The year was 1998.
Or it might have been 2000, this is all pretty murky. Let’s just say it was a long time ago.
Your Calgary Flames were, um, underwhelming. The Canadian Dollar had slipped to the tune of 67 cents on the American 1, and this economic uncertainty meant a once star-studded and competitive team was stripped down, sold off, and the team was left up on blocks as it’s tires were now being peddled onto other cars.
Yes, gone were the days of Fleury, MacInnis, Nieuwendyk, and Gilmour. There was a Bure, just not the right one (although relative to what we could come to see, in many ways it absolutely WAS the right Bure, so I guess it’s all perspective)
But the team, like the Dude, abides, and no matter how grim times are, rosters need to be filled. The Flames did this, stocking the coffers full with a veritable who’s that of players.
You had your Hlushkos, your Gaveys, your Petrovickys, and your Lakovics. (I know). Trevor Kidd made way for Dwayne Roloson made way for like a million other goalies that no one had ever heard of.
Somehow, through all this, wins eluded Calgary. The Saddledome became the place where the Flames were Saddledone. You might remember prior to the magical run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2004 that the team prior to that season had gone another seven without even a whiff of postseason ambition. They just never had the talent.
But they were young. My word, how they were all fine young men. THAT was something to build around. Only from a marketing standpoint, not from anything hockey related.
Thus came the birth of The Young Guns:
Yup. The Young Guns. These plucky youngsters who might not have been the best hockey players, but permeated the dressing room with that unmistakably infectious youthful exuberance, and Phil Housley. Now isn’t that something worth packing the kids into the minivan and coming down to the Pengrowth Saddledome to check out?
(It wasn’t. Not really)
But you know what, it kinda worked? Not in any tangible way – the team consistently finished well outside the sphere of the Top 8, and the team was in financial peril for years – but these no name kids, they were hard not to like. We started to identify with these players, to KNOW WHO THEY WERE. it was fun to watch Todd Simpson punch people, or Rob Niedermayer try to emulate the success of his older brother. It was fun when Cale Hulse brought his wife Gina Lee Nolin to the rink. That part seems unrelated, so I digress. Fans actually wore Valeri Bure jerseys, and did so without a hint of irony. “Hey, you guys lost again, but boy you sure tried your hardest and it looks like you’re having fun out there!” The Flames became our children in house league pee wee hockey. It was adorable.
One of those Young Guns was one Jarome Iginla. If you’re halfway familiar with the Calgary Flames or at least know what a puck is, you’re probably at least a little bit aware how we all transitioned out of the Young Guns era into the “Jarome’s Team” age as the man from Sherwood Park began to assert himself as a dominant force in the league.
The team became more competitive, expectations were raised, and with Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff putting the whole squad on their backs, the Young Guns faded from our collective memories, save for cute little reminders of the way things used to be that we smile at, but hope never to return to.
Yeah, I hate to say it, but Young Guns 2.0 is out, and it’s out of it’s Beta release. This version is STABLE, and you need to go ahead and embrace it right now, because it’s not going away.
(I have a theory that the Original Young Guns left a curse on this franchise that manifested itself into Jarome Iginla, and how his trade to the Penguins killed the curse much like it did the souls of Flames fans everywhere who are forced to watch Iggy don a Pens jersey this deep into the playoffs, but that’s another story for another day)
It all begins and ends with Iggy himself. As he had to mature and evolve through the first generation of this squallor, seeing star players be sold off for marginal returns (save for Iggy and Robyn Regehr), now Jarome himself has completed the same cycle that has ushered us back into this new old era.
Or did you not see who the Flames landed in return for Iginla. Young kids, questionable upside, previously 100% unknown to just about everybody.
Kenny Agostino and Ben Hanowski are probably my new favourite buddy cop partnership, but they fail to strike fear into the opposition or confidence into a fanbase. Same with a maybe admittedly promising Mark Cundari but most likely awful Reto Berra that became property of the Flaming C when Top Pair Defenseman Jay Bouwmeester changed his address to a Missouri zip code.
Couple this with an already “Meh” or “Who?” prospect base within the Flames system (although the prospect of watching Sven Baertschi and Mikael Backlund line up together for the near future is pretty damn enticing), a weak UFA pool this offseason, and a perceived unwillingness of top tier players to find Calgary to be an attractive destination whilst in the throes of a rebuild led by a management and scouting team not competently equipped to guide it, there’s not a lot to be excited about in the next two to (insert number here) seasons.
It’s to be expected, rebuilds are necessarily slow processes, as not everyone is Sidney Crosby coming right into the NHL. Players need time to adapt to the pro game, to the pro game on a regular basis, to the heightened expectations. Only a few of them will ever do it, and it’s not going to happen overnight.
But it doesn’t make it any easier to watch in the interim.
So Flames fans, I urge you to be patient. We’ll be on the outside looking in for a while (if it helps you sleep better, so will the Oilers. I know I feel pretty good about that. And the Canucks window is slowly starting to close, so watching that train wreck happen will feel cathartic, but it will only be fleeting).
As a fan of this franchise, remember the Young Guns, and use that feeling to tide you over with this new generation. Because they will be fun to watch. We’ve already seen a glimpse of it this season once everyone started to be ushered out to Columbus for 5th round picks.
Max Reinhart is never going to be a true NHLer, but he performed admirably after it was too late for the Flames to salvage 2013. Same with Roman Horak, who has been a better pickup than we ever expected him to be. Cundari surprised us all by not sucking outright. TJ Brodie is making a case for himself to be a real deal, Top unit defenseman, and is doing so convincingly. Backlund and Sven are going to be money.
It’s not “The Plan” ( I don’t know what the plan is yet, but it’s not this), and with three first round draft picks and (presumably) a plan to develop and upgrade the prospect pool, and guys like John Gillies and Tyler Wotherspoon looking stronger at this early stage than perhaps we would have believed, there is a distant and flickering light to look to.
In the meantime, let’s just sit back and watch these exciting but not very good youngsters try to steal our hearts.
The Book Of Loob is an overly excessive and unrealistic Flames fan who semi-occasionally blogs about the team on the Spec. When he’s busy not writing here, he can be seen not writing on his own blog and on Flames Nation. You probably think he’s really cool and charming, but you’re too shy to ever tell him that. He understands.