The 2010-11 season was the 30th season played by the Calgary Flames. As the next season quickly approaches, we present a three-part look back at 30 seasons of the Flames, one decade at a time.
Part 1, The 1980s
Part 2, The 1990s
Part 3, The 2000s
PART THREE: 2000-01 to 2010-11
FALSE STARTS AND TRANSITIONS
The decade began with a “Save the Flames” drive, prompted by ownership realizing that with just 7,500 season ticket holders, it would be difficult to survive in a world with a 62 cent Canadian dollar. Coming in the wake of Winnipeg and Quebec losing their teams to American cities, the drive boosted season ticket numbers into the 13,000 range.
On the ice, the Flames kicked off 2001-02 with an uncharacteristically good run. Led by the netminding of new goalie Roman Turek, the team went on a 13-2-3-2 tear in the first 20 games of the season. Turek was promptly signed to a long-term contract and fell off the face of the Earth. Or at least his consistency did. The Flames took a steep nose-dive and finished the season under .500 and well outside of the playoffs.
Meanwhile, to make things worse, Flames coach Greg Gilbert and Marc Savard did not get along. Eventually, what started behind closed doors bubbled into the media, with Gilbert and Savard engaging in an increasingly uncomfortable war of words. Bowing to the pressure to intervene, Flames general manager Craig Button traded Savard to Atlanta in November 2002 in exchange for Russian prospect Ruslan Zainullin. If that name sounds unfamiliar, that’s because he never left Russia. Two weeks after the trade, Button relieved Gilbert of his coaching duties anyway. A wide search was conducted for a suitable replacement, with the Flames tapping 67-year-old Al MacNeill to coach for 10 games on an interim basis.
The search resulted in Darryl Sutter, just recently let go by San Jose at the time, becoming the Flames head coach.
Following a 19-18-8-1 run in the remainder of the 2002-03 season, the Flames appointed Sutter to Craig Button’s old post as general manager (adding that to his responsibilities as head coach). Sutter made a series of changes to the roster, adding role players like Ville Nieminen and Marcus Nilson and plying Finnish goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff from the Sharks for a second round draft pick.
Following the All-Star Break, Sutter and the coaching staff broke the remainder of the schedule into four seven-round chunks, much like the four playoff rounds. The team set the goal of winning enough games in each segment to “win” each series. The approach paid off. The Flames went on to qualify for the playoffs for the first time in just under a decade, led by Kiprusoff breaking the modern goals against average record and Jarome Iginla, freshly anointed as team captain, scoring 41 goals to tie for the league lead.
Then, against all odds, the Flames managed to win three playoff series against the three Western Conference division winners. This was despite being, on paper, not nearly as good as the Vancouver Canucks, Detroit Red Wings or San Jose Sharks. After years of being a league punching bag, Calgary managed to push the talented Tampa Bay Lightning to the seventh game of the Stanley Cup Finals. Not only that, there is a sizable contingent of fans around the National Hockey League that believe that Martin Gelinas’ near-miss shot on Lightning goalie Nikolai Khabibulin in game six was really in. If that were the case, the Flames would have likely won the series.
The 2004 Stanley Cup run galvanized a rather disorganized fan base, bringing thousands of fans out to the Red Mile to celebrate each win and filling the Saddledome to capacity for each game – a feat that hadn’t been accomplished in several years.
ALL ABOARD THE COACHING MERRY-GO-ROUND
The Calgary Flames went through many coaches during the 1990s. That trend continued during the 2000s. Junior coaching legend Don Hay was brought in to bring the team’s Young Guns to the next level. He crashed and burned, being fired midway through the 2001-02 season and being replaced with assistant coach Greg Gilbert. Gilbert fared no better, getting the axe midway through the 2002-03 campaign.
Gilbert was replaced by Darryl Sutter, who led the team to a Stanley Cup Finals berth in the 2003-04 season and stepped down as coach after the 2005-06 season to focus on his duties as general manager. During Sutter’s general manager stint, the Flames were led by three different head coaches. First was Jim Playfair, a longtime AHL head coach and Flames assistant coach. Playfair coached the team for just one year before being demoted to associate coach to make room for Mike Keenan. Keenan was bench boss for two seasons before being ousted in favour of Sutter’s brother Brent, a long-time fixture in Alberta hockey due to his ownership of the Red Deer Rebels.
Overall, the Flames had six coaches over 10 seasons, with the average coach lasting just over a year and a half. Stability is a hard thing to find.
THE RISE AND FALL OF DARRYL SUTTER
Darryl Sutter was named head coach of the Calgary Flames on December 28, 2002. The team was desperately searching for some direction, as the hockey club had floundered on the ice for long enough that the memories of the 1989 Stanley Cup victory seemed a lifetime away.
Darryl Sutter resigned as general manager of the Calgary Flames on December 28, 2010. The team was talented yet underachieving and seemed destined for their second straight spring without playoff hockey. In an effort to salvage the season, Sutter was likely the most readily ejectable member of the front office.
In the eight years that Darryl Sutter was with the Flames, the team made the playoffs most of the time (missing when he was head coach in 2003 and general manager in 2010 and 2011). The team was usually pretty competitive and Sutter was very successful in fostering a team identity. As a result, fans knew what kind of product they were paying to see and, consequently, the Saddledome was packed regularly.
Sutter was also a master when it came to trades. He got Miikka Kiprusoff from the Sharks for a draft pick. He was able to get Jay Bouwmeester’s rights prior to free agency by sending pending free agent Jordan Leopold and a draft pick, then signed Bouwmeester before anybody else even had a chance to negotiate with him. He snagged Rene Bourque from Chicago for a draft pick.
However, if Sutter had a flaw, it was that he continually was trying to recapture the magic of 2004, despite the fact that post-lockout, the game changed entirely. His dogged pursuit of Olli Jokinen is a perfect example – Jokinen is a fine hockey player, but he serves a much different role on the post-lockout Flames than he did on the Florida Panthers.
As the old saying goes, foolishness is following the same course of action regardless of the changing circumstances. Darryl Sutter was great for the team for the first half of the decade, but he didn’t adjust to the changing environment and that his moves to save his job (trading, then signing Olli Jokinen; trading Dion Phaneuf) were so erratic speaks volumes.
THE DECADE OF IGINLA
It is difficult to imagine the Calgary Flames without Jarome Iginla. Acquired from Dallas in December 1995, he joined the team during the 1996 playoffs and made his regular season debut in the 1996-97 season.
He came of age during the 2000s.
- Iginla scored 30 goals (or more) in every single season of the decade.
- Iginla’s 810 points during the decade is second only to Joe Thornton.
- Iginla’s 393 goals during the decade is unmatched.
- Named Calgary Flames captain prior to the 2003-04 season, then led the club to the Stanley Cup Finals.
- Scored 50 goals twice in the decade, in 2002 & 2008.
- Won the Rocket Richard Trophy as goal-scoring leader in 2002 & 2004.
- Won the Art Ross Trophy as points leader in 2002.
- Won the Lester Pearson Trophy as league MVP as voted by the NHLPA in 2002.
- Won Olympic Gold with Team Canada twice, in 2002 & 2010.
- Won the NHL Foundation Award and the King Clancy Award for humanitarian work in 2004.
- Won Mark Messier Leadership Award in 2009.
- Became the 77th player in NHL history to hit the 1000 points plateau.
Short of a Stanley Cup victory, there isn’t much more Iginla could have done to have a better decade.
Goaltenders: Miikka Kiprusoff (262-156-56), Roman Turek (63-68-25)
Defensemen: Dion Phaneuf (228 points), Robyn Regehr (151 points), Mark Giordano (108 points) & Toni Lydman (93 points)
Forwards: Jarome Iginla (810 points), Craig Conroy (308 points), Daymond Langkow (288 points), Alex Tanguay (208 points), Kristian Huselius (182 points) & Matthew Lombardi (167 points)
TEAM RECORD: 388-312-120 (54.6% of possible points)
PLAYOFFS: Failed to qualify for playoffs in 2001, 2002 and 2003. Stanley Cup Finalists in 2004. First round exits in 2006, 2007, 2008 & 2009. Failed to qualify for playoffs in 2010 and 2011.
CAPTAINS: Dave Lowry (2000-02), Bob Boughner (2002), Craig Conroy (2002-03), Jarome Iginla (2003-11)
GMS: Craig Button (2000-03), Darryl Sutter (2003-10), Jay Feaster (2010-11)
COACH: Don Hay (2000-01), Greg Gilbert (2001-02), Al MacNeill (2002, interim), Darryl Sutter (2002-06), Jim Playfair (2006-07), Mike Keenan (2007-09), Brent Sutter (2009-11)
BEST TRADE: The Flames traded a second round draft pick to the San Jose Sharks for Miikka Kiprusoff.
WORST TRADE: The Flames traded Dion Phaneuf, Keith Aulie & Fredrik Sjostrom to Toronto for Matt Stajan, Ian White, Jamal Mayers & Niklas Hagman.
Ryan Pike has covered the Calgary Flames and the NHL Draft extensively since 2010 as a Senior Writer for The Hockey Writers and Senior Contributing Editor of FlamesNation.ca. A member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, he lives in Calgary.