To Eric Francis, Calgary Sun
Now that you've got Oilers fans in a tizzy with yesterday's witty and well-written news release, please help me understand why Flames fans are so excited about this season.
I know, I know. We're talking about a team that went all the way to the seventh game of the 2004 Stanley Cup before LOSING to Tampa Bay, and what a thrilling ride it was for long-suffering fans in Cowtown.
I remember being caught up in much the same sense of excitement and anticipation in Vancouver in 1983 after the underdog Canucks went to the 1982 Stanley Cup final against the New York Islanders. And, boy, just like everybody expected, they went out and ... Never mind.
Up front, the Flames lost two good offensive players in Martin Gelinas and Craig Conroy and added Tony Amonte and Daymond Langkow. By my count, Gelinas averaged 44 points over the past two seasons and Conroy came in at 53. Amonte and Langkow each averaged 52.
A big upgrade? No. Then again, I'm not factoring in Amonte's proven knack for leadership.
And, while Darryl Sutter deserves credit for getting playoff hero Miikka Kiprusoff inked to a long-term deal between the pipes, here's hoping there's no unhappy, ahem, encore of Roman Turek's unfortunate lurch into oblivion. Who can forget how Large (I mean Turek, not Terry Jones) put pen to paper on his fat contract and then came up Small?
Hey, that probably won't happen. Heck, even if Kipper slips some, there's always Philippe Sauve. I mean, sure, he's unproven with just 17 NHL games on his resume, but he had a 3.04 goals-against average and an .896 saves-percentage with a powerhouse Colorado team ... Never mind.
BREWER FOR PRONGER
Even if things go slightly sideways, you've got an infinite margin of error to work with down there. Don't forget, that marvellous run to the final began with the Flames finishing five points ahead of the Oilers.
I'd say the Battle of Alberta is alive and well.
As you pointed out, the Oilers traded their best defenceman, Eric Brewer, and prospects-turned-suspects Jeff Woywitka and Doug Lynch for Chris Pronger, who is indeed more expensive at $6.25 million a season.
What this trade really comes down to, as anybody who watched Woywitka and Lynch struggle mightily in the AHL with the Road Runners last season can tell you, is Brewer for Pronger.
I'd make that deal and pick up the extra salary the Oilers aren't paying Roman Hamrlik any day. Hammer was a great guy and good player for the Oilers, but the only way he'll get close to a Norris Trophy is if he stands next to Pronger.
PECA PLUS 75
As for trading away their best centre in Mike York for "defensive specialist" Michael Peca, well, as much as I hate to complicate things with the facts, I will anyway.
York, a handy little guy - as long as he avoids traffic - has 235 pts in 374 NHL games for an average of .628 points per game. Peca, a gritty little guy, has 371 points in 622 games for an average of .596 points per game while winning the Frank Selke Trophy twice. York's best season is 61 points. Peca's is 60. In plus-minus, York is plus-1 for his career. Peca is plus-75.
The decision not to raise the Western Conference championship banner when the Oilers come calling Oct. 15 shows class by the Flames, but it will be a disappointment to miss what could be a once-in-a-lifetime spectacle.
In closing, I'd caution you to resist the temptation to summon the engraver before the first puck is dropped for the 2005-06 season, a campaign that will see the Battle of Alberta rejuvenated with the Flames facing the Oilers eight times -- assuming, of course, the Oil doesn't just forfeit.
Remember, fortunes can change in a hurry. Think of it this way - before the spring of 2004, most of the young ladies flashing their breasts on the Red Mile had none the last time the Flames made the playoffs.
See you Sept. 16.
Yours in inflammatory journalism,