It’s been 30 years since the Flames won the Stanley Cup and 15 years since they last qualified for the Cup Final. Both historical milestones will be recognized on May 30th when the Flames Alumni stages it's annual Charity Golf Tournament.
Wouldn’t it be nice if the current Flames were playing playoff games in-or-around that time? It would mean they’ve made it to the Cup final again. It’s not impossible considering the present-day squad is the NHL’s second-best team during regular-season play after clinching the Western Conference and Pacific Division pennants on Sunday.
Are their comparisons between today’s Flames and the two squads that matched to the Cup final? There are some to be sure. This year’s collection reminds me more of the 1988-89 Flames. Both have demonstrated plenty of scoring depth among forward lines although the ’89 crew had a more veteran defence. Both had very good regular-seasons.
Like this season, the ’88-89 team have five players register 70-or-more points with the mixture the same both times – four forwards and one defenceman. Thirty years ago, it was Joey Mullen, Hakan Loob, Doug Gilmour, Joe Nieuwendyk, and blueliner Al MacInnis – four of them at Hall-of-Famers. Now it's Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Elias Lindholm, Matthew Tkachuk, and defender Mark Giordano.
Both teams made one minor deal at the trade deadline to add depth. In ’89, winger Brian MacLellan was secured from Minnesota for Perry Berezan. This year defenceman Oscar Fantenberg from Los Angeles for a conditional draft pick in 2020. Rookies were part of all three teams. Forward Theoren Fleury was the only rookie to play a significant number of games in ’88-89 joining the club on January 2 after starting the season in the minors. The ’03-4 team had Chuck Kobasew and Matthew Lombardi in their initial campaigns. The current squad has three – defencemen Rasmus Andersson and Oliver Kylington plus forward Andrew Mangiapane. Neither team had any prolonged losing runs. The ’88-’89 Flames’ only low point was a stretch of games over the Holiday Season when they won just once in five outings. The current team had two different four-game losing streaks. In early February, it was two regulation losses and two shootout losses. Then in early March, four-straight regulation time setbacks.
The ’03-04 team didn’t collect 100 points, but their longest losing streaks were limited to three games – in early November and again in late February.
Another ’89 similarity with today’s team is the expectation level. The club 30 years ago was supposed to win the Cup. The team now isn’t favored to win the Cup but without winning at least a couple of playoff series would be considered a disappointment by some followers of the team. Correspondingly, the 2003-04 collection went into the playoffs with numerous predictions they’d be eliminated in the first round. They were up against the Vancouver Canucks, who had finished seven points ahead of them during the regular-season. In fact, the expectation was that the ’04 group wouldn’t even make it to the post-season. But they eliminated the Canucks in seven games with the final game going to overtime. Playing the Canucks in round one in ‘04 matched with ’89 when the Flames needed overtime in the 7th game as well to eliminate the Canucks.
The comparisons between ’89 and ’04 basically ended after the first round. The ’89 Flames were favored in the remaining three series knocking off Los Angeles in four games, Chicago in five before winning the final over Montreal in six games. The ‘04 Flames were underdogs in defeating Detroit and San Jose, both in six games, before losing game 7 in the final against Tampa Bay. The coaching parallels don’t really correspond. In ’88-89, Terry Crisp was in his second season as head coach. In ’03-4, Darryl Sutter started his first full season after being behind-the-bench for the second half of ’02-3. Now, Bill Peters is in first campaign here after four in Carolina.
The ’89 team had co-captains Lanny McDonald and Jim Peplinski while Jarome Iginla had the ‘C’ in ’04 and Giordano now. In ’88-89, Mike Vernon was clearly the #1 goalie from start to finish. In ‘03-4, Miikka Kiprusoff was the man in the playoffs but didn’t start the season with the team arriving in mid-November in a trade with San Jose. This time it’s a tandem – Mike Smith and David Rittich – sharing. Will it be the same in playoffs? Or will one guy emerge? If it’s one guy and its Smith then the first name would correspond with ’89 for sure and not far off the ’04 guy.
Another connection to 1989. When the Flames hit the ice April 11 to start the playoffs, they’ll be wearing the retro red jerseys similar to the uniforms worn the night they won the Cup. Should it bring the same final result now, it would be the ultimate comparison to 30 years ago.
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