Kipper's best season ever?

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:53 PM ET

Early exits from playoff contention aren’t the only traditions the Calgary Flames have created in recent seasons.

Star goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff departing for the summer without speaking to the media is an annual event.

After this past season, Kiprusoff didn’t need to say anything, even though his team failed to advance to the Stanley Cup tournament.

His play spoke volumes.

As hard as it may be for the Flames faithful to see the positives after the club went from Stanley Cup hopeful to 10th place in the Western Conference, there were some bright lights.

Left winger Rene Bourque improved on his first career 20-goal season in 2008-09 by tallying 27 times.

Defenceman Mark Giordano took a giant leap forward with an 11-goal, 30-point and a team-best plus-17.

Curtis Glencross hit 15 goals, Nigel Dawes (14 goals) gave very good bang for the buck and rookie Mikael Backlund had a strong enough audition to provide hope he’ll be a strong rookie next season.

But the brightest shine all season centred around Kiprusoff.

He was in the top 10 in wins (35), goals-against average (2.31) and save percentage (.920).

The Flames struggled nightly to score enough goals, but Kiprusoff provided more than enough quality starts to give them hope.

His teammates repeatedly said down the stretch he was just as good, maybe even better, than the Vezina Trophy-winning campaign of 2005-06.

Had the Flames managed to squeak into the post-season, a case could have been made Kiprusoff should be in the same breath as Buffalo’s Ryan Miller and Phoenix’s Ilya Bryzgalov in the Vezina debate.

Kiprusoff’s abilities were beginning to be called into question the last couple of seasons, or at least whether they were eroding, but he delivered an all-star calibre campaign.

And the Flames wasted it.

Who knows how many more Vezina-calibre seasons the unflappable Finn has in him?

Before the first month of the 2010-11 season is complete, Kiprusoff’s age will match his sweater number, 34.

That’s not to say he’ll no longer have the cat-like reflexes or Gumby-like flexibility, but those abilities will deteriorate eventually. The fight with Father Time is one we all eventually lose.

You never know, Kiprusoff may be like Dominik Hasek, Martin Brodeur or Patrick Roy, who managed to deliver top-notch goaltending for a handful of seasons after celebrating their 34th birthday.

But maybe he’ll be like Marty Turco or Ed Belfour, whose game fell at that age.

The Flames have been fortunate to have one of the best goalies in hockey for the last six seasons.

They’ve failed to take advantage of what should have been Kiprusoff’s prime years with first-round eliminations.

They couldn’t ride arguably his best campaign into the post-season party.

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca


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