April 15 2013 01:50PM
On trade deadline day, April 3, the Calgary Flames basically threw in the towel. And yes, by that I mean the trade that sent Blake Comeau to the Blue Jackets was meant to be a watershed moment for the franchise. Combined with the deals that shipped out higher-paid, higher-skilled players named Jarome Iginla and Jay Bouwmeester, those moves were the beginning of the Flames' long-delayed rebuild and a sign to fans to prepare for some losses.
Since the trade deadline, the Calgary Flames have somehow won half of their games. Exempting their deadline day 8-2 spanking at the hands of the Edmonton Oilers, the team has played six competent, fairly consistent contests. They lost to San Jose and Vancouver (twice). They beat Edmonton, Phoenix and Colorado. They've missed the veteran presences of Matt Stajan, Curtis Glencross and Alex Tanguay, and it has not mattered one bit.
In other words, in terms of selling off their high-end players and trying to tank for a Nathan MacKinnon or Seth Jones at the NHL Draft in June – they're doing it wrong, but they're showing the kind of resilience and consistency that Flames fans are probably really conflicted about the whole thing.
Brace yourselves, fans, because the Flames are threatening to actually move up in the standings when they host the Minnesota Wild tonight at the 'Dome. Puck drop is at 7pm on your friendly neighbourhood Sportsnet communications venues.
OH CRAP, CAN THEY MOVE UP TONIGHT?
The Flames had fun on the weekend, edging out Phoenix in overtime and embarrassing an Edmonton team all the way out of playoff contention, all without moving up in the NHL's overall standings. It was the very definition of having your cake and eating it too. But Calgary (16-21-4) can leap from their cozy perch and overtake Carolina, Tampa Bay, Philadelphia and Nashville with a win and some help tonight. That would put them as high as 24th overall, which would just screw with any dreams of Drouin or MacKinnon.
So who's to blame for the resurgence?
Well, maybe Jay Feaster. After being told for so many years that Calgary's prospects are lousy, he puts a bunch of them on the roster to tank the season...and they've actually scored goals and played well. Recent signee Ben Hanowski will get his shot to prove his worth tonight too, by the way.
Journeyman back-up goalie Joey MacDonald, hoped to be the latest in a long line of bad back-ups, has also been quite good. Truth be told, he's won half of his decisions as a Flame and is the only netminder with a goals against average south of 3 per game. He was a big reason the Flames escaped with 2 points against the Coyotes (someone knee cap him!).
The other problem is that the team is generally playing loose, relaxed, up-tempo hockey and getting contributions from everywhere. In the last six games, Mikael Backlund has two goals and two assists and has been excellent. Mark Giordano and Lee Stempniak each also have four points. Roman Horak, Sven Baertschi and Max “Power” Reinhart are racking up points, as well.
It's just not fair.
WILL THEY LOSE TO MINNESOTA?
Well, it's possible. The Wild are 13th overall (7th in the West) with a 22-16-3 record, but they're under .500 on the road and have won just three times in their last ten games. It's possible that the Flames could beat them, particularly the way they're playing right now.
If the Wild play up to their talent level, the Flames should lose and creep back down towards the bottom of the standings. But there's no guarantees. If it helps, Wild netminder Niklas Backstrom is really good and always seems to frustrate the Flames. The key to beating this tanking team lately has been to throw a hot goalie at them (Niemi, Schneider, Luongo), so that may be a good omen for those hoping for a loss.
WHAT'S LEFT AFTER THIS?
After this game, the Flames play six more times – twice at home and four times on the road, where their horrible away record will drag them kicking and screaming towards a good draft pick. Their remaining opponents are Detroit (20-15-7, 8th in West), Anaheim (27-10-5, 2nd), Minnesota again, Nashville (15-20-8, 13th), St. Louis (23-16-2, 6th) and Chicago (32-5-4, 1st). There are at least three guaranteed losses right there. But will it be enough? Find out starting tonight.