Like a few Canucks fans out there, I am actively rooting for the Flames to miss the playoffs this year. In all honesty the Flames' management deserves to be punished for some of its shockingly poor decisions, including:
- Signing noted 3-goal scorer Jay Bouwmeester for $6.7/year over five seasons
- Trading for one-quarter of the Toronto Maple Leafs 2009-10 opening night roster
- Trading away (almost) 25-year old blue-chip defenseman Dion Phaneuf in a knee-jerk attempt to acquire some scoring
- Trading for Olli Jokinen last season
- Bumping against the cap last season to the point where the team had to dress only 16 skaters due to injuries
- Failing to surround Jarome Iginla, one of the best power forwards in the game, with any sort of offensive talent
- Until acquiring Vesa Toskola, who has been solid for the Flames since they picked him up, failing to acquire an adequate backup for Mikka Kiprusoff, forcing him to play far too many games (76 starts in each of the past two seasons!)
Okay, I could go on-and believe me I am enjoying this a great deal-but the Flames' managerial incompetence is not the point of this post. Because, despite all the karmic justifications for rooting against Calgary, the real reason for my anti-fandom is that AS A VANCOUVER CANUCKS FAN I AM OBLIGATED TO HATE THE CALGARY FLAMES.
Yes, it's true-I consider this to be an obligation of Canucks fans. The Canucks have had limited playoff success, and thus have generated few rivalries through postseason battles. They have no natural geographic rival. However, they have a long-standing and bitter rivalry with the Flames. Every time the two teams play it is a fiercely contested game, with passionate and antagonistic crowd support on both sides. As has been discussed on this blog before, the Canucks' biggest rivalry is the Calgary Flames.
Many sports teams have rivals that you just have to hate if you are a fan of that team. For example, my roommate still gives me a hard time because I had friend come over to our place for a Canucks vs. Senators game in an Ottawa jersey. And I know many Leafs fans who cheered for the Anaheim Ducks (i.e. against the Sens) in the 2006 Stanley Cup Final. If you are a fan of the Islanders you are raised to hate the Rangers. And vice versa for Blueshirts fans, who still serenade the Islanders with chants of "Potvin sucks!" In the NFL, the Steelers hate the Browns and Ravens, and the Browns and Ravens hate the Steelers. In the MLB, Red Sox fans' second favourite team is whoever is playing the Yankees. You get the idea.
In the 1980s the Canucks, along with the LA Kings and Winnipeg Jets, were essentially Smythe Division doormats for the Edmonton Oilers and the Flames. Those two teams had epic Battles of Alberta that usually determined the Campbell Conference champion. However, that rivalry is long since dead in all but name-culminating in the likely possibility that both Albertan team will miss the playoffs this year. The Canucks/Flames rivalry, meanwhile, has been stoked by seven-game series in 2004 (Flames won in OT) and 1994 (Canucks won in double-OT) and much bad blood in regular season meetings.
It doesn't hurt that the last four times these teams have met in the first round of the playoffs the winner has gone on to the Stanley Cup Final. The Canucks in 1982 and 1994, the Flames in 1989 and 2004. In fact, the only time either team has made the Final without defeating the other was in 1986, when the Flames lost the Cup to the Canadiens and the Canucks were eliminated in the first round by the Oilers.
My first taste of Flames/Canucks rivalry came in 1989, when I was only five years old. I remember only snapshots from Game 7 of that series. I remember being in a conflicted state because my 15 year-old brother had convinced me to bet $1 (an absolute fortune to me at the time) on the Flames, with him taking the Canucks. I remember overcoming my uncertainty and wanting the win more than the money. I remember Stan Smyl getting robbed on a breakaway my Mike Vernon in OT. I don't remember the winning goal (by Joel Otto I think?) but I remember being crushed as I watched the Flames celebrate their series win right in front of the Canucks' net.
Of course 1994 was a defining season for any Canucks fans old enough to remember it. My brother took me to Game 3 against the Flames, a loss to give Calgary a 2-1 series lead. I remember that someone threw a bag of peanuts at Al MacInnis as the players lined up for a faceoff after Calgary slated the victory away with an empty-netter. I remember not having a ton of hope that the Canucks would come back from a 3-1 series lead, and I remember the miracles of Geoff Courtnall and Trevor Linden OT winners in consecutive games. I remember shrieking in fear when the Flames had a 2-0 breakaway in the first overtime period, screaming in excitement after Kirk Mclean made a miraculous save, and shouting my lungs out when Pavel Bure finally won it in the second OT frame. The rest of the playoffs was a magical Cinderella run that finally struck midnight in Game 7 against the Rangers. But even though we lost, I could at least hang my hat on the defeat of the Flames and the subsequent playoff run.
And then, in 2004, I spent the evening watching the Canucks play the Flames in Game 7 from my basement apartment in Toronto. I chose to watch the game instead of studying for a final exam that I had the next day. I still do not regret that decision despite the heartbreak that followed a Markus Naslund end-to-end rush that led to a Matt Cooke tying score with a few seconds left, followed by a Martin Gelinas tally for the Flames in OT while Ed Jovanovski sat in the penalty box. The fact that we played the rest of that season without Todd Bertuzzi and most of that series without Dan Cloutier (Alex Auld filled in), and then the next season was locked-out, made the loss all the more bitter. It was the last stand for a Canucks squad that played some of the best hockey Vancouver has ever seen.
That moment of heartbreak for Canucks fans is a source of joy for Flames supporters. My brother used to live in Calgary, and informed me that the Flames seem to revel in Canucks' misery-following the 2004 series he was subjected, even at games in which the Canucks did not play, to extended videos of Jovonovski celebrating in the penalty box after Cooke tied the game followed by replays of Gelinas scoring the OT winner with Jovo still in the box. Apparently a highly disproportionate of Flames highlights shown during games involve goals, hit or fights against the Canucks. Clearly the anti-Canuck sentiment runs deep for Flames fans: witness this circa-2006 Canucks message-board hate, the "Flames Rock, Canucks SUCK Hardcore!!!" Facebook group, this blog, and more circa-2006 hate on this blog for a small sampling of the Canucks-bashing that runs rampant online. Admittedly much of this material, particularly the Facebook group and the message-board trash, is not indicative of high-level hockey intelligence. However, the last link particularly shows a typical Calgary hate-on for Vancouver.
And you know what? I am totally fine with these sentiments. Why? Because I feel the exact same way about the Flames. It doesn't matter how many nice guys or great players (or even mediocre ex-Leafs) the team has, I just bring myself to like them. It's just unnatural. Can you imagine an Islanders fan cheering for the Rangers to make it into the playoffs? Yeah right. Given the history, both of elation and heartbreak, between these two teams, I think the damage is irreparable.
In the comments on WAACH 'Cast's post this morning, Chuckles Canuckles says of the Flames: "I hope they tank for 50 years." I don't know if entirely agree with that, because if the Flames never make the playoffs in the next five decades then we won't have the satisfaction of watching the Canucks beat them (and apparently our road to the Stanley Cup runs through Calgary-though hopefully that is not true this year). However, I am quite pleased about the Flames' current misery.
Which leads me, ultimately, to the point of this post. Despite defeating the Washington Capitals 5-3 this afternoon, Calgary sits four points back of the Avalanche and five points back of the Kings (each of whom have two games in-hand) with only eight games left. The playoff picture looks very bleak for the Flames. And I for one am really enjoying it. I hope the Flames miss the playoffs, because, well, no matter what the Canucks accomplish in the postseason at least I can revel in the fact that our bitter, historical rival was already on the golf course by mid-April.
If the Flames do make an improbable run for a playoff spot, they will almost certainly have to run the table. Their final game of the season is April 10... against the Canucks. Wouldn't it be sweet if Vancouver could deliver the final knockout blow to the Flames 09-10 season? If that happens, I am sure I will not be alone amongst Canucks fans in raising a toast-to the Canucks win, yes, but more importantly to the elimination of the Calgary Flames from playoff contention. And you know, given the reverse situation, that Flames fans would do exactly the same thing.