In the wake of 11 straight losses and the Flames continued success, I think it’s safe to say that people said a lot of things they might have wanted to take back in the cold light of a December morning.
Life is full of regret, and spending three hours of any given Saturday watching your favourite team get it handed to them like that is going to make you feel as though you’ve lived a few lifetimes’ worth of it. A sampling of the more immediately regrettable things uttered in anger and sadness after the recent lashing at the hands of the Blackhawks follows:
I don’t point these out to ridicule the Nation members who said them. These were people who were dealt huge mental and emotional blows after years of suffering already, and consequently it’s difficult to cast blame. Things can only be taken so far and for so long before someone says something crazy, like, “Maybe I should become a Flames fan.”
Listen to yourselves.
A Flames fan, really? When in the last 20 years has being a Flames fan been in any way desirable? Maybe you say the mid-2000s, when they went on that Stanley Cup run. But that’s about it, isn’t it? One season in which the Flames actually did something besides perform decently in the regular season and get smoked in the playoffs. Which, let’s not forget, the Oilers did as well, and more recently, than Calgary.
But let’s say you’re actually dumb enough to follow through with this, which I would hope you aren’t, but you never know I guess. Here’s what you can expect to see as a newly minted Flames fan:
“Oh boo hoo hoo we got killed by the best team in the league! We’re never gonna be good!” – Literally all Albertans by the end of this season
Okay sure the Oilers are still technically in their rebuild but they’re more than a few years into it at this point. Remember all the losing over the last several campaigns? Sure you do. That’s why someone had to come talk you off a ledge on Saturday. Well, Calgary is currently in Year 2 of its rebuild.
And please don’t take the current standings, which show Calgary very highly ranked in the Western Conference, because one must also consider this:
That’s the league sorted by score-adjusted possession numbers from the bottom up (done before the Flames last few recent wins, which didn’t change much. You’ll notice the Flames are 29th in the league. For the record, the Oilers are 18th.
Rebuilding teams are built to lose a lot for a short time (or at least it’s meant to be a short time; sorry for bringing that up), so basically the Flames can’t even do that right. If you went back and video edited all these games to exclude the goals, you’d reasonably conclude that Calgary was getting smoked 7-1 almost every time out.
I find Flames games dismal to watch, goals aside. I can’t understand why you’d want to sign up for that.
Watching your team give up a field goal and an extra point on home ice is always a gut punch, no doubt about that. You can chalk a lot of that up to the Oilers just not having the lineup depth that the Blackhawks do, and getting some weirdly bad goaltending from guys whose career averages suggest they’re a lot better than what we’ve seen this year.
Remember all that “99 problems but a save ain’t one” stuff about Ben Scrivens? That was only 11 months ago, and everyone’s all of a sudden abandoning ship on the guy because he’s had a bad 10 games or whatever it is to start the season.
The rest of the Oilers are a mishmash of quickly declining veterans and still-developing youth, with one real center and no real defensemen. Wow, they’re losing? Who could have guessed that would happen to a goalie with those minor roster problems in front of him?
Here’s the thing: That’s kind of what the Flames are right now. They have two Norris-caliber defensemen, it’s true, but their No. 1 center is a second-year player whose playing well above expectations (see also: well above his head). The Flames are an enviable team? Let’s pull up the scoring numbers and have a look: a recent win finally allowed someone who’s not a top-pairing defenseman to pull into second on the team in scoring, ahead of TJ Brodie. Congratulations to Jiri Hudler, who gets sheltered more than a very fortunate stray dog. Beyond that it’s rookie Johnny Gaudreau (who’s great and entertaining and all, but he’s not nor will he every be Taylor Hall on that left side) and the ghost of Curtis Glencross’s career to round out the team’s top-six in scoring. Dennis Wideman’s next, Paul Byron’s after that, and those are all the Flames in double digits.
Which is more than the Oilers, but please recall the Flames have a PDO of 102.4 (third-best in the league). Edmonton, meanwhile, is dead last at 96.8.
And what this does is trick idiots into thinking a team is good. Colorado in 2010, Dallas in 2011, Minnesota in 2012, the Maple Leafs in 2013, Colorado again in 2014. These are all teams that won despite terrible possession percentages before ultimately collapsing in one hilarious way or another, all the while insisting that the laws of corsi did not apply to them because (fill in the blank). For the Flames, it’s that they “work hard.” They might, but know who else works hard? Every other team.
All of which means…
No more comebacks
It’s so fun to watch your team come back from down multiple goals in the third period! Wow, so great! The Flames do it a lot because they’re 6-6-0 when trailing after 40 this season and that is fun.
What’s not fun is watching your team not-come-back from down multiple goals in the third period and instead flail around helplessly as far superior sides play keep-away and laugh at them for the final 20. And for the Flames, that’s going to start happening a lot more when those above-mentioned PDOs normalize, which they will.
They’re coming back in all these games because Jonas Hiller and Kari Ramo are giving them great goaltending and they’re going up against guys like Scott Clemmensen kind of a lot. You could score three goals in 20 minutes against Scott Clemmensen no matter who you put in front of him. Scott Clemmensen should have been out of the league years ago.
The Flames aren’t good enough to keep giving up 57 percent possession and win every night because no one in hockey history has been. Not unless you have Dominic Hasek in net and Wayne Gretzky up front (they don’t).
All this does, then, is lull fans and potentially management alike into thinking they’ve figured out The Formula, which they uncategorically have not, and ascribing all this huge meaning and personal pride to results which are unrepeatable.
The strong potential for doubling down
If the Flames keep this up for, say, another month or two, they’ll be hard pressed to collapse so badly that they’ll actually miss the playoffs no matter how hard they fall apart down the stretch (which, by the way, they 100 percent will). That, in turn, might lead Brad Treliving to start going out and trying to acquire the Hard Work kind of player that has brought this team so much success so early on in the rebuild.
But what this ignores is that Hard Work players are also Not Good players, as a general rule: They appear to work hard because they don’t have the talent to make a difference otherwise. They certainly don’t overwhelm with skill. Know what that reminds me of? The Edmonton teams of four or five years ago, prior to all the No. 1 picks. Those teams worked their asses off, and missed the playoffs constantly.
The difference is Calgary is young and Edmonton is old. At least, in theory, that’s the difference. But if you have a lot of guys who have to work hard as kids — and believe me, guys like Josh Jooris and Lance Bouma aren’t in the NHL because they’re going to score a ton of goals over a long period of time — well, that’s both good and bad. Good they’re working hard, but bad they have to do that much to still get this hopelessly outpossessed.
If the Flames decide they’ve figured it out (which I assume they will, because it happens all the time in this league), they might set their own rebuild back a few years.
And boy, Oilers fans, doesn’t that sound familiar?
Another side effect of all the winning and sterling performances from their top players is that the Flames will continue to do what they’ve done for years: Hold onto their few valuable veterans until they are devoid of value. I have no doubt that Mark Giordano will get a boat full of money dropped into his back yard by a helicopter full of money this summer when the Flames re-sign him, but the fact is he’s wasting the last few useful years of his career in Calgary, shepherding a lot of rookies to what you can bet will be a few more losing seasons at least. The guy’s already 31. Calgary will probably hold onto him until he’s just the name brand “Mark Giordano” instead of the defenseman who would have won the Norris last season had he not gotten hurt.
Yeah, it’s a different administration in charge now, but they did this with Bouwmeester and Iginla, and held onto Mike Cammalleri last season before he walked this summer without any compensation coming back to them. If NHL hockey in 2014 is about maximizing assets, well, that’s something this Flames club doesn’t do well enough.
At least the Oilers had the decency to burn it to the ground as deliberately as possible. And at least they’re trending in the right direction.
The Flames say they use analytics but that doesn’t explain why or how they signed Deryk Engelland to a three-year deal this summer, traded for Brandon Bollig, and continue to employ Brian McGrattan. The Oilers actually use them, and did nothing but make smart signings this summer (though the less said about the Nikita Nikitin acquisition, the better, obviously). I already wrote this on Puck Daddy, but the only problem the Oilers actually have at this point is that Kevin Lowe is in charge, and I consider it a wash between he and Brian Burke as team presidents. The jury’s still out on both Treliving and MacTavish, as far as I’m concerned, but Edmonton has made a bigger show of surrounding their guy with smart people, which leads me to believe they’re actually doing that.
It’s a free country. You can cheer for whichever awful Albertan team you like. But jumping from one to the other leaves you open to wedgies, name-calling, and perhaps most important, the possibility that you’re going to choose wrong.
You want to be a Flames fan all of a sudden? I’m not sure you’re emotionally ready to go through that. Not again, anyway.