“You always get asked about the schedule or the games remaining or what you have to do to make the playoffs. That’s a constant and those are good questions, but in the back of your mind, it’s day-to-day. You don’t look at the trip, you look at tomorrow. I always say today is for tomorrow and that’s what you plan for.” – Darryl Sutter
Coaches often talk about staying in the moment, about not looking too far down the road or at the big picture. It makes sense because the big picture for the Calgary Flames as they get ready to take on the Edmonton Oilers at Rogers Place tonight is ugly. It has been since the Oilers spanked the Flames 7-3 March 17, handing Sutter his first loss after three straight wins in his return to the bench in place of fired Geoff Ward.
While the remaining games in this season’s edition of the Battle of Alberta can impact the playoff picture in the North Division — Edmonton leads the series 4-2-0 — the reality is the Oilers, 22-14-1 for 45 points, will make the post-season. The only question being where they finish in the top four. The Flames, who arrive 16-18-3 for 35 points, will not. Isn’t happening.
I was hoping the BOA might have some added punch to it after Sutter returned, but it hasn’t worked out that way, so you get what we have here. The Oilers are in. The Flames are out. Calgary has lost ground since that 7-3 butt-kicking. They won’t catch the Oilers and they won’t catch the fourth-place Montreal Canadiens, six points up with four games in hand. So, Sutter stays in the moment. That “He’s already Dead” meme comes to mind.
I’d much rather have the Oilers and Flames slugging it out for position in the top four, with one team having the opportunity to knock the other out of contention. There’s skin in the game and playoffs on the line when the BOA is at its best, but with a 5-6-0 record under Sutter after getting waxed 5-1 by the playoff-bound Winnipeg Jets Monday, that’s not where we are.
What the Oilers, beaten 4-0 by the Canadiens their last time out, need to do starting tonight is get their own house in order. Beat the Flames, then see what they can do about pushing the Toronto Maple Leafs and Winnipeg to determine the pecking order in the top three. That task starts with a rematch against the Habs, four points back but holding four games in hand, Monday. If the Oilers are going to glance in the rear-view mirror, it’s at the Canadiens, not the Flames, who are now a speck on the horizon.
For Dave Tippett, that’ll mean getting the lines sorted. We’ll see Ryan Nugent-Hopkins with Connor McDavid and Jesse Puljujarvi and Dominik Kahun with Leon Draisaitl and Kailer Yamamoto tonight. Why Kahun gets that shot, I don’t know. He hasn’t shown much. On the blueline, Caleb Jones draws in tonight. Simply put, as productive as Tyson Barrie and Darnell Nurse have been, the back end is far from set. At least Tippett has some options.
Then, there’s the goal crease with Mike Smith, Mikko Koskinen and now, Alex Stalock. For me, Stalock is strictly insurance. With games spaced as they are through the first three weeks of April, I’m riding Smith unless he falters, with Koskinen getting two or three of the next nine games. Then, there’s the question about what, if anything, GM Ken Holland does between now and the April 12 trade deadline.
I’ll take the questions Tippett and Holland are facing over those staring Sutter and GM Brad Treliving in the face every day of the week. It’s already next-year time in Cowtown. That’s not to say the Oilers can take the Flames lightly in any of the games that remain – play them like making the playoffs depends on it starting tonight – but the 2020-21 edition of the BOA has one playoff team in it, not two. Too bad.
WHILE I’M AT IT
The contract situation with Nugent-Hopkins is in the news again with reports from Frank Seravalli of TSN the Oilers offered a five-year deal. I’ve had my say on RNH more than once. For me, very little has changed. I do think that Nugent-Hopkins is a player worth keeping, but the term and the dollars have to make sense with all teams facing a flat cap for the next three or four years.
I’ve been at five years at $6 million a season for RNH in every item I’ve written about what might happen with this contract, and that hasn’t changed despite talk when the season began his AAV might be $7 million or more. No chance. No way. If anything, my sense now is as many people are pricing him lower than $6 million a season as above. I still say 5x$6 million is where it’ll fall.
Previously by Robin Brownlee
- Just What the Doctor Ordered
- Tim Peel: The First Rule
- That Birthday Boy
- Barrie a Smart Bet
- Sweating the Small Stuff
- The Go-To Guys