Work in Sports
NORTHWEST DIVISION |
3 Calgary Flames
Team Page | 2000-2001 Schedule | Roster
Sports Illustrated Ranking: 21
By Eric Duhatshcek
New general manager Craig Button's first order of business last summer was to get help in goal, which is why he acquired two-time Stanley Cup champion Mike Vernon. Vernon, 37, became the Flames' third new-old goalie in three years, and his acquisition was tinged with irony. It was Calgary's decision to trade Vernon in June 1994 that created its goaltending woes. Nevertheless, Button believes that Vernon can do what injury-prone Ken Wregget and over-the-hill Grant Fuhr failed to do before him: get the Flames back into the playoffs for the first time since 1996.
Vernon, who finished last season with the Panthers, is eighth on the NHL's alltime wins list (371), but more important, he's durable and coming off a campaign in which he had the same save percentage (.917) as Vezina Trophy winner Olaf Kolzig. "My numbers in the last couple of years are respectable," says Vernon. "I'm a better goalie now than I was five years ago. I butterfly more, I don't challenge as much, I even put my paddle down once in a while."
Vernon may take his paddle to the team's defensemen if they don't give him better support than they did his predecessors. While it's easy enough to point to the Flames' pitiful popgun attack as their primary shortcoming (they scored only 211 goals last season, tied with the Stars for 11th in the Western Conference), you can't overlook the fact they've also finished among the NHL's bottom-feeders in team defense for the last three years. Injuries last season decimated what was, on paper, a competent back line, led by revitalized 36-year-old Phil Housley and precocious Derek Morris, who finished 17th in the NHL in ice time. Morris, who missed the start of this season because of a contract dispute, was the only 21-year-old in the league to average more than 24 minutes per night.
New coach Don Hay, 46, is considered more of an innovator than the man he replaced, Brian Sutter. Hay, who guided Tri-City of the Western (junior) Hockey League last season, has installed an up-tempo forechecking system, designed to revitalize the offense. "I don't expect us just to squeak into the playoffs," says right wing Jarome Iginla, who played his junior hockey for Hay and endorsed his selection. "We may have struggled for a few years and had to go through some growing pains, but we're ready to take a big leap forward."
Unless the Flames find some scorers to take the pressure off Iginla and Valeri Bure, however, don't be surprised if they're still taking small steps a year from now.
Issue date: October 16, 2000
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