the blueline. At age 31 – and known for his consistent performance in the defensive zone – he provides balance. 

Mark Giordano at age 37 – while still a fine defender and former Norris Trophy winner – now has a stop gap defenceman to help the up-and-coming youth. Hanafin, Andersson, Jusso Valimaki and to a lesser degree Oliver Kylington represent the future. Tanev helps to bridge the gap.

TJ Brodie – a long-time defenceman for the organization – signed as a free agent in Toronto. A brilliant skater and gifted with puck, Brodie will help the Leafs, but his departure may also assist the Flames in another way. Brodie has had a challenging personal life with his wife’s illness and young child. Not to mention last year’s collapse on ice during practice. His health is better and moving closer to his Southern Ontario home will help him. It also clears the deck for younger Flames. 

As does the departure of Travis Hamonic, who opted out of the playoffs in the fall. As I mentioned in my Canucks preview, Hamonic’s Calgary exit was not really a surprise. Perhaps another distraction is gone.

Up front, Treliving is starting to add some depth. That effort may help relieve some of the reliance on the tandem of Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. 

Both have talent, but the clock is ticking, especially for Gaudreau. Johnny has two years left on his contract paying 6.75 million per year. The suspicion is Gaudreau has been figured out by the league’s defenders. His size and strength forever in question, it now presents him with his greatest challenge. Can he remove those doubts? Was he indeed on the trading block? If so, those questions may be the reason he remains a Flame. I look for Gaudreau to be much improved, although I’m not so certain he remains in Calgary for the long term. 

The Flames have some balance on the forward lines. Matthew Tkachuk – almost every team’s public enemy number one – is a born leader. His issue is staying healthy. He needs to show he can perform over a full season.

At 26 years of age, Elias Lindholm has been a steal. His overall game and skill set can be built around. He is going nowhere.

In the end, do the Flames have enough? Provided the new emphasis on goaltending and improved defensive play, the answer is yes. Playoffs and perhaps more than one round are entirely possible. However, if the pucks keep going in their net at the same pace as last year, they could very well be surpassed.

Roger Millions is the Sports Columnist for the Western Standard

Roger Millions is the Sports Columnist for the Western Standard. He was a broadcaster for the Calgary Flames for 39 years.

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MILLIONS: Pierre-Luc Dubois is an opportunity for the Flames or Oilers

“Should either team think about making a move to acquire the talented young Columbus centre Pierre-Luc Dubois?”

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The COVID-19 world of NHL Hockey is underway. Lord knows what kind of financial and player movement gymnastics will be necessary going forward. From self-isolation, to out-and-out skullduggery in terms of roster moves, the next few months will be fascinating to say the least.

That aside, I’m wondering if either the Edmonton Oilers or Calgary Flames should consider a move of great boldness. Should either team think about making a move to acquire the talented young Columbus centre Pierre-Luc Dubois?

Blue Jackets Head Coach John Tortorella has tormented – and in the minds of some observers – tortured many young players in his wild days behind the bench. It now it appears Dubois is the latest.

Tortorella has publicly stated that Dubois would like out of Columbus. He is unhappy with his current situation and in a round-about way, has requested a trade out of Ohio. It seems a little odd coming from a player aged just 22 and who seems to be getting better and better. I suspect it has a lot to do with Tortorella, who has a reputation as a master craftsman when it comes to mind games.

Dubois is slated to be paid $5 million over the next two seasons. In the two seasons past, he amassed 27 goals and 61 points. In last year’s COVID-19 shortened season, his numbers were 18 goals and 31 assists. He stands to be even better. At 6’3” 215 pounds, he has the size every NHL team would covet.

Either the Oilers and Flames would have to do some COVID-19 hurdles. Be it a 14-day quarantine or some other fantasy whim conjured up by any government unwilling to admit they have no clue about what they are doing. Either team would have to comply. That’s a risk for sure – and in a 56-game schedule  – who can say either Brad Treliving or Ken Holland would be willing to do so.

What the hell? Let’s say they do.

If you are the Oilers, the likely candidate in my mind would be Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Coming off 69 and then 61 point seasons, Nugent-Hopkins has the offensive numbers the Blue Jackets would relish. He is also well accounted for in his own end, meaning his defensive game is quite good. 

The sticking point is his contract. He is in the final year of his 7-year deal paying $6 million a season. Meaning he – like all players – would be seeking a raise in pay. That likely means $7 million plus, and with McDavid and Draisaitl already chewing up $21 million of their cap, the prospects seem highly unlikely. It also means Columbus would need something more. No doubt, the ability to negotiate a new contract with Nugent-Hopkins and a trade sweetener like a second or third round draft pick. 

As for the Flames, I am wondering about Sean Monahan. Monahan has been more than serviceable for Calgary over the years. Monahan who is 26, had an impressive 82 points in 2018-19. He has teamed up with Johnny Gaudreau very well now in his 8th season as a Flame. He makes $6.4 million over the next two seasons.

Monahan is perhaps not as accomplished defensively as Nugent-Hopkins. He is obviously working on that. His offensive upside would seem to be greater than the Oilers player. 

Yet after 8 years, the Flames seem to not be getting any closer to a Stanley Cup appearance. Gaudreau with two years remaining on his $6.8 million-dollar contract, will soon become an unrestricted free agent. He hails from south New Jersey just outside Philadelphia. I find it a little hard to believe he will want to stay in Calgary over the long haul. Especially since his recent engagement to his long-time gal who is a nurse in Philly.

Monahan and Gaudreau have seemingly been tied at the hip. It is hard to believe that is not coming to an end. Perhaps a proactive move might be in order. However, I doubt a one-for-one player trade would work. Calgary would likely have to offer a tantalizing addition. Be it a draft choice or a long talented prospect.

Same goes for Holland and the Oilers. They can keep their cap aspirations in line for a little while with Dubois. Something not likely with Nugent-Hopkins.

Realistically, the COVID hurdle may be too difficult for either the Flames or Oilers to overcome. Yet, it does make one wonder with such a fine young talent supposedly available.

Roger Millions is the Sports Columnist for the Western Standard

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MILLIONS: The age of the Oilers is about to dawn

Roger Millions writes the Oilers may have just have it takes to go all the way.

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At first glance at the Edmonton Oilers training camp roster, you simply have to wonder out loud; ‘isn’t it time?’

They have the most dynamic and gifted player in the game. They have perhaps the second as well. A winning season and a playoff spot has to be inevitable. 

Throw in year-two under the watchful eyes of GM Ken Holland and Head Coach Dave Tippett and the post season should be very much a reality. I have all the time in the world for the classy Holland and Tippett. They are solid individuals with outstanding pedigrees. The second season these two will be in charge will vault the Oilers into more than just contention.

It doesn’t hurt to have Connor McDavid. One veteran NHL defenceman I know well described McDavid with the puck as “frightening”. That coming from a former award winner himself. Toss the gaudy statistics aside and concentrate on what McDavid brings to the table, and it’s clear he’s ready to not only dazzle but to win. The million-dollar question remains: does he have the supporting cast to get the job done. For the most part, I believe he does.

Leon Draisaitl took the strange COVID-19 plagued season by storm a year ago and not only won the scoring title in the regular season, but the Hart Trophy as Most Valuable Player and the Ted Lindsay award as well. If those credentials don’t vault you to the next level in hockey what will? 

Throw in free agent Kyle Turris for depth. The reliable and gifted Ryan Nugent-Hopkins as very good two-way centre. The youthful Kailer Yamamoto seems ready to blossom as the Oilers have an offensive bag of riches that most teams would drool over.

Sprinkle it Zach Kassian and Jujhar Khaira for size and sandpaper, and I don’t know what more a team could want up front.

The worry remains how the Oilers’ backend will stand up. 

Goaltending may be the lone question mark. The experience of 32-year-old Mikko Koskinen and 38-year-old Mike Smith showed flashes of brilliance a year ago. They also showed a propensity for some below average net minding. Somehow, the 56-game shortened regular season will help Koskinen and Smith out. The reduced travel time for these elder statesmen can’t hurt either. Many experts have panned the Oilers chances because of these two – but if healthy – I have to believe they will improve.

The biggest difference for the Oilers may be their defence. Another year older for many of these kids should pay dividends. The loss of injured Oscar Klefbom is certainly a blow to Edmonton, but I have to believe that they have the depth to make up for it.

Darnell Nurse may be on the verge of stardom. I love his nasty streak and his skating ability.

Yet, it’s the potential of Ethan Bear and Evan Bouchard that makes me think the Oilers defence will grow in leaps and bounds. Bear – with a new contract – will anchor the team’s power play. And if and when he falters, free agent Tyson Barrie should carry some of the load. Bear is much more than a power play specialist, and being rewarded by Ken Holland to the tune of $ 2 million AAV over two seasons will be added incentive.

Bouchard will be the biggest addition, if not out of training camp, then as quick as possible. His game in Bakersfield in the American Hockey League was far better than most 20-year-old players would produce. This kid, now 21, can supply points, and as the London Knights in junior days gone by can attest, he has leadership qualities. The Oilers have a lot to look forward to with Bouchard, who I think will be an NHL star down the road.

It’s a very glowing review for the Oilers who are on the verge of coming of age. McDavid has been great and patient in his leadership. The disappointing days are coming to an end. 

In fact, if they avoid the COVID-19 nastiness and major injury problems, this team will make the playoffs. And after that, with McDavid, anything is possible. 

Rogers Millions is the Sports Columnist for the Western Standard

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WATCH: Sports columnist Roger Millions on the 2021 NHL season

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In his first broadcast appearance with the Western Standard, sports columnist Roger Millions talks to Cory Morgan about what to expect in this unique hickey season.

How are teams coping with the COVID-19 restrictions? What are the financial implications? What are gameplay implications?

Roger also speaks to his recent columns where he breaks down the strengths and weaknesses of the Winnipeg Jets and the Vancouver Canucks this season.

Millions also speaks of the Calgary Flames and what we have to look forward to.

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