From Kent Nilsson to Johnny Gaudreau, Lanny McDonald to Sean Monahan, Al MacInnis to T.J. Brodie, Joe Mullen to Jarome Iginla, over the course of over three and a half decades in this town, there have been no end of stellar turns in aid of the Flaming C cause.
So wrestling selection a Top-10 individual seasons is a chore. Many factors come into play.
Historical ramification. Sheer volume. Significance to the organization.
You’re spoiled for choice, naturally.
Some are non-negotiable.
Others calls are hellish.
The very fine Calder Trophy-calibre campaigns of Gary Suter and Sergei Makarov are absent, for instance. A sprinkling of stellar 50-goal and/or 100-point performances, as well.
More regrettable yet is the omission of the prolific yet edgy 53-goal (second highest seasonal total in franchise history), 207-PIM 1991-92 turn put in by truculent left winger Gary Roberts. A season as dynamic as this could’ve slipped in anywhere in the bottom half of the Top 10 without a word of complaint, and on many such lists would’ve.
But, well, competition being what it is …
Here, then, over the next 10 days, is one list of the 10 Calgary Flames’ seasons to most savour, that best stand the test of time, presented in descending order:No. 8, Hakan Loob, RW, 1987-88.
80 GP, 50 G, 106 Pts, NHL First All Star Team
The subject, Hakan Loob realizes, is unavoidable. Resistance, futile.
“People,’’ he sighs, on the long-distance phone line from home,“are always bringing it up. Still. All these years later. And I guess they’ll continue to want to talk about it.
“At least until it happens again.”
IF it happens again, he means.
Small and sturdy as a Shetland pony, as competitive as anyone twice his size, among the most underrated players of his generation and someone whose singular importance to the Calgary Flames’ collective was only fully understood after he’d left, returning to Sweden for family reasons.
In ’87-88, Hakan Loob scored 50 goals.
No other Swedish-born player had done it before. None has done it since.
Not Naslund, be he Mats or Markus.
Neither of the Sedins.
Only Hakan Loob.
“In one way, I am surprised -- or at least was surprised,’’ he admits. “But now … so much has changed. After a few years back home, I looked at the really good Swedish players in the league - Sundin, Forsberg and these guys -- and figured there was no way it could stand for very long.
“I remember (Markus) Naslund came pretty close the one year.
“But more recently, with the developments in the game, especially in the goaltending, I began to think differently. Suddenly, just three guys were scoring 50 goals in a season. Then only two or one.
“And then you’re thinking ‘Oh, my God. This may never be broken.’”
Operating mostly on a line with 51-goal, Calder Trophy-winning Joe Nieuwendyk at centre, and truculent Gary Roberts on the left flank, Loob enjoyed a career-best 106-points through ’87-88.
The significance of his feat, particularly back on home soil, was not lost on anyone at the time.
But as the years stampede by and the roll call of great Tre Kronor players failing to match it or surpass it increases, it’s uniqueness only grows in stature.
Oh, there were close calls. Kent Nilsson had scored 49 as a Flame in his staggering 131-point season of ’80-81, and as Loob himself pointed out, Markus Naslund of the Canucks would snipe 48 through 2002-2003.
But. Peter Forsberg topped out at 30 goals. Mats Sundin scored 41, twice, Daniel Sedin once. Mats Naslund reached 43.
For Loob, No. 50 arrived on April 3rd, the final game of the regular-season, at home in the Saddledome. The 4-1 win clinched Calgary’s first-ever President’s Trophy.
“Of course I remember it. Against Minnesota. 3-1 with about three minutes left. Powerplay. Gary Suter coming down the left. Cross pass. Tap-in.” A laugh. “$30,000 bonus.
“I’ve seen it on YouTube, a few years ago.
“The goalie? That I don’t remember for sure. Gilles Meloche, maybe?”
(Nope. Don Beaupre, actually)
Four of the Top 10 point-producers that season scored at least 50: Mario Lemieux (70), Jimmy Carson (55), Luc Robitaille (53) and Loob (50).
So he’s only too willing to acknowledge quantum changes in league landscape from his era.
“The better goaltenders had different stats back then. You had Grant Fuhr, considered the best probably, whose goals against was 2.90 a game and a save percentage of .870. Today, you’re not good if you don’t have a .940 save percentage.
“It’s just a fact: Goals are harder to come by today.”
A year after his milestone campaign, and only days after celebrating the ’89 Stanley Cup win, Hakan Loob packed up and headed home in order for his children to be brought up in Sweden, spurning riches and unwittingly compromising the Flames’ chances of putting together a Stanley Cup-winning run.
Crazy thing is, when Al Coates, then PR Director of the Flames who’d go on to become GM, picked Loob up at Calgary International airport in the fall of ’83 to begin the Swede’s NHL adventure, told him he would stay six years, maximum.
Coates laughed then, sure the bright lights and enticing remuneration would be enough to keep the North American newbie.
But Loob stayed six years.
A man of his word.
Also a man who, within a relatively small sample size, gave us one of the greatest of Flames’ seasons.
Yes, times have changed. Granted, the game has evolved. Goals are, as he mentioned, ever tougher to come by.
But that touchstone number, his number -- 50 -- remains there, by its lonesome, the ever-elusive target for all future Swedish NHLers to chase.
“Oh, sure, I’m proud of it,’’ says the only man to reach it. “I’m not going to sit here and tell you it’s not important to me.”
Maybe one of his countrymen, one day, will get there, too. Then again, maybe not.
“Who knows?’’ teases Loob. “When I die, that might be what’s written.”
On his tombstone? Something along the lines of ‘Here lies the only Swede ever to score 50 goals in the NHL’?
“Yeah,’’ he laughs. “That’s it.
“Hey, could be worse.”