Flames Season Defining Road Trip

 

 

Prior to the season, I marked the Flames as a 7-10 club in the west. It’s not a terribly wide range in terms of actual results – probably 1-2 wins over 82 games. It’s a big difference when it comes to consequences however – at 7-8, the Flames sneak into the post-season and give us (and the ownership) something else to cheer for in April. At 9-10, the club picks in the low teens in the draft and the chances of a full-blown, scorched earth rebuild grow exponentially.

After their dreadful four game road trip and then glorious (if unexpected) resurrection vs Detroit and Vancouver before the break, the Flames are now two points out of the 8th and final spot in the west. Of course, the issue is less distance to the goal line than it is the number of opponents blocking the path. As usual, the west has a huge and utterly cluttered middle class: Calgary (38 points) will be battling Dallas (41 points), Nashville (40 points), Los Angeles (39 points), Phoenix (39 points) and Colorado (39 points) for the last couple of playoff positions. We can also expect the faltering Minnesota Wild (45 points) to enter the mix in the second half of the season as well.

That is 6 or 7 clubs battling for a couple of spots. There’s about 5 teams up top who are more or less shoe-ins (CHI, DET, VAN, STL, SJS) and three bottom-dwellers who will be jockeying for better draft position down the stretch (EDM, ANA, CBJ). It’s a dog-fight for the rest of pack. The Flames are probably a little better in terms of true talent than some of their closest post-season rivals and maybe a little worse than a few others. The difference isn’t a big one though – a few key injuries or a bad stretch of luck can sink playoff aspirations pretty quickly.

That is the back-drop for the Flames upcoming six-game road trip. Starting tonight, Calgary will face Columbus, the NY Islanders, Ottawa, Nasvhille, Washington and Boston between now and January the 5th. That’s 6 teams in 10 days. Some of them entirely beatable, others a much greater challenge.

The quality of the opponent may be moot, however, if the Flames can’t be much better away form the ‘Dome. Even with their decisive win over the Canucks recently, the Flames remain the worst team in the NHL on the road in terms of possession. To put that in perspective, Calgary is markedly worse at controlling the play at even strength than even the Islanders and Oilers on foreign ice when the score is close. That’s a big reason the Flames are under .500 outside of Calgary (7-10-2).

We haven’t fully explored why the club has struggled so completely at moving the play north on the road, but at this point it’s wholly academic –  staring down the longest road swing of the year, the Flames will have to improve drastically one way or another in order to stay in the heat of the playoff race in the west.

If they can continue to display the form they showed in Vancouver during this upcoming sojourn, the playoffs will be a possibility when they return home – if not, we will likely start debating which pieces should be moved when the Flames sell at the deadline.

 

  • everton fc

    If the Flames go 4-2 on this road trip (5-2 if you count the Vancouver game), that would be a big success. They SHOULD win vs. Columbus, Ottawa and New York, they could very well beat Nashville, and they might beat Washington. They won’t beat Boston. If the Flames go under 3-3 during this six game stretch, the playoffs could be toast.

    • Schev, I totally didnt expect to be where we are. I thought this road trip was just the final nails. But wins against Minny, Detroit & Vanc has put a different spin on this & a 4-3 road trip(including the Vanc game)doesnt start the countdown to the red light sale at the Dome. Very impressed about Vanc game, we may only beat a true contender about 40% of the time playing that way but it means we can beat 60% of the teams 70% of the time that way. Question is, can they continue to play like that.
      I think a good streak could be a huge bonus if King & Feaster have the balls to continue with the UFA sell off at the trade deadline. I would also play Irving a whole lot more and see if we have a future Rinne in the making. Playoffs would only mean 2 extra home games for the Owners. But if we throw a little piant on some of these guys & sell when everyone is buying, it could jeopardize those 2 extra home games, it may not, but boy could we pick up some huge pieces for the future. Exciting times. With every win I see the prices going up.

      • Hey Kevin! Personally, I don’t see what some of our UFA guys could get us in a trade. The highest we could get for Jokinen, who is probably our best player that’s a UFA this summer, is a late 1st round pick, or a middling prospect. In my opinion, you play out this year. Starting draft day 2012, start making trades. The sad fact is, we don’t have many tradeable assets. But with all the contracts coming off the books this summer, we may have a better chance at getting good returns in a trade.

        • RexLibris

          Well, you may just be suprised what a Bourque, Sarich, Hannan, Babchuk, see what’s out there and if we can get blown away for the Stempnisks & Comeau’s. If Joker can get us even a late 1st, do it. The more 1sts, 2nds & 3rds you can get in this upcoming draft the better & then package a some 1st or a 1st and a couple of 2nds to get a top 5 pick along with maybe trading one of “star players” in a package for a top 5 pick at the draft. The more Feaster can get for the above guys, the better chance we can keep Iggy & Kipper & we can stop the internal bickering in FN. I would love if Kipper & Iggy wanted to tutor a youth movement here in Calgary & not worry about winning a cup.However, that may not be realistic.

  • Vintage Flame

    The quality of the opponent may be moot, however, if the Flames can’t be much better away form the ‘Dome. Even with their decisive win over the Canucks recently, the Flames remain the worst team in the NHL on the road in terms of possession. To put that in perspective, Calgary is markedly worse at controlling the play at even strength than even the Islanders and Oilers on foreign ice when the score is close. That’s a big reason the Flames are under .500 outside of Calgary (7-10-2).

    Kent;

    I wonder if the poor possession on the road doesn’t come back to power play? Given that it has been so terrible prior to the last stretch of success, could we not infer that the two have a cause-n-effect relationship?

    Hopefully with the spark the PP has gotten recently that it helps improve the road record as well.

  • RexLibris

    There are certainly some beatable teams in the Isles and Nashville on this upcoming road trip. Ottawa might surprise with their ability to perform this year, and Boston, well, that could be ugly.

    As for the road trip’s results, my guess is the Flames go 2-3-1 over 6 games and come back more or less where they were when they left. Who knows, they might run the table in either direction, but this team seems doomed to the middle road.

    As for the sell-off, Jokinen might get some return (my guess would be a 2nd rounder or an superfouous prospect in a contending team’s system). Bourque is a tougher sell at the deadline and more likely to move at the draft, but again, I don’t see any GM looking at Bourque and his contract and thinking that he is a better option than any first round prospect. Hannan is the most likely deadline move, defencemen always are, but again, not likely to get a first for him either.

    • Truculence

      Haha, wow. You think Olli gets you a second at the deadline! Buddy, it doesn`t seem like you`ve watched many trade deadlines, cuz GMs usually go bonkers around then, and the way the big lug is playing, he`ll get you at least a solid prospect or a good draft pick. Plus, he`s a center, which only adds to the pot. The point is moot, however, as the Flames will likely still be in the race as they play more games at home in the second half, thus negating the possibility of a Olli trade. Plus the guy has explicitly said that he wants to remain here, and will prolly settle for a discount for another couple of years.

      • RexLibris

        Jokinen was worth a 1st round pick and some assets as a UFA several years ago, his play since then, as well as his many trades, has diminished. Yes, he is hitting a nice stretch of road right now but even with the loony-bin that is the NHL General Managers at trade deadline time, I don’t a team coughing up a first round pick in a much-anticipated draft year for a few weeks’ of Jokinen’s services. A second-round pick for him is, I believe, an overpayment but I was being optimistic on Flames fans’ behalf. Granted, he is an experienced centre with a big body, but he also has been critiqued in years past for his seeming disinterest during the playoffs.

        Think of it this way, what would the Flames offer up to get Jokinen at the deadline if he were with another team? Would you offer a first round pick (in the 15th to 19th range) this year or Max Reinhart for 6 weeks of Jokinen? If so, then fine. But if not, then why would anyone else?

        Perhaps some GM does offer up a first round pick, stranger things have happened. But going into the trade deadline, and considering what the Flames have to offer as expiring UFAs relative to other teams as well as Feaster’s own desire to make the playoffs, my suggestion was meant as a modest and reasonable expectation of what could be returned. This is why I suggested that Hannan was the most likely candidate to be moved at the deadline, as the Flames have enough defensive depth in the system to absorb the minutes and most GMs stock up on veteran d-men before the playoffs.