Wednesday, 23 April 2014

So Far, So Good - Emile Poirier's Bright Future

Emile Poirier’s favourite player growing up was Alexei Kovalev and despite being drafted 22 years apart and born over 7,700 kilometers apart from his idol, they are a lot alike.

The Calgary Flames can only hope when all is said and done, their career NHL numbers will also end up being similar.

For example:
  • Both were first round picks – Kovalev selected 15th overall by the Rangers in 1991, Poirier drafted 22nd overall by the Flames last June.
  • Both are 6-foot-1
  • Both are left-handed shots that play right wing
  • Both are frisky competitors on the ice. Kovalev piled up over 1,300 PIM in his career. Poirier had 129 PIM in 63 games this past season in Gatineau.

Kovalev played his first NHL game at age 19, which is the same age as Poirier will be at the start of next season. By the time he played his final NHL game -- two days shy of his 40th birthday, the talented Russian had appeared in 1,316 NHL games, scoring 430 goals and racking up 1,029 points.

Yes, no kidding the Flames would be very happy should Poirier’s career end up resembling that.

A Soft Spot for Montreal

Poirier became a Kovalev fan when he signed with his hometown Canadiens in 2005. Poirier was 10 years old at the time. He spent four seasons with Montreal and was the leading scorer for the final two.

As you’d expect from someone born and raised in Montreal, who had the chance to attend five or six games live every year, Poirier was a huge fan of le Bleu-Blanc-Rouge. In fact, Poirier admits he still has a “little bit” of a soft spot for the Canadiens today.

That was a good game, real fun to watch,” said Poirier, when I caught up with him via telephone in his hotel room Tuesday night, shortly after the Habs completed their four-game sweep of Tampa Bay.

Although, he admitted he had some mixed emotions on this particular night considering Cedric Paquette, the Lightning player in the penalty box when Max Pacioretty scored the winning goal, is a buddy of his from back home that he trains with during the summer. “Oh man, I feel bad for him,” Poirier said.

Poirier says some of his best Habs memories are from 2009-10. That season, with Kovalev gone and Mike Cammalleri signed as an unrestricted free agent to replace him, eighth-seeded Montreal went to the Eastern Final. In 19 playoff games, Cammalleri had a whopping 13 goals. Brian Gionta (9) was the only other Montreal player with more than four goals.

“I remember that first year Cammalleri was here and they went all the way to the third round, he was unbelievable in those playoffs,” said Poirier. “Those playoff games were crazy.”

Interestingly, Poirier might well have been drafted by the Canadiens last June.  Of the handful of teams that Poirier had in-person visits with leading up to the draft, Calgary was one and Montreal was another. There is speculation that if the Flames didn’t grab Poirier at No. 22 – much higher than he had been ranked by the NHL’s scouting services, he quite likely may have been snapped up by Montreal at No. 25. Instead, the Canadiens took American-born right-winger Michael McCarron.

Recapping the 2013-14 Season (thus far)

Poirier’s third and probably final year with Gatineau in the QMJHL was excellent. After 32 goals and 70 points in his draft year, he followed that up with 43 goals and 87 points this season. In the playoffs, he added seven more goals in nine games as the Olympiques got ousted for the second year in row by Halifax.

“I had a good season and I was able to develop certain things that I needed to work on defensively,” said Poirier.

One of those areas, as is so often the case with young players, was his work in his own end, away from the puck.

“It’s trying to be a complete player, competing in those one-on-one battles defensively and learning to not always go on the offence,” said Poirer, who says he was in contact every week with the Flames – usually Ron Sutter, the Flames Director of Player Development. “I’ve became a way better player now than I was a year ago.

Also new this year was a leadership role. He served as assistant captain for the Olympiques for the first time.

“The leadership part was definitely different, especially with all the young guys coming in and I was the leader and they’re learning from you,” Poirier said. “But it was a good thing and I appreciated that.”

In a second life that hockey players don’t get very often, this year when Poirier’s junior season ended, his season wasn’t actually over. Soon after getting eliminated on April 11, Poirier was invited to join the Flames American Hockey League affiliate in Abbotsford. He hooked up with the team in San Antonio the following weekend and after watching the first game from the press box while getting instruction from the coaches, he was in uniform the next two days -- the final two games of the regular season.

Solid First Impression

In his first game on Friday, Poirier scored a goal off a set-up from Max Reinhart. The next night, he scored another goal and had two assists – all in the first period.

“The biggest difference is the execution, it's way faster and the execution is way better,” Poirier said of the jump to the AHL. “Plus, you’re playing against men, not young kids in which many are younger than you. There are some big guys.”

In Saturday’s game, Poirier’s linemates were the ever-dangerous Finn Markus Granlund and Reinhart, who set a team record this season with 63 points.

“He’s a big, strong kid with tremendous speed,” said Reinhart. “He makes good plays on the boards and doesn't turn the puck over. I had a lot of fun playing with him and I wouldn't be surprised if he's in the playoff line-up.”

For that to happen, considering Abbotsford is carrying over 30 players, the most important person to impress is Heat head coach Troy Ward. Well, it’s safe to say that was achieved also.

“One thing that Poirier brings to the table is he's like Pavel Bure in that one-and-a-half steps and he's at full speed, he's gone. He's super fast,” said Ward Wednesday morning during a guest spot on Sportsnet 960 radio. “He has great vision, obviously he has good hands, and he puts his nose in there. He's not afraid to go to the dirty areas to score goals.”

Poirier’s 52 goals in the QMJHL and AHL combined in 74 games, is the most goals for a Flames prospect in a single season since Dustin Boyd scored 55 with Moose Jaw in 2005-06.

“Obviously, through just one weekend, he's made a pretty good push,” said Ward. “There are two different sides to you as an AHL player. 1. Can you fit in on the ice and make the plays that are necessary to help yourself and help the team. 2. Do you fit in socially and mentally at this age.

“Sometimes it doesn't seem like a big step from major junior to the AHL but it's a huge step as a man. Sometimes it takes kids a little bit longer but so far, so good for Emile. He looks like he has a lot of maturity to him and he understands how to get through the pace of the game so far and he seems to be fitting in well.”

Enjoying the West Coast

It’s only been a week but Poirier says he’s enjoying his time with Abbotford and hopes it goes on for a while. Should the Heat make it to the Calder Cup final, the season would run into mid-June. While there are new players to get to know, Poirier says he did meet many of the younger players at Flames development camp in July including his current roommate at his hotel, French-speaking Ryan Culkin, also a recent addition from the QMJHL.

While Poirier said he hadn’t been told yet if he’ll play when Abbotsford hosts the defending champion Grand Rapids Griffins (Detroit Red Wings) on Friday night in the first game of the best-of-five opening round series, and while Ward was non-committal, you sure get a sense of which way Ward is leaning.

“I was really happy with his first weekend and we'll look to get him in there this weekend,” said Ward. “It's still really about development. We've got to develop hockey players.  That development is within the food chain of the company. The Poiriers, the Kulaks, and the Klimchuks of the world, they're all future guys that we want to get ready for training camp next year with Bob Hartley and his staff so we're going to give them as much exposure as we can.

“To play any of those guys in any one of those games is something that is our goal and if they're better or we feel that they can contribute more at this particular time than obviously some of the guys that have been here all year, those are decisions we'll make come Friday,” said Ward.

What Lies Ahead?

Long term, Poirier looks to have a pretty bright future according to Ward.

“Here's a guy that you would project at some point in time, will be able to get for sure in the 20s, if not in the 30s, in goals in the NHL. He's that gifted as a skater and he's got great vision. There are good days ahead for Emile.”

And for his part, Poirier sees good days ahead for the Flames also. He didn’t see Calgary play a lot this year but he did see them play live in Ottawa and also watched them play on TV a few times. He says he liked what he saw and feels his style is a good fit with the blue-collar work ethic the team displayed all season.

“That's good for me, I like that style of play. The intensity in the game, I loved it,” said Poirier.

Meanwhile, Poirier will continue to practice hard during the day and then lay back, chill out, and watch the NHL playoffs at night -- and imagine when that will be him one day, playing in front of a raucous crowd after an intense pre-game display like Montreal put on at the Bell Centre.

“Oh, sure, you think about it. You put yourself in that situation and wonder how it will be like -- to see all the video stuff, to see and hear all those great names. It's unbelievable,” said Poirier.

Calgary may not have the same rich history as the Canadiens but should exciting prospects like Poirier, Granlund and Johnny Gaudreau turn out as hoped, they could have a very prosperous present soon enough.

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Monday, 14 April 2014

Do-it-Yourself NHL Draft Lottery - 2014 Version

It's finally going to happen.

For the first time in 41 years and the very first time since the franchise relocated to Calgary in 1980, the Flames will have a top-five pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. The franchise last picked in the top five in 1973 when Tom Lysiak from the Medicine Hat Tigers was selected second overall by Atlanta.

We'll know for sure how the NHL Draft Lottery will shake down on Tuesday at 6 pm MT when TSN will turn the selection of one team to move to No. 1, a process that takes less than a second given the result is computer-generated, into an 'enthralling' 30 minute television event.

But, who can blame them. They know they'll have millions of eyes on them, especially with the new draft lottery rules that took effect last year in which any of the 14 non-playoff teams could win the lottery and secure that coveted first overall pick. Sure, the odds are better of Buffalo (1 in 4 chance) winning than Washington (1 in 200), but anything can happen.

But, why wait for Tuesday night -- Hold your own NHL Draft Lottery today!

By following my easy five-step, do-it-yourself NHL Draft lottery instructions, you can play the role of James DuthieBob McKenzie or any of your favourite TSN hockey personalities and re-create the NHL Draft Lottery event in your own garage, or living room, or even in your kitchen and you can do it right now.

There are two versions -- the simple version, tailored for Calgary Flames fans, and an advanced version.


NHL Draft Lottery Simulation - Simple Version

This version is specific for Calgary Flames fans and will allow you to hold the lottery, then hold it again, then again, and again, and you can keep going until the Flames win it and get the No. 1 pick. Then, you can go to bed Monday night and have blissful dreams of Sam Reinhart, or Aaron Ekblad, or whoever you have tabbed as the best of the bunch.

Step 1 - You need 48 of something and a bowl to put them in. I recommend buying a box of Alpha-Bits cereal -- inexpensive, plentiful and the letters can come in handy in the advanced version (below) to help distinguish the teams. Plus, when you're done, just add milk and have some delicious breakfast.

Step 2 - To mimic the 10.7% odds of the Flames winning the lottery, you'll need to designate five of the 48 Alpha-Bits as Calgary. That's pretty easy, grab five of the letter 'C' and throw them in your bowl.

Step 3 - To mimic the 31.3% odds that a team that finished higher in the overall standings than Calgary wins the lottery and jumps all the way to No. 1, subsequently dropping the Flames down one pick to No. 5, we need a way to designate 15 of the 48 objects as this scenario. With the Alpha-Bits, let's use the vowels for this. So grab an assortment of 15 A's, E's, I's, etc. and add them to the bowl.

Step 4 - To mimic the 58.0% odds that one of the top three teams win the lottery -- Buffalo, Florida or Edmonton, which would subsequently have no impact on the Flames draft position, we'll use consonants other than 'C'. So grab an assortment of 28 B's, D's, G's, etc. and add those to the bowl.

Step 5 - Stir up all the Alpha-Bits so they're nicely mixed up although don't be too truculent with your stirring as you don't want to smash the letters. Then, close your eyes, cross your fingers and pick one.
  • If you pick a 'C', Flames win the lottery and choose No. 1
  • If you pick a consonant, Buffalo, Florida, Edmonton win the lottery, Flames remain at pick No. 4
  • If you pick a vowel, Flames fall one draft spot to pick No. 5

So, how do the odds in this breakfast cereal simulation compare with the odds in real life?  It's actually very, very close.

In Real Life - Flames have 10.7% chance of picking 1st, 31.3%* chance of dropping to No. 5
In the Simulation - Flames have 10.4% chance of picking 1st, 31.25% chance of dropping to No. 5

Note: A caveat with this year's draft is NJ is not allowed to win the lottery. There's a 1.1% chance of this happening but if it does, there will be a re-draw. This is part of the Devils punishment for the Ilya Kovalchuk contract fiasco from a couple years ago.


NHL Draft Lottery Simulation - Advanced Version

With this version, you can take your NHL Draft lottery re-creation to the next level by not just determining Calgary's fate, but actually learning who, specifically, does win the lottery and if it's the Oilers, you can let out a 'phew' and be relieved that it's just a simulation.

Step 1 - Same as above. You need 48 of something. Again, I recommend Alpha-Bits.

Step 2 - Assuming you're using Alpha-Bits, you need to allot a certain number of a certain letter to all of the primary teams involved in the lottery. Here are my recommendations for what letter to use for each team and how many Alpha-Bits each team will get.
  • Buffalo (B) - 12
  • Florida (F) -  9
  • Edmonton (E) - 7
  • Calgary (C) - 5
  • NY Islanders (N) - 4
  • Vancouver (V) - 3
  • Carolina (H) - 2
  • Other (O) - 6

Step 3 - Put all of the objects into a bowl and shuffle them up.

Step 4 - Close your eyes, cross your fingers and pick one.

Step 5 - If you pick a letter 'O' for "Other", that means one of the long-shot teams ranked 17th to 23rd in the final standings -- Toronto, Winnipeg, Phoenix, Anaheim (from Ottawa), New Jersey (see above note), Nashville, or Washington -- wins the lottery and everyone on the list above will drop down one draft spot.

No, that doesn't help you with which of those seven long-shot teams actually wins it, but unless we want to get into the messy job of using several hundred Alpha-Bits and nobody wants to do that, that's as precise as this simulation gets. Sorry.

How do the the odds of our simulation compare with the odds in real life? Again, it's very close. Below are the real percentages followed in brackets by the percentages based on a bowl of 48 Alpha-Bits.

Buffalo - 25% (25%)
Florida - 18.8% (18.8%)
Edmonton - 14.2% (14.6%)
Calgary - 10.7% (10.4%)
NY Islanders - 8.1% (8.3%)
Vancouver - 6.2% (6.25%)
Carolina - 4.7% (4.2%)
Other - 12.3% (12.5%)

Have fun and remember, don't add milk to your bowl of Alpha-Bits until after you've held your lottery.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Johnny Gaudreau in the NHL: A Limited Engagement (for now)?

Johnny Gaudreau will make his much-anticipated debut for the Calgary Flames tonight against the Vancouver Canucks. Enjoy it, everyone, as it may be a while before his next NHL game.

While CBA rules -- as confounding as they are sometimes, means Rogers Arena in downtown Vancouver will be as close as Gaudreau can get to Abbotsford this season, I fully expect Gaudreau to be reporting to the Heat six months from now when the 2014-15 seasons begins. Here is why:

The Flaw with the Monahan Comparison

Many have already brought up Sean Monahan. The argument being that Gaudreau looked just as good as Monahan did last July at the Flames development camp, so why couldn't he also step right into the NHL next year. Heck, he'll even be two years older than Monahan was this season.

The big difference with how Monahan was handled this year -- staying with the NHL club the entire season, compared to Gaudreau's situation next year is the options available. When it comes to moving on to the all-important 'next level', increasing the challenge so a prospect's development curve doesn't flatten out, the two situations are very different.

For Monahan, who turned 19 on Oct. 12, the options were limited. Since the American Hockey League was not a possibility per an agreement between the NHL and CHL that prohibits that route at Monahan's age, the choice was he either go back to the Ottawa 67's, where he had already played 207 games over three full seasons. Or, he remain with the Flames. His play in the pre-season, as well as October as the NHL season began, clearly showed that he was ready for a next level so Calgary was where he stayed.

Gaudreau's situation is entirely different. When he arrives at training camp next year at age 21, there will be two options for the New Jersey-born left-winger to play at a higher level. There's the NHL, obviously, and there will also be the AHL. Both will present new challenges after three years of NCAA hockey and I'd look at it this way: When your child graduates from the kiddie pool to the regular pool, does it make sense for them to close their eyes, plug their nose and immediately dive into the deep end? Not so much. Instead, the smart approach is slip into the water at the shallow end and move towards the deep end.

Why the AHL Route Makes Sense

First, a disclaimer. I won't altogether rule out the possibility that Gaudreau impresses the coaching staff so much next September that he earns a spot in the Flames line-up to start the year. Heck, maybe he'll never play a game in the AHL. We'll have to wait until September and with a longer body of work determine what makes sense. However, I'd be very, very surprised if he starts the season with the Flames for several reasons.

1. Get Acclimatized to the Rigorous Schedule

An adjustment that can't be overstated is how grueling the pro hockey grind is compared to U.S. college hockey. This year with Boston College, Gaudreau played only 40 games. Last year, he played 35 games. At 76 games, the American Hockey League regular season is longer than his past two NCAA seasons combined. And that's not even factoring in the playoffs and the possibility of up to 28 more games. So at minimum, you're looking at double the amount of hockey games than you're accustomed to.

Then, there's the travel. While playing at the Boston College campus in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, many of their road trips were in-state to places such as Boston, Cambridge, Lowell, Worcester and Andover. In contrast, there are no in-province trips for Abbotsford. In fact, nothing remotely close. Instead, we're talking about lengthy journeys to the likes of Des Moines, Iowa. Or Utica, New York. Or Cedar Park, Texas. Or Cleveland, Oklahoma City, Hamilton, Toronto, etc.

Boston College traveled a total distance of 14,000 km this season. They left the Eastern time zone only once for a weekend trip to Minneapolis and two games with the University of Minnesota.

In comparison, by the time Abbotsford's 2013-14 regular season ends -- so this doesn't include the playoffs, the Heat will have travelled over 95,000 km, nearly seven times the distance.

If you travel regularly -- for work or otherwise, you'll know that it is never as glamorous as people think -- especially in the minors. Delayed flights, cancelled flights, malfunctions, weather delays, bus detours. It can be and often is exhausting.

2. Opposing Bigger, Stronger Players

For Gaudreau, his diminutive size is the story line that will never, ever go away. He's listed on the Flames roster as 5-foot-9 and 150 pounds although he says he's more like 160. Based on official rosters of all 30 teams maintained by the NHL, 150 would make Gaudreau the lightest player in the NHL and 160 still lands him in the bottom five of over 970 players (second lightest is Flames teammate, Paul Byron). The adjustment Gaudreau will face in the NHL of playing against bigger, stronger and older players is going to be considerable, there is no denying.

The good news is the AHL provides a very similar proving ground.

For example, the Flames play Vancouver on Sunday. The Canucks roster averages 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds. Comparably, Abbotsford plays Oklahoma City on Sunday. The Barons roster averages 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds.

What you get in the AHL, which is a luxury you don't have in the NHL, is a bit more time and space and while Gaudreau works on thickening up his frame and moving that 150 into the mid-160's at minimum, this is a good thing. Like some minor hockey parents when their kids arrive in bantam and body contact for the first time, we don't want Mrs. Gaudreau having to cover her eyes every time little Johnny heads into the corner in pursuit of the puck.

3. 2014-15 Isn't the Focus Anyway

It's understandable that fans could look at how competitive Calgary has been over the final three months of this season -- either winning, or losing closely, and wonder if playoffs could be a possibility next season. After all, since Jan. 18, the Flames record of 20-13-1 is better than several playoff-bound teams.

While I don't see any reason the team can't be as competitive as it was this season -- with Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie anchoring the blue-line and several rookies this year being that much better as sophomores, it's a stretch to believe Calgary can pick up the extra 15 points that would be necessary to get into the playoff mix in an awfully tough Western Conference.

Given the highly touted youth that is in the pipeline finally, guys like Morgan Klimchuk and Emile Poirier probably bound for the AHL next year, the season that Flames fans should really be circling on their calendar is 2015-16. Wedding plans, spring vacation plans, that is the year that ardent Red Mile enthusiasts are going to want to keep their April and May calendars open... just in case.

Knowing that, why rush Gaudreau unnecessarily? Let him adjust and learn the NHL game in the AHL, where he can do so at an appropriate pace.

4. See Gustav Nyquist

So there's this guy named Gustav Nyquist, perhaps you've heard of him? He's got 23 goals in his last 33 NHL games and has taken the NHL by storm. How Detroit has handled him is making veteran Red Wings GM Ken Holland look like a genius and might be a blueprint that the Flames should closely consider when it comes to Gaudreau's career path. After all, there is a lot in common between the two former college players.
  • Both were NHL 4th round draft picks -- Nyquist 121st in 2008, Gaudreau 104th in 2011.
  • Both Turned Pro After Three Years of College -- Both playing in Hockey East, Nyquist was at the University of Maine, Gaudreau at Boston College.
  • Both won a NCAA scoring title -- Nyquist in 2009-10 (19-42-61 in 39 gm), Gaudreau this past year (36-44-80 in 40 gm).
  • Both had Hobey Baker-worthy seasons -- Nyquist was runner-up in 2009-10, Gaudreau, of course, won it on Friday night after being a runner-up last year.
  • Neither is Six-Feet Tall -- While Nyquist is much more generously blessed at 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds, he doesn't tower over others. Gaudreau, hopefully still growing, is listed as 5-foot-9 and 150 pounds.

Detroit was extremely patient with Nyquist. He spent parts of four seasons in the AHL including two close-to-full years. During that time, his short NHL stints didn't amount to much. Prior to this season, he had four goals in 40 NHL games. But the Red Wings were patient -- extremely patient, and now they've got a real talent on their hands. With 28 goals in 57 games after being called up on Nov. 21, Nyquist ranks sixth in the NHL in goals-per-game behind Steven Stamkos, Alex Ovechkin, Max Pacioretty, Corey Perry and Joe Pavelski. That's pretty good company.

In addition to Nyquist's 122 AHL games, other top NHL scorers also played significant stretches in the AHL to begin their career: Patrick Sharp (163 games), Jason Spezza (122), Nazem Kadri (119), superb Tampa Bay rookie Ondrej Palat (117), Brad Marchand (113), David Krejci (94) and Kyle Turris (86), to name just a few.

Now maybe Gaudreau's stint in the minors would be short. Ryan Getzlaf (8-25-33 in 17 gm) and Corey Perry (16-18-34 in 19 gm) began their careers in the AHL with Portland in 2005-06 (worth noting, this was while Brian Burke was General Manager in Anaheim). It took less than 20 games for them to prove they were too good for that level. Why not play it cautious with Gaudreau also and have him earn his way to the NHL the same way instead of starting him at the top and run the risk of sending him the other direction like the Flames ended up doing with Sven Baertschi this season.

5. Building a Nucleus and Developing Together

In Abbotsford next year could be many key players that will be important pieces when Calgary is ready to become playoff-relevant once again. I'm talking about players like Poirier, Klimchuk, Patrick Sieloff, Tyler WotherspoonMarkus Granlund (although the latter two could graduate to Calgary next fall). Add in Gaudreau, Bill Arnold and Kenny Agostino and you have what could be the core of the Flames for many years to come. 

Again, I draw your attention to the Detroit model and why wouldn't that be one to emulate considering they've made the NHL playoffs an astounding 23 years in a row -- no rebuilding required. 

If you look at the Red Wings youth, who are all key contributors on the Red Wings today -- Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Joakim Andersson, Brendan Smith, Riley SheahanBrian Lashoff, all of them played together and got better together while toiling for Grand Rapids in the AHL. 

It's that type of succession planning that will keep the Red Wings in the playoffs for many more years to come.

Conclusion

Perhaps the best indicator of what the Flames and President of Hockey Operations Brian Burke are already thinking came on Friday night. 

That night, in a telephone interview with local media, Burke shared his opinion on player numbers and how it's going to change for Calgary next year.

"We're doing away with high numbers in Calgary. We're going to get back to No. 1 to 35," said Burke. "If that was good enough for the great teams in the '50s, than it's good enough for us.”

Meanwhile, that same night in Philadephia, Gaudreau was being awarded jersey No. 53, and Arnold was given No. 46.

"They're taking training camp numbers, just like any other young player," explained Burke. "The way we do it in Calgary now is you have your training camp number and you keep that training camp number until you make the team."

So, while college kids Gaudreau, Arnold, Agostino and Bryce Van Brabant will skip the Pacific time zone this year and subsequently miss an opportunity to join an Abbotsford team getting primed for the playoffs and a Calder Cup run, you can bet most -- if not all of them, will arrive in British Columbia next fall when their pro careers really get underway.

Heads up Abbotsford, get your seasons tickets for next season now as Johnny Hockey will be coming to an arena near you.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Mom, I'm Home! New and Improved Giordano Returns to Toronto

Mark Giordano is coming home and the Flames captain can't wait.

The Toronto-born defenceman will play at the Air Canada Centre for only the fourth time in his career on Tuesday night when Calgary takes on the Toronto Maple Leafs.

"I love playing for the friends and family so I'm excited for that one, for sure," said Giordano, prior to the Flames departing on their Eastern road trip. "It's going to be an intense game and it's going to be a really fun game because they're fighting for their playoff lives."

While it's been over seven years since he made his first NHL appearance in Toronto, he remembers it like it was yesterday, which is not surprising considering how the night unfolded. A raucous Saturday night at the ACC, the featured national game on Hockey Night in Canada, and not only was he playing in front of his friends and family for the first time, he also scored his first NHL goal. In fact, he scored twice -- a feat he surprisingly hasn't duplicated since.

"I don't think that's one I'll ever forget, it was a great night," recalled Giordano, who had just turned 23 at the time and was playing his 12th NHL game. "I was really happy. I got to stay over night in Toronto and hang out with my buddies and my family afterwards. It was a fun time and probably one of the most memorable games of my career."

Tons of Tickets Needed

Giordano says Tuesday night will once again be a chance for all those Ontario folks to see him play live, something they haven't had the chance to do very often.

"First of all, my parents and my sister haven't been out much this year so they'll be there. As well, tons of friends, aunts, uncles, and everyone. There will be a lot of people at the game and hopefully we have a good one," he said.

Getting back to that night on Oct. 14, 2006.  His two second period goals came in a span of three shifts and in less than seven minutes.

The first one at 4:52 got the Flames on the scoreboard after they trailed 2-0 after the first period. Watch it right now through this link (it occurs around 13:25 if the video doesn't open to that point automatically) and you'll see it is a goal that is not unlike some of the goals he's scored this year. Assertively pinching up into the slot, Giordano took a centring pass from Matthew Lombardi and snapped a perfect shot over Andrew Raycroft. It's the kind of heady play we've seen from Giordano all year in a season in which he's set career highs for goals (12) and points (44).

"I've been feeling confident offensively, obviously. Just trying to jump in when you can," says Giordano, second among NHL defencemen in points-per-game, behind Ottawa's Erik Karlsson. "The league's all about that now. A lot of defencemen are putting up good numbers because that's where all the offence is generated from. It's a really tough game to score 5-on-5 or off the rush for forwards so you need that second wave."

Giordano also compliments the rest of the team for affording him the luxury of pinching up as often as he has. As exhibited a couple times on Sunday night in Ottawa, it's not unusual to see No. 5 battling for the puck along the end boards in the offensive zone.

"It's having an aggressive mindset but you also need to have a great group of forwards, who back check and cover for you when you do get caught. That eliminates a lot of your mistakes."

After Lombardi tied the game 2-2, Giordano's second goal at 11:26, which you can view here (it occurs around 18:20 if the video doesn't open at that point automatically), came on a slick power move out of the corner after a cycle with Jarome Iginla that temporarily put the Flames into the lead (and sure caught the attention of the broadcast team of Bob Cole and Cassie Campbell). Calgary ended up losing 5-4 in overtime on Mats Sundin's dramatic third goal of the night and 500th of his career.

Back in the Third Pairing Days

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about that game -- and it's nearly impossible to fathom considering how much Giordano plays now as part of the Flames top pairing with TJ Brodie, is Giordano's ice time that night was just 7:45. No, that's not a typo. Seven minutes and 45 seconds is all he played. Goodness, he routinely plays that much in a period now. In fact, in 442 career games, that remains his third-lowest ice time ever -- and one of the other two below it was a game in which got injured in the first period.

"Pretty effective for those seven or eight minutes, I'd say," Giordano says with a grin. "I was just breaking in back then. I was the sixth d-man, so it was a little bit different. You really didn't see too much ice time. There were also a lot more penalties back then, a lot more special teams, so it was tough to get in any shifts."

Under the guidance of Jim Playfair in his one year as the Flames head coach, the defence back then was anchored by Robyn Regehr and Dion Phaneuf, who both played over 26 minutes in the role that Giordano and Brodie play today. That night, Roman Hamrlik came in at 23 minutes while Andrew Ference and Andrei Zyuzin were in the 16-18 minute range.

Giordano's most recent visit to Toronto was Oct. 15, 2011. Two-and-a-half years later, Giordano says the player he is today barely resembles the player he was in that last visit.

"I'm a ton different," Giordano admits. "In the NHL, you don't realize it until you do play so many games, but playing defence, a lot of it has to do with experience. For example, not running around out of position. I was a different player back then. I got caught more often."

New and Improved No. 5 

Any way you slice it, Giordano is in the midst of one heck of a breakout season.
  • His 25:07 in average ice time leads the Flames, ranks him 10th in the NHL, and is two minutes more than his previous career high.
  • His plus-12 rating leads the Flames and is staggeringly good if you consider he's facing the opposition's top lines on a nightly basis -- and mix in the fact that Calgary has a net minus-32 goal differential.
  • He's got three times as many goals (12) and points (44)  in 57 games this year as he did last year when he had 4 goals and 15 points in 47 games.

With the stability Giordano brings to the blue-line, one can only hope that the Flames will be able to rebuild quickly and return to the post-season as it's been a while for the team, and it's been even longer for Giordano.

He has played only four playoff games in his career. They all came in 2007 when he played games 3-6 against Detroit. After a contract stalemate, he opted to spend 2007-08 in Russia. He missed the 2009 playoffs due to a shoulder injury. This year will be the fifth consecutive year Calgary has missed the playoffs.

When the Flames do make it back to the post-season, you get the sense that as good as he's going right now, Giordano will find yet another gear and further elevate his game. Now wouldn't that be fun to watch.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Flames Round-Up: Random Monday Morning Musings

It's been a pretty entertaining and eventful week around the Calgary Flames. Here are some random notes and observations that you may have read on Twitter although so often, 140 characters just isn't enough space to fully flush out a point.

Gaudreau/Arnold Watch – The draw for the NCAA College Hockey tournament took place yesterday morning. This 16-team tournament begins next Friday and just like the March Madness basketball tournament going on, it is a single knock-out format. Six Flames prospects are represented:

  • Boston College (Johnny Gaudreau, Bill Arnold)
  • Providence College (Jon Gillies, Mark Jankowski, John Gilmour)
  • Colgate (Tim Harrison)

A handy printable schedule with dates and times can be found here.

For those wondering, BC plays its opening game on Saturday, Mar. 29, at 2 pm MT against Joe Colborne’s old school, the University of Denver.  If the #1 seed Eagles get knocked off -- either Saturday in the opening game or Sunday in their second game, that’s it for Arnold’s college career and that could potentially be it for Gaudreau also if he chooses to bypass his fourth year of school and turn pro by signing with Calgary. It’s certainly something we will all continue to monitor closely. Conveniently, Calgary will be out East in Ottawa next weekend so not that far away.

Hobey Baker Award Ceremony Clash? – The Hobey Baker Award will be announced at 4 pm MT on Friday, April 11, from Philadelphia where the Frozen Four will be played this year. It is expected that Gaudreau will win it.  The unveiling of the Hobey Baker winner takes place on the day between the semi-finals on Apr. 10 and the final on Apr. 12.  Now, it is very likely Gaudreau will be in Philadelphia for that weekend as Boston College, considered the No. 2 school in the country, is the favourite to win both its games this weekend and reach the Frozen Four. Then again, it’s entirely possible Gaudreau will be in Calgary that day getting ready for the Flames final home date of the season against the Winnipeg Jets on that Friday night.

Hot Start for Poirier - For 48 teams across Canada, Major Junior playoffs opened up this past weekend  with the first two games in all 24 series taking place. Tied for the lead in playoff goals is Flames prospect Emile Poirier, who scored once in the opener and three more times in game two as Gatineau opened up with convincing 7-2 and 8-2 victories at home over Cape Breton. Poirier is one of three players in the country with four playoff goals so far.  The Olympiques play game three on Tuesday.  Poirier had 43 goals and 87 points in 63 regular season games.

One Month or One Year Too Late - Last year due to the late start and lockout-shortened 48-game NHL season, the trade deadline was on April 3.  Can you imagine the trade offers Flames interim GM Brian Burke would be fielding right now if the trade deadline day for this year had been April 3? It might very well have been a first round pick that is being offered the way he's scoring right now. Unfortunately, the scoring binge from No. 13 has come at the wrong time from the perspective of building up trade value.  The contrast in the 'right before' compared to the 'after' for Cammalleri in terms of the trade deadline is absolutely ridiculous.

  • Before trade deadline: 15 gm, 2-0-2
  • Since trade deadline: 10 gm, 9-6-15

The nine goals ties Cammalleri with Jarome Iginla for the most goals since March 5, one ahead of red-hot Gustav Nyquist.  His 15 points ties him with Tyler Seguin for the most posts since the trade deadline, two better than Claude Giroux and Mark Giordano.

Can’t help but wonder how many teams are regretting they didn’t ante up a little bit more back when they had the chance. Meanwhile, you sure have to wonder what the market actually was for Cammalleri three weeks ago. Considering he’s still in a Flames uniform, it couldn’t have been very good.

Defense: Wins Championships and Hastens Rebuilds – Watching the Flames rout the Oilers on Saturday night, a huge difference in comparing rebuild templates is Edmonton has no answer to Calgary’s top blue-line pairing of Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie.  These two -- a salty veteran and an established up-and-comer, who both finished the evening with career high +5’s, give the Flames a solid core to (re)build around and you get the sense that having these two integral pieces in place could expedite things in Calgary and get them back to being playoff-relevant a lot sooner than you might think.

Giordano's Amazing Run - The plus-minus rating has it’s detractors and I get that and there are advanced statistics that go much, much deeper into this type of analysis.  Nonetheless, no one can deny that if your team scores while you’re on the ice, that’s a good sign and if you're giving up goals when you’re on the ice, that’s not good.  We're now 70 games into the season so anomalies that do come up along the way have evened out by now. So, I'm going to go ahead and say it -- Giordano’s plus-11 is remarkable.

Compare that to others regularly mentioned in the top five NHL defencemen discussion like Shea Weber (minus-11) and Erik Karlsson (minus-20). Against Edmonton, Giordano also set a new career high for goals (12) and equaled his career high for points (43) -- which have come in 53 games compared to the 82 it took in 2010-11 when he first reached 43 points.

And how about the sensational month of March for the Flames captain?  Here are the NHL's scoring leaders for this month. It's absolutely stunning to think that Giordano went undrafted.

NHL Scoring Leaders - For March

1. Claude Giroux, Phi, 5-12-17
2. Mike Cammalleri, Cal, 10-6-16
2. Tyler Seguin, Dal, 6-10-16
4. Mark Giordano, Cal, 3-12-15
5. Jarome Iginla, Bos, 11-3-14
5. Sidney Crosby, Pit, 5-9-14
5. Ondrej Palat, TB, 5-9-14
5. Derek Stepan, NYR, 5-9-14
5. Matt Duchene, Col, 3-11-14

Evolution of TJ Brodie - Meanwhile, Giordano's defense partner, TJ Brodie, continues to rack up big minutes against top lines and do so very effectively and very quietly. For a glimpse into his past month, here are the NHL plus-minus leaders since the Olympic break. Would I use plus/minus alone to measure a player's worth? No. But in this case, it validates what we've been seeing with our eyes for a long time now.

1. Marc-Edouard Vlasic, SJ +17
2. TJ Brodie, Cal +13
2. Zdeno Chara, Bos +13
2. Kevan Miller, Bos +13
5. Patrice Bergeron, Bos +11

So far, the Brodie we’re seeing is the same Brodie that we saw last April and if he continues to elevate his game, he can expect to get a very nice long term deal next summer when his two-year bridge contract expires. In fact, might there even be a temptation to lock him up by offering him an extension right now?

Spoiler Week - These next 11 days for the Flames will provide a very nice test for the guys trying to raise their stock for next season. These are guys like Joe Colborne, Paul Byron, Lance Bouma, Sean MonahanKenny Agostino, Tyler Wotherspoon -- all still trying to establish exactly the type of player they are and how they may fit it into the organization moving forward.  Five of Calgary's next six opponents are currently in a playoff position so the Flames will be up against tough, motivated hockey clubs and at this point, I don’t think Calgary is going to sneak up on anybody – teams should know what to expect from the energetic, never-say-die Flames outfit.  This week at home in particular with the Sharks, Ducks and Rangers will be especially intriguing.

While I do subscribe to the theory of winning games now contributes to a “winning culture”, there are other bigger gains to be had from beating the NHL’s top teams down the stretch.  For one, it generates more positive building blocks for the aforementioned young players, as well as slightly older but still developing guys like Mikael Backlund and Brodie. You can’t bypass the development curve that all young players must go through before they become NHL stars but you can shorten it.  The better these players improve this season, the better players they’ll be to start next season, and the even better players they’ll be the season after.

Thoughts Around 'Burning' the First Year of a Contract - When Agostino signed his two-year entry level contract, negotiating that his contract begin this year instead of next year -- even though there’s only one month left in the season, is a bargaining ploy frequently pursued by the player. For one, that gets them into the NHL right away as CBA rules state that a player signing after the NHL trade deadline cannot be sent to the AHL. That also gives them an NHL salary through the end of the season (say good-bye to those student loans!).  It also ‘burns’ that first year of the CBA-mandated two-year entry level contract (ELC) getting them onto their next standard player’s contract (SPC) one year sooner and presumably -- in the player's eyes, at least -- into a bigger salary sooner.

While that’s a scenario that generally is viewed as an advantage for the players, a member of the Flames front office explained to me the other day that it also is an arrangement that works well for the teams. He pointed out that college players being older and further along developmentally – Agostino soon turns 22, you can usually get a sense after only one year of what those players are and if they are legitimate NHL prospects. If not, not being on the hook for two full seasons contract-wise is good as the team can move on from that player sooner if they wish, rather than keeping the player around for an extra year.

It is this precise situation that the club is currently in with winger Ben Hanowski, who signed a two-year deal at the end of last season. He’s now in the final year of that contract and is an RFA at the end of the season. The Flames have the option of resigning him but if they feel they’ve seen enough, they can also choose to move on and simply release him.

As long as the Flames still have at least one regular season game left this season, a college player can sign a contract that begins this year. Here's why I point that out. If, for example, Boston College gets knocked out on Apr. 10 in the Frozen Four semi-final, the Flames have two games left – Apr. 11 and Apr. 13. The desire by the player to burn that first year could expedite contract talks as they'd need to sign it right away.

Mark Messier Connection to Saturday Night - That Flames bashing of the Oilers on Saturday was not the biggest blowout in the Battle of Alberta.  The Oilers once defeated the Flames 10-1 on Nov. 26, 1996.  But, the seven-goal margin did equal the Flames biggest win over the Oilers, which had happened once before.  On Oct. 4, 1991, the Flames beat Edmonton 9-2 at the Saddledome. Calgary was led by Theoren Fleury’s two goals and two assists. Al MacInnis and Gary Suter had four-point games also.  Interesting about that game was it came on the day the Oilers traded Mark Messier to the New York Rangers in exchange for Bernie Nicholls, Louie DeBrusk and Steven Rice.

Joni Ortio's Friday Distraction – Had to feel sorry for Joni Ortio on Friday night against Nashville.  He didn’t look himself in giving up goals on the first two shots he faced, and eventually getting pulled after the fourth Predators goal in the second period.  I later learned that he had found out prior to the game that he was going to be going back to Abbotsford with Karri Ramo’s return and you have to wonder how much that played into it. Apparently, he wasn’t supposed to be told about the roster move until after the game. That said, I'd expect Ramo to play almost all, if not all of the Flames final games so having Ortio back in the AHL and be the No. 1 guy there is probably best in the long run and then the AHL playoffs after that will be another good opportunity for the 22-year-old Finn.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Gaudreau and the Flames: Conceivably How Soon Could It Happen?

As the Johnny Gaudreau watch picks up in earnest with optimistic fans hoping to see him in a Calgary Flames uniform soon, here is a breakdown of the different scenarios for how the remainder of Boston College’s hockey season could play out.

This will enable you to follow along in the upcoming weekends and have a better sense of whether suiting up for the Flames this year is a realistic possibility or not for Gaudreau, who will take a 29-game points streak (27-29-56) into action this weekend.

Of course, this is if he signs, which is still very much an uncertainty for ol' Johnny Hockey, who will celebrate his 21st birthday in August.

Also, I'm not suggesting Gaudreau would join the Flames and just like that, be in the NHL for the rest of his career. But I do think Calgary wouldn't mind getting him into a game or two if it worked out just to give him a taste. Also, such a cameo appearance would very much be a 'show 'n tell' moment for the organization and an opportunity to boast about what it hopes will be a bright future.

Note: This article and the timing around signing/playing would also apply to Gaudreau's Boston College linemate, Bill Arnold, also a Flames prospect.

FIRST UP: Hockey East Playoffs

After an opening round bye last weekend, Boston College hosts Notre Dame this weekend in a best-of-three quarterfinal. This series will be played at the Kelley Rink on the BC campus.  The eight teams remaining in the Hockey East conference playoffs will be whittled down to four by the end of the weekend.

Note that even if Boston College gets knocked off by Notre Dame, they are the No. 2 ranked team in the country so will still be a lock to receive one of the at-large bids and be invited to the NCAA tournament beginning Mar. 28. So, regardless of outcome, Gaudreau’s season won’t be over this weekend.

Game times:
  • Game 1 - Fri, Mar. 14, 5:00 pm MT
  • Game 2 – Sat, Mar. 15, 2:00 pm MT
  • Game 3 (if necessary) – Sun, Mar. 16, 2:30 pm MT

SECOND UP: Hockey East Championship Round

The surviving four teams play in a single-elimination showdown at TD Garden in Boston the following weekend. The Hockey East tournament winner will automatically receive an invite to the NCAA tournament. As previously mentioned, even if BC does not win the Hockey East tournament, they’ll still be going to the NCAA tournament anyway.

The only repercussion for the Eagles of getting knocked out of the Hockey East tournament early is a longer layoff before the NCAA tournament begins.

Game times:
  • Semi-Finals - Fri, Mar. 21 at 3:00 pm and 6:00 pm MT
  • Final – Sat, Mar. 22 at 5:00 pm MT

Selection Sunday

At 10 am MT on Sunday, Mar. 23, the 16 teams that will make the NCAA Division 1 Men's Hockey Tournament will be announced.  Automatically receiving a spot in the tournament will be the winners of the six conference tournaments. The other ten spots will (or should) essentially be the 10 best remaining teams as chosen by the selection committee.

Which teams will make the NCAA Tournament from a Flames prospects perspective?

Based on the pairwise rankings provided by College Hockey News (as of Mar. 12), here is the scoop on the four teams that have Calgary draft picks playing for them.
  • Boston College (Johnny Gaudreau, Bill Arnold) – For sure. Ranked No. 2 in the country, they'll be in the tournament one way or another.
  • Providence College (Jon Gillies, Mark Jankowski, John Gilmour) – Probable. Ranked No. 11 in the pairwise comparison ratings, one would assume they would receive an at-large bid if they don't win the Hockey East tournament.
  • Colgate (Tim Harrison) - Possible. Ranked No. 16 in the above ratings, their entry into the tournament -- if they don't win the ECAC tournament, will depend greatly on which teams win the conference tournaments and which schools are left over for the 10 at-large bids.
  • Yale (Kenny Agostino) – Doubtful. Ranked No. 18 in the pairwise comparison ratings, if Yale does not win their way in by capturing the ECAC tournament, they may end up one of the best of the rest and on the outside looking in.
  • Michigan State (Matt DeBlouw) - Very, very doubtful. Ranked No. 36, would need to pull off a mammoth upset and win the Big Ten conference tournament to get in.

THIRD UP: NCAA Tournament

Much like the March Madness basketball tournament, the NCAA hockey tournament is a single-game elimination format also. However, with hockey it’s comprised of 16 teams as opposed to 64. There are four regions and each region will play host to four teams that will play in a semi-final and then a final. The four regional winners will advance to the Frozen Four.

At this point, if you lose, you're done. So, this is when the Gaudreau watch will really get serious.

Game times:
  • Region Semi-Final – Either Mar. 28 or Mar. 29
  • Region Final – Either Mar. 29 or Mar. 30

LAST UP: Frozen Four

Taking place at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, it goes the weekend of April 10-12. It is once again a single elimination format consisting of the four regional winners from that opening weekend of the NCAA tournament.

Again, it’s lose and you’re out but given how far into April we are now, if Boston College makes it this far and with the Flames final regular season game on Apr. 13, I'd suggest the odds of Gaudreau signing and getting into Calgary's final regular season game in Vancouver are highly unlikely.

Game times:
  • Semi-Finals – Apr. 10 at 3:00 pm MT and 6:00 pm MT (approx)
  • Final – Apr. 12 at 5:30 pm MT

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IN SUMMARY: Answers to Popular Questions

Q. When is the soonest Gaudreau’s season could be over? 

Boston College will make the NCAA tournament so the soonest Gaudreau’s season could end is if BC loses its opening tournament game, which will either be Mar. 28 or Mar. 29, depending on the region they end up in (determined on Selection Sunday, Mar. 23).

Q. How many games does Gaudreau have left?

As few as three if they lose two straight in the Hockey East tournament and then lose their first game in the NCAA tournament.

Or, as many as nine if they go three games with Notre Dame to open the Hockey East tournament and then make it right through to the Hockey East final, and also go all the way to the Frozen Four final.

Q. How quickly could Gaudreau conceivably sign and report to Calgary?

These things have the potential of moving fast. More than anything, it all hinges on Gaudreau and how long he wants to ponder his options. I trust that on the Flames side, Brian Burke will be ready to get him on a plane should they succeed in getting his name on a contract.

Last year as an example, Ben Hanowski made his Flames debut four days after playing his final college game. So signing, getting to Calgary (or joining the team on the road, in this case) and getting ready to go can happen that quickly if not even quicker.

For reference, it was 11 days after Boston College's final game last year that Gaudreau announced via Twitter his intention to return to school for his third year.

Q. Could Johnny Gaudreau wear a Calgary Flames jersey this season?

Certainly possible.  While the all-important question of whether he’ll sign or not is still an unknown, the schedule would allow for him to play in Calgary if Boston College gets knocked out early in the NCAA tournament.

The soonest his college season could be over is Mar. 28. The Flames begin a five-game Eastern road trip on Mar. 30 that takes them to Ottawa, Toronto, Tampa Bay, Florida and New Jersey. How about this for a dream scenario. Given Gaudreau is from Carneys Point, New Jersey, wouldn’t Calgary's game on Apr. 7 against the Devils at the Prudential Center be the perfect backdrop? The kid's NHL debut comes in his home state with his parents and siblings in attendance. Goodness.

The only home games Gaudreau could possibly appear in would be against Los Angeles on Apr. 9 and when Winnipeg visits the Saddledome on Apr. 11.

If, on the other hand, Boston College makes it through to the Frozen Four final as expected, that would surely kill any chance of Gaudreau playing for the Flames this season considering the final is on a Saturday night in Philadelphia and Calgary's final game of the regular season is the Sunday night in Vancouver. If BC gets knocked out in the semi-final on Apr. 10 instead, it's still a stretch although a tiny bit less of a stretch.

Q. Could Gaudreau join the Abbotsford Heat?

If he signs a contract that begins with the 2013-14 season -- which is what Kenny Agostino did, then he would not be allowed to be assigned to the AHL because he will have signed the contract after the NHL trade deadline had passed. This is a provision in the CBA. He would be able to play in Abbotsford in 2014-15 but not be assigned there this season. This extends to when the Flames season ends, he still could not be sent to Abbotsford.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Flames Newest Offensive Weapon: Brian McGrattan 2.0

Introducing the new Brian McGrattan: Goal scorer, offensive catalyst and slap shot aficionado.

That might very well have been the strangest sentence I've ever written yet much like a court reporter, I'm merely transcribing the facts as they've been presented over the past few games.

The hulking six-foot-four, 235 pound winger -- a grizzly bear on the ice, but a teddy bear off it, has goals in consecutive games for only the second time in his career after lighting the lamp Monday night in the Flames 3-2 home-ice loss to the Los Angeles Kings.

Equally, if not more impressive, McGrattan led Calgary with a career-high six shots on goal against rookie goaltender Martin Jones -- that's right, S-I-X! The only other Flame with more than two was TJ Galiardi with three shots.

“It's good, even for me,” admitted the club's 32-year-old elder statesman. “I'm starting to get a little bit more ice the last couple weeks and getting more comfortable playing more minutes and showing the coaching staff that I can do a little bit more than fight.”

A Rare Feat by NHL Standards

Looking back over recent NHL history, what McGrattan accomplished Monday night was very, very rare.

In the last 14 years going back to 2000-01, only three players have scored a goal and had six or more shots in less ice time than McGrattan's action-packed and highly effective 8:31 against Los Angeles.

  • Shawn Thornton, Bos - Jan. 1, 2012 vs. Wpg, 1 goal, 7 shots, 7:04 TOI.
  • Jonathan Cheechoo, SJ – Feb. 21, 2003 vs Clb, 1 goal, 6 shots, 8:30 TOI
  • Pierre Dagenais, NJ – Dec. 26, 2001 vs Pit, 1 goal, 6 shots, 8:17 TOI

A Record Night by a 'Long Shot'

In typical McGrattan style, he didn't merely break his old record, he smashed it, clobbered it, bloodied it, just like one of his one of his patented overhand rights to the mush.

In his previous 290 NHL games, 'Gratts' -- as he's known around the dressing room, had racked up more than three shots in a game just once. That was over four years ago in his first stint with the Flames. Skating on a line with Fredrik Sjostrom and Brandon Prust, he peppered Devan Dubnyk with four shots in a 6-1 Flames victory over Edmonton on Jan. 30, 2010.

As for his goal, possibly the most dramatic of his NHL career (OK, there are only nine to choose from), it drew the Flames to within one with 2:22 left in the game. In an otherwise quiet night at the Saddledome as the Kings built an early lead then checked the young Flames into the ground, suddenly the building was alive again, having erupted after McGrattan spun in the slot and powered a slap shot off Jones' pad and in.

“It was big,” emphasized McGrattan. “Two goals right away got some energy in the building and all we needed was a little extra bounce to get a third one.”

McGrattan's third goal of the year and sixth in the last 67 games going back to last season, came just over two minutes after Mike Cammalleri's power play goal at 15:29 ignited the late comeback attempt and set up the furious final few minutes in which the Flames nearly tied it up a couple times.

Contributing Feels Great

“It is a payoff,” said McGrattan, best known for the 164 scraps he's had since turning pro -- 72 of them in the NHL. “Us guys in a fourth line or checking role, we're not guys that put up a ton of offence. When we can chip in with a goal, even back-to-back (games), it's always exciting and it is a reward for the hard work we do.”

Not to be forgotten, the late rally came against the 2012 Stanley Cup champions, the NHL's hottest team with seven straight wins heading into last night, and against a club that was a perfect 20-0-0 when leading after two periods.

In coming up one goal shy once again, the resilient Flames have played 39 one-goal games this season, tying them with the New Jersey Devils for the league lead. Their 13 one-goal losses in regulation is second only to Buffalo.

“The identity of our team is a team that never gives up and we work hard every night,” McGrattan said. “Minus a couple games this year, we've been in almost every game so that's encouraging going forward. We've got the last 17 or18 games here to play spoiler against some teams.”

McGrattan's next opportunity to continue his unexpected but awfully fun to watch offensive prowess comes Wednesday night when Calgary hosts Anaheim.

In the last four games, McGrattan's 12 shots on goal ties him with Mark Giordano for the team lead. But McGrattan's dozen have come in just 29:11 in ice time. Over that same span, Giordano has logged over three times as many minutes (102:51). The next closest forward to him over that span is Cammalleri with nine shots.

“We've got a lot of guys that are getting an opportunity to show the organization that they belong in the NHL. The young guys have brought some spark to our dressing room and they push the old guys because we don't want to lose our spots,” said McGrattan, who is the oldest player on the team other than back-up goaltender Joey MacDonald.


Three-Year Anniversary of his AHL Game of a Lifetime

While McGrattan's six shots was a career high for an NHL game, it's not his high as a pro – not even close. Playing for the AHL's Syracuse Crunch on Mar. 12, 2011, he scored twice and had a whopping 13 shots on goal in a 3-2 win over Rochester.

Interestingly, his linemates that game were Nick Bonino and Patrick Maroon, who are both expected to be in the line-up for the Ducks on Wednesday. That game will fall on the third anniversary of that wild night at the War Memorial Arena in Syracuse.

One thing you can bet on after his 100-footer found the back of the net behind Eddie Lack on Saturday, you know he'll keep on shooting as much as he can and brandishing that red-hot slap shot that has served him so well of late.

It was in the second period Monday that McGrattan, with Saturday's goal in mind, again let a long slap shot fly from way outside the blue-line.

“Yeah, I had another long one there,” McGrattan said with a chuckle. “I was at the end of a shift, I'm like, ah, I my as well try it again.”