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Northwest: Flames need to find some offense

by Roger Phillips
Two presumably unrelated stories were in the news in Calgary this week.

The Flames struggled to remain in the playoff race in the Western Conference. And the Calgary Herald reported a gorilla at Calgary's zoo nearly escaped from its pen when it made its way onto the top of a fence before changing its mind and staying put.

Could it be that the gorilla simply was exhausted from all the mediocre hockey being played in Calgary this season and wanted out? Stranger things have happened.

In any event, the Flames are barely hanging on these days. They picked up a crucial 3-2 victory Wednesday at Colorado, without which they'd have been in really big trouble.

Earlier in the week, two damaging losses in 24 hours -- to Vancouver and, more hurtfully, to Detroit -- put the Flames in dire straits. With less than one month left in the regular season, they are at this point on the outside of the playoffs looking in.

The gorilla in the room for the Flames is what happened to their offense? They managed one goal in the Vancouver loss and one more in the loss to the Red Wings, the team they are battling for the last playoff spot. Even a top goalie like Miikka Kiprusoff isn't going to win too many games when his team can't score more than one goal.

"We haven't scored that many goals," Niklas Hagman told the Calgary Sun, stating the obvious. "If our average would be even just one more, we would have won a lot of games. It's tough when our goalie plays so well and we lose. We need to create some offense to help."

Calgary did just that Wednesday, getting two goals from Rene Bourque and one from Eric Nystrom in the win against the Avalanche.

Nonetheless, the Flames remain among the lowest-scoring teams in the NHL, negating their status as one of the League's stingiest defensive squads. They better keeping finding answers the way they did Wednesday. After all, the gorillas are getting restless.
Meanwhile, in Edmonton ... -- Of course, things could be worse for Flames fans. They could be Oilers fans. 

But at least they can dream ... of Jaromir Jagr in an Oilers sweater. Jagr, 38, has been playing in Russia, but his contract expires after the season. He reportedly has told the Oilers' Ales Hemsky, a Czech countryman, that he is contemplating a return to the NHL.

So, Hemsky said in an interview with the Edmonton Journal, why not the Oilers?

"I don't know how he feels now, after the (Olympics), but I think after he's had some time he will want to come back for one or two years. He can still play on a small rink," Hemsky told the paper.

Jagr produced 1,599 points in 1,273 NHL games, and even at his advanced age could perk up the Oilers' offense. If nothing else, he could boost the franchise's profile a little bit. If the Oilers were to pursue Jagr, it wouldn't be the first time. They tried to sign him to a one-year, $7 million deal two years ago, but he signed in Russia instead.

In 2009, Jagr told CBC Sports, "I was excited when I heard that Edmonton pushed pretty hard to get me and I really appreciate it. And if I ever go (back to the NHL) they would be my No. 1 pick because they showed interest in me first. I will never forget that and I respect that. They would be my first pick."

"I think he would come here," Hemsky told the Edmonton Journal. "But that's just speculation."

Starring role -- On a team with the Sedin twins and Roberto Luongo, it's easy to overlook right wing Mikael Samuelsson. But the Canucks are going to miss him over the next few weeks as he recovers from a shoulder injury, and they are definitely going to count on him for some production in the postseason.

The 33-year-old free-agent addition from Detroit has notched his first 30-goal season in his debut year in Vancouver and is one of the many reasons the Canucks have high hopes of being the first Canadian team to win the Stanley Cup since the Canadiens beat the Kings in 1993.

Samuelsson, the NHL's First Star last week, said he learned a great deal during his time with the Red Wings.
"In the organization before here, the best players worked the hardest and there was really no secret to it," Samuelsson told the Vancouver Province. "They weren't the most skilled, but it was will over skill and that really set the bar for other players. I've been in that for years, where you've got to win every game, and when you don't it's a big disappointment. That can help you win here, too."

Samuelsson is an unlikely NHL success story. Drafted by the Sharks in the fifth round in 1998, he never got a chance in San Jose. From there, he signed with the Rangers, for whom he played for two seasons, followed by brief stops in Florida and Pittsburgh before he landed in Detroit.

Teammate Ryan Kesler said the additions of Samuelsson and defenseman Christian Ehrhoff this season are a big reason why the Canucks' power play is among the League's most potent.

"When you pick up guys like Ehrhoff and Samuelsson, it just makes our power play and our team just that much better," Kesler told the Province. "They bring winning ways to this group and they bring their own ideas about how we can win."

Looking forward -- It's probably not unrelated that at the same time The Hockey News rated the Wild's farm system one of the weakest in the League that the team went out and signed a talented college free agent this week.

The newcomer is sophomore center Casey Wellman from the University of Massachusetts. Wellman, 22, had 23 goals and 22 assists this season.
He probably wouldn't have minded signing with the Sharks, considering where he was born. Wellman is a native of the Northern California Bay Area community of Castro Valley. He's the son of former Major League Baseball player Brad Wellman.

Wellman's agent, George Bazos, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that the Wild was one of 22 teams that expressed interested in his client. Bazos said the Wild's lack of depth at center made the team a good fit for Wellman.

"It's an up-tempo system, which is really the way Casey plays," Bazos told the paper. "He's a good skater. He's on the puck a lot. Chuck (Fletcher, Wild GM) was great throughout the whole process, so it's a combination of all those that made him feel comfortable."

Wellman told the paper, "It's been a whirlwind. I have a lot of emotions. I'm obviously very excited but at the same time I'm nervous."

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