One of the most important changes made in the Calgary Flames organization over the off-season was seemingly a minor one, but has already paid dividends for the club. After playing a defense-oriented system in their American Hockey League affiliate, the Abbotsford Heat, the Flames opted to implement the same uniform playing system across their organization.
Friday night’s game against the Florida Panthers provided a good test of this revised organizational approach. On Thursday, the Flames traded winger Tim Jackman to Anaheim and recalled Blair Jones from the Heat. While Jones wasn’t the first player summoned from the farm team this year (Roman Horak, Chad Billins and Max Reinhart were called up earlier), he was given just a morning skate to get re-acquainted with the Flames and his new line-mates before playing a game.
The result of this little experiment was Blair Jones continuing his torrid AHL scoring pace, albeit in the form of a goal in his first NHL appearance this season. Following Calgary’s 4-3 shootout win over Florida, Flames head coach Bob Hartley neatly assessed the results of the uniform playing system.
“It’s much more easier for the players to come in,” said Hartley. “They know exactly how we play and it’s even throughout the entire system. And I think that the players will benefit from this a lot and we saw it tonight.”
Hartley also had some praise for Jones, both in terms of his different approach to the game and his success in Abbotsford. Jones had been a late cut at training camp, with the Flames too deep with forwards on one-way contracts (and hot-shot rookies Sean Monahan and Sven Baertschi) to keep him. He cleared waivers and was sent to the farm, returning briefly in October to sit in the press box for three games before returning to the Heat.
“Right from training camp, he was a different player, he was a different person and we were hoping that we could call him up,” said Hartley. “He was a leader for us in Abbotsford, he was great there and he was putting up points, was playing lots of quality minutes. To get a goal, I felt that he played well. We gave him some penalty killing duties and he did quite well, so that’s a good sign.”
Through 16 games with Abbotsford, Jones scored 8 goals and added 12 assists, making him one of the AHL’s top point-earners. He was also a key component of the Heat’s tremendous start. Jones attributed his AHL success to having the right attitude when he was cut at the end of Flames training camp.
“There’s ups and downs with everyone’s career and I think it’s how you handle them that kind of dictates how you do moving forward,” said Jones. “I went there with a good attitude and a good work ethic, worked hard and had fun. We were winning almost every game and things were going, and hockey’s fun, so I think when you have a situation like that it’s easier on your mind and you can play and just enjoy the game again.”
With Curtis Glencross and Mark Giordano still on the injured reserve – and Chris Breen on a conditioning stint in the AHL – the Flames have a full roster of 23, Jones included. He’ll need to pass through waivers again to return to the AHL. With the injured players likely not returning until around Christmas, Jones will have about a month to cement himself in the Flames plans.
He got off to a great start on Friday night.