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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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HARDING: The Oilers glory days are set to return

Gretzky told McDavid it’s just a matter of time.

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The 1984-85 Edmonton Oilers were the greatest NHL team of all time, led by Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri, and Paul Coffey. No team since had the top two leaders in points overall and the top defenceman – until now. Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Tyson Barrie just repeated the feat, spawning hopes the Oilers could at long last reclaim the Stanley Cup.

For the second year in a row, McDavid and Draisaitl have been 1-2 in league scoring. McDavid’s 105 points and Draisaitl’s 84 were well ahead of Boston’s Brad Marchand at 69. This year’s surprise was Tyson Barrie whose 48 points were top for defensemen. The missing ingredient of a marquee offensive defenceman had finally arrived.

In 2015, a poll of ten leading NHL agents named Edmonton the least desirable place to play, but that was before McDavid and a new arena were part of the mix. After Barrie had a mediocre year with Toronto, a one-year contract in Edmonton made perfect sense.

“For me, it’s a no-brainer,” Barrie said when he signed last October. “It just wasn’t about money this year, [but] coming in to re-establish myself and show the league that I’m still a pretty good player.”

Barrie has been stellar. His 8 goals and 40 assists gave him 48 points, one more than the Rangers’ Adam Fox.  To boot, Barrie did it logging just 21:24 minutes per game, the lowest total of the top 30 defensive scorers. Then again, he had McDavid and Draisaitl to pass to, plus his defensive partner, Darnell Nurse. Nurse’s 16 goals were second-best among NHL blue liners, while his 36 points were 12th best.

“It’s pretty incredible, the skill we have on this team. It’s world class – as good as it gets,” Barrie told Sportsnet’s Mark Spector in March. Oilers coach Dave Tippett said Barrie was an important part of the McDavid-Draisaitl magic.

“He’s an elite puck-mover and offensive player. We’ve had some solid defenders, but nobody with the instincts with the puck that he has,” Tippett said. “The top offensive players, they love it when they’ve got a defenceman who can make creative plays to find you with the puck. That’s why he’s fit in so well.”

In some ways Barrie is the Coffey of the current team, though Sportsnet’s Ron McLean says McDavid is in others.

“What you know about him [Coffey] is that he can stand at the goal line and be at the blue line in two strides,” McLean said. “McDavid has that same power. It’s just [an] other-worldly first step.”

Even Gretzky says McDavid just keeps getting better. “The maturity that he’s shown this year, he’s gone to an even higher level. And I don’t just mean in points. His physical play is a lot higher than it’s been in the past. His body language is that he doesn’t want to lose,” Gretzky told The Athletic.

“His work ethic has been the most important part of what’s been infectious throughout the hockey club and bringing a young hockey team to another level.”

Last year, Gretzky said he saw other parallels with the current Oiler team and those of the 1980s, since Mark Messier kept him sharp in practice the same way Draisaitl does for McDavid.

“They’ve become better players because they’re competing every single day with each other and not even really realizing it. And obviously those two guys are driving the train in Edmonton and they’ve done a wonderful job.”

Oilers goalie Mike Smith honoured ‘85 legends Grant Fuhr and late trainer Joey Moss on his mask this year, and Gretzky has praise for Smith.

“I’ve played with a lot of great goaltenders. Andy Moog. Grant Fuhr. Curtis Joseph. Kelly Hrudey. Mike Smith is the first goaltender I’ve seen really energize a hockey club from being in goal. Whether it’s his feistiness on the ice, whether it’s how he handles the puck and moves the puck, how he battles every game.”

In 1985, the Oilers went 49-20-11 in the regular season then dominated the playoffs. They swept L.A. and Winnipeg, beat Chicago in 6 games and Philadelphia in 5. Gretzky’s 47 points and Kurri’s 19 goals remain records, as do Coffey’s 37 points as a defenseman.

With a record of 35-19-2 this Oilers team is not the odds-on favorite to win the Stanley Cup. In fact, Edmonton has only the tenth-best odds to win it all. Even so, Gretzky told McDavid it’s just a matter of time.

“So when you guys do win — and you will win a Stanley Cup — the feeling is just over the top. You work your whole life to do that,” Gretzky said. “You will lift it one day, you’re too good.”

Lee Harding is the Saskatchewan Political Columnist for the Western Standard

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Canucks’ star Vertanen benched after sex assault allegation

NEWS 1130 tweeted an Instagram account dedicated to sharing stories of sexual assault posted allegations from a woman who claims Virtanen sexually assaulted her in a Vancouver hotel in 2017.

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The Vancouver Canucks have put star Jake Virtanen on “leave” after allegations he sexually assaulted a woman in a hotel room came to light.

“Our organization does not accept sexual misconduct of any kind and the claim as reported are being treated very seriously,” the Canucks said in a statement.

“We have engaged external expertise to assist in an independent investigation and we have placed [Virtanen] on leave as we await more information.”

Canucks’ tweet

NEWS 1130 tweeted an Instagram account dedicated to sharing stories of sexual assault posted allegations from a woman who claims Virtanen sexually assaulted her in a Vancouver hotel in 2017. 

Nicknamed “Shotgun Jake” by Canucks fans, right winger Virtanen, 24, was drafted by the Canucks sixth overall in the 2014 draft.

In 38 games this year he has five goals and no assists.

Dave Naylor is the News Editor of the Western Standard
dnaylor@westernstandardonline.com
TWITTER: Twitter.com/nobby7694

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The Rock writes: ‘Calgary Stampeders changed my life; I love the CFL’

“I was still grateful to a man who would eventually become a mentor and friend, Wally Buono, for even giving me the opportunity.”

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The CFL changed my life.

When you have nothing and you’re scratching and clawing for everything you can get – all in the spirit of making your football dreams come true. You become the hardest worker in the room. You will not be denied.

I knew in my heart I was going to make it in the CFL – and parlay that into a very successful career in the NFL. Maybe even win a Super Bowl…But neither of those dreams came close to coming true.

Truth is, I just wasn’t good enough and it wasn’t my time.

The CFL sent me home. I was still grateful to a man who would eventually become a mentor and friend, Wally Buono, for even giving me the opportunity.

Wally Buono. Courtesy Wikipedia

I had $7 bucks.

But it’s funny how sometimes life comes full circle. Now I’m back. Same hungry kid, but much different man.

As an owner of the XFL, our discussions with the CFL have been very exciting. There’s a real pulse here because you can feel the unique opportunity we can potentially create together.

Wherever it all leads, I can tell you this one is personal to me and is driven by all my passion – because me being cut by the CFL was the greatest thing that happened.

It set me on a path that years later would lead me right back to the league. To help create even greater and bigger opportunities for all our players and all our fans.

As an owner who’s had his hands in the dirt – my loyalty will always lie with the players and fans.

I’ll keep you posted as our XFL/CFL discussions unfold. Got your back. So yes, the CFL changed my life, in ways I could’ve never imagined

🙏🏾🇨🇦🏈#gratitude

#legacy

#respect

#pulse

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson tried for the Calgary Stampeders in 1995. He was cut during training camp. He went on to become a wrestling superstar and movie action hero. He wrote about his experiences on his Facebook page

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