As Reto Berra and Ladislav Smid head to Russia to represent their respective countries in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, the rest of the Calgary Flames are left with a mini-break from the NHL ice.
After a dismal start to the beginning of the year, the Flames enjoyed a little bit of success and boost of morale as January ended and a new month began. A victory against the Phoenix Coyotes on January 22nd kicked off a 5-game win streak, a complete turnaround for the team who had only won two of their last ten games prior.
And it wasn’t like they were taking their two points from other struggling teams around the league; among some of the teams topped during the streak were the mighty Chicago Blackhawks and San Jose Sharks.
The win streak was a part of a few rays of light in an otherwise cloudy sky for the Calgary Flames as February began.
To add to their goaltending woes, netminder Karri Ramo was injured early on in the game against the Minnesota Wild on February 1st. Ramo’s injury was revealed to be a sprained MCL. Joni Ortio has been recalled from the Abbotsford Heat to serve as Reto Berra’s backup until Ramo’s return.
Although Ramo’s injury leaves the Flames goalie situation a little more vulnerable than it already was, it brings us to ray of light #2. This could be seen as a great chance to prep the young, up-and-coming Ortio for a more permanent role in the big show. In the 2013-2014 season with the Heat, the 22-year old Finn has played 25 games and is 19-5-0, with a 2.08 goals against average and a .930 save percentage. Two of his nineteen wins were shutouts.
With just about two months to go before the regular season wraps up, it’s time for the Calgary Flames to make a decision about the moves they will make for the following year. Just 13 points out of last place, the team’s chances of drafting one of the top five in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft are pretty high, giving them a third ray of light.
March 1st is looming, which means once again big names are turning up on the trade rumour mill, with Mike Cammalleri once again being the most whispered-about player.
Amidst all the trade buzz is ray of light #4. The Flames did lock up one of their most consistent players, Kris Russell, for two more years at $2.6 million. While some might not think much of the signing, the Russell deal is actually a great one for the team. To put it into perspective, Russell’s stats are most similar to defenseman Dion Phaneuf of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who is costing his team $7 million per year.
And then there is ray of light #5: Mikael Backlund is finally finding his legs. While the Flames as a whole didn’t have a very good January in terms of wins, goals and points, Backlund has begun to pick up and up his production. In his last 10 games, he has 10 points, with five of them being multi-point games.
Things may be bad for the Calgary Flames at the moment, and there’s no telling what will happen post-Olympic break, but for now they are at a comfortable place. Small changes are unfolding that are appearing to strengthen the team, yet they are still so far maintaining their possibilities of snapping up one of the highest-ranked prospects come draft time.
In the meantime, the Flames and their fans will turn their attention to the global stage, and cheer on Canada, and to a lesser extent, Switzerland and the Czech Republic (for Berra and Smid) for the next ten days at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.
Graduate of Mount Royal University’s Journalism program and a freelance sports writer from Calgary, Alberta.