Over the last few weeks, while the Flames have been scheduling tee times and sitting around the house watching playoff hockey, we, the lowly hockey fans and writers, have been wallowing in a series dismal of "what-if" scenarios. But here’s a what-if no one has tackled yet.
We know all the sad, sorry facts about this team for both the remainder of the summer, next season, and possibly the one after that. Too many guys taking up far too much room against the cap and not playing nearly well enough to justify the huge money they’re being paid. Too many bad decisions by Darryl Sutter clogging up the roster in too many top roles. Too much dead weight preventing any good transactions to improve the team. Too little hope for a playoff appearance in the next two seasons.
But here’s the what-if: What if, somehow, miraculously, the Flames not only sneak into the playoffs next season, but win a pretty decent number of points (say, 98-100) and compete for, or even get, a home ice spot?
What then? Of course it wouldn’t excuse this horrific lost season, nor would it make up for all the talent down on the farm that Sutter has lost in the last two or three seasons while trying to cajole his big club, by any means necessary, into the postseason. But let’s go with this premise.
I’ll wait for you to stop laughing. Okay? Okay.
Now, I know it’s farfetched and I don’t expect it to happen, obviously, but let’s say everyone that had an off season rebounds. Iginla picks up 45 goals and Bourque stays healthy and Bouwmeester becomes the Bouwmeester we thought the Flames were getting.
Maybe Phaneuf and Jokinen were, indeed, the problem. The team played at more or less the same pace (28 points from 26 games, 1.08 standings points per game) after The Trades as before it (64 points from 56 games, 1.14 points per game) and that’s with their having mailed it in through a series of Toskala starts when all hope seemed lost.
I hate to be the optimist of the group, but I have to think this isn’t a terrible playoff team. For all the team’s problems in the regular season, grinding out wins wasn’t one of them. Hell, this is a team with grind-line depth that starts on the first line (though only for lack of any other players worth putting on the top unit). They do a decent job CORSI-ing their way through games even if that doesn’t necessarily reflect on the record book at the end of this season.
This is a team that, if it performs to what I’m sure will be greatl diminished expectations next season, can easily make the playoffs. If it does, then Darryl Sutter will no longer be the colossal idiot we all currently consider him, Jarome Iginla probably won’t be the washed-up bum he’s been painted as for the last month, and Bouwmeester will cease to be a pile of wasted $80,000 game checks.
Even if they crash out in the first round. Which we all know they will.