The Sky is Closer than the Gutter



Some have questioned the wisdom of the Flames recent commitment to once again fight and claw for a playoff run. Others, myself included, have also cynically noted there may be powerful financial motivations driving the decision makers to charge forward rather than fall back.

There are obviously very real reasons to be suspcious of yet another potentially fruitless run for the post-season. The Flames are a two-time 10th placed team currently sitting in a 11th with a one in four chance (at best) of elbowing their way into the playoffs. Even if this club beat the odds, there’s a good chance they will be cannon fodder before whichever elite squad they face in the first round. It seems, from various angles, to be a bit of a fools errand.

While it’s true the Flames probably aren’t good enough to make any real noise this season (absent an incredible run of good fortune), the flip side of the coin is also true in that they aren’t truly bad enough to fail. At least, fail in the complete and spectacular fashion that ends in the type of reward that (ostensibly) makes it worthwhile – that being a top-5 draft pick.

Pragmatically speaking, the Flames are still closer to the middle of the pack in the West than the basement: while currently just two points back of 8th, they have an 11-point cushion on Anaheim in 13th. Edmonton is 12-points back of the Flames and the woeful Jackets are 19-points short. In fact, the Flames are 20th in the league, meaning there’s 10 other clubs whose fans are also beginning to wonder what they can sell at the deadline. Seven of those 10 have at least 7 less points than Calgary. 

So while the race to the playoffs seems like a longshot at this point, the truth is the race to the bottom is already lost. Outside of selling half their team for pennies on the dollar right now (which would be a feat unto itself), Calgary can’t possibly gut themselves fast enough or stumble hard enough to win the race to the bottom.

Even if one had the stomach for that sort of distasteful (albeit potentially profitable) debasement, it’s not even pragmatic at this point for Calgary to attempt it – others have already had the grenade blow-up in their hand and now they’re readying to clear the debris from the blast site. The Flames haven’t even pulled the pin yet.

That means it’s playoffs or bust folks, at least for this year. It’s the more sensible option to cheer for in the short-term at this point. Might as well sit back and enjoy the ride. 

  • SarahM

    Yes! This is what I have been telling myself — and anyone with the misfortune of having to listen to me — for weeks. The Flames can’t catch the bottom feeders, so it’s hard to blame them for trying to claw their way back into the race. I understand why people find deals like the Cammalleri one frustrating, but the playoffs are way more likely than a top-five pick.

    • MC Hockey

      I dont see deals for Cammi bad, in fact, encouraging to see Feaster can pull off some real good deals. Win every trade & I think arebound can be very comparable to what Vancouver did. I honestly dont see Feaster being a huge buyer & if he’s astute enough, he will actually be a seller, just pick the right pieces to sell right now. We have guys ready to step in like Clay Wilson, Smith coming back that we can afford to trade a Sarich or Hannan & get comparable results.

  • joey joe joe jr shabadoo

    some interesting points made by Eric D on the most recent globesports podcast. He basically states there is no ‘right’ way to rebuild (I know, shocking!). He points to Boston, not long ago they were considered a ‘middle of the pack’ type team. Look at the players that essentially did the heavy lifing for them last year and how they were acquired. Bergeron (2nd round pick), Krecji (4th round pick), Chara (UFA), Lucic (2nd round pick), Thomas (Mars)….and the list goes on.

    bottom line, hoping for a lottery pick or a collection of them to turn your franchise around is a fools game at best.

      • joey joe joe jr shabadoo

        uh, yeah. they were crappy organizations.

        Chicago had one of the worst owners in all of pro sports and the Penguins were bankrupt and nearly moved. The fact they ended up with Crosby, Toews, Kane etc etc speaks more to the fact that they were both dead beat organizations more than some supposed ‘grand master plan’.

    • RexLibris

      So you begin by saying that there is no “right” way to conduct a rebuild and then argue that pursuing lottery picks is a waste of time.

      That seems contradictory.

      Boston was built very slowly and is probably closer to a statistical outlier than any reasonable model upon which to fashion a team-building strategy. One constant, however, that Boston has had with other teams with demonstrable success is drafting. You mention Bergeron, Krejci, Lucic, all draft picks. They may not be lottery-type players, but one of Boston’s cornerstones is, Seguin. And the Bruins basically fell backwards into obtaining him. It was fortune, a hard negotiating stance by Chiarelli, and impatience on the part of Burke that led to that piece. Most GMs wish they could be so lucky as to trade for a second overall draft pick that becomes a franchise centreman.

      I agree with you that there is no single method to rebuilding a franchise and that each one must pursue its own best perceived course in creating a competitive team. That being said, not every team gets to win every year. There are always losers. When a team finds itself in a losing season it needn’t necessarily self-destruct in some kind of existentialist expression of futility, but some amount of self-reflection is called for. That reflection could mean small changes or a realization that a drastic overhaul is required.

      At this time it is inherently in the Flames best interests to pursue a winning strategy and attempt to maximize on the play of their current roster. With full knowledge of the likelihood of a first round exit, still they fight. Nothing wrong with that. Gallant even. When the time comes to refashion a roster, the can pursue whatever means works for them. Maybe it will be predominantly through free agency, perhaps mid-to-late round draft picks, perhaps trades. Whatever they choose, if it works, it works.

      But here’s something to consider, at this time the Flames actually have those players that can win them games. They have the few difference-makers that can steal wins when needed and earn them when expected. Other teams don’t, or didn’t, and some have spent a very long time attempting to acquire those players, all for naught. It doesn’t matter why they were unsuccessful. Only that they have pursued other avenues and achieved nothing.

      There has been constant criticism here in Edmonton, and from some outside sources as well, that the Oilers ought to just trade for the necessary defenceman and pieces to make this rebuild “work”. Well, this begs the question: trade what? The well was darn near dry when we started this process, and it hasn’t even begun to fill to the point where there are any assets that could even be worth what we need. This is the reason the rebuild is so painful and will take so long. We have a massive collection of mistakes to correct.

      When someone from Edmonton or outside comments that the Flames should rebuild it is because the assets that the Flames have and their return value is worth enough to make a rebuild less painful. It isn’t necessarily criticism, only observation.

      For the record, I don’t imagine that the Flames will win a Cup in the next five years. I know the Oilers won’t win a Cup in the next three years. However, it only makes sense for the Flames to try and win this way, while it only makes sense for the Oilers to try and win their way.

      I don’t think for a second that the game Saturday presages the success of either route at this time.

  • Vintage Flame

    Agreed. There was never a real chance at fulfilling the “Fail for Nail” mentality here. The truth is, the Flames just aren’t bad enough.

    The only hope the Flames have at a top-5 pick is if they trade for it, and it’s just not realistic because the partners involved don’t need what we’re selling or more likely don’t have to offer what the Flames need, outside of the pick.

    It’s no surprise that I’m not an advocate of the blow-it-up mentality and i think it would end up blowing up in the Flames faces if they did go that route.

    That being said I still hope, even if they are going for the playoffs, that they at least do it without turning a blind eye to the future and the moves they are going to have to make this year.

  • MC Hockey

    Yaay! The “we’re not that terrible” article has come. Thanks Kent. Anyone still advocating the Oilers total rebuild plan just needs to look at what’s happended there…draft too many soft forwards who get injured and then you get stuck out of playoffs in early January. And when maybe you have a chance to get better (next year), your top players start being eligible for offer sheets. Sorry Oiler fans but your dreams of Stanley the last 2 years and maybe the next 2-3 years are low (not that Flames are much better but slightly).

  • MC Hockey

    Trust me, as an Oiler fan, I’m much rather be looking at a claw for a playoff spot than ANOTHER last place finish. One good look at Oilers Nations’ commentary and you will see a serious distaste for what has happened this season in Oil Country. It was bad this time last year, but there was hope. The hope hasn’t turned into reality, and the “there’s always next year” discussion is a VERY old argument. No doubt that the Oilers have one of the best stable of prospects in the NHL, but that is only good if they perform well. No one in Oil country wants Hall to be the next Rick Nash who’s seen the playoffs ONCE (and got swept in 4). I love Hemsky, but he’s done enough for my entertainment that I want the best for him (which is to trade him to a contender). That same discussion has been around Iginla all season, but you don’t want to replace him with a Russian…at least that’s my opinion.

  • MC Hockey

    Statistically, there is very little difference between drafting early in any round except for the first. If you want a blue chipper that can contribute immediately (e.g. Hall, Seguin, Crosby, Tavares, Ovechkin, etc.), you really need to pick in the top 3-4 in the first round. The difference between picking 7th and 12th is not substantial. If you are going to suck, you need to truly suck. Unfortunately, that is an awful way to sell tickets and luxury boxes. The Flames would be looking at a substantial financial loss if they “blew it up”.

    Aside from the additional picks and prospects (garnered via trade), gutting the roster of veteran talent only effectively serves to move you up a few spots in the first round.

    The upshot: The financial damage, and lost good will in the fanbase, isn’t worth the advantage of picking a few spots higher.

    My take on the Flames plan for the future:
    – Keep trying to make the playoffs
    – Only consider trading Kipper or Iggy if the offer is mind blowing, or one of them requests a trade.
    – Continue to develop Bartschi, Reinhart, Ferland, Nemisz, etc. with the goal of promoting 2 of them next year.
    – Be active in pursuing the Giordano-eque undrafted players coming out of NCAA and Europe.
    – Be active this summer in free agency to fill the spots left by Sarich, Morrison, Hannan, etc.
    – Let David Moss walk (too injury prone).
    – Resign Jokinen as 2nd line C for same or less $$$.
    – Resign Blair Jones
    – Buy out or demote Stajan.
    – Keep draft talented, scoring forwards
    – Aggressively pursue trades that will make the team younger and faster.

    In short, I really don’t see the Flames ownership buying into a scorched earth policy.

    I do think that whether they keep or trade Iggy and Kipper, this team will look a lot different on opening night in October. Of course this all assumes that there is no lockout… 🙂

  • Dr. Nick

    The key to the Flames being a continuing to be a playoff team or better relies on scouting. Better scouts mean better picks taken in the 1st or 7th round. Good scouts could help Feaster not spend the free cap space we’ll have this summer on turds covered in diamonds. While Feaster (and the devil sitting on his shoulder, Ken King) has the final say, the scouts are the ones I think will most determine our future. So are our scouts good enough to make as a continual playoff team, or should we stealing away other club’s scouts?

  • Dr. Nick

    The sky might be closer, but that doesn’t mean much if you are in free fall. Personally I would rather sail into the gutter then hit at terminal velocity.

    The Flames need to improve their roster, their system, and they don’t have the assets to do it. The issue isn’t if they fall from mediocrity, its when.

    • Your point is well taken. I’ve been quite adamant here and elsewhere over the last several years that the Flames are on the wrong trajectory. They still are I think.

      My argument in this piece is pragmatic, not principled. I’m going to write at length about how I would hope the Flames go about things going forward here.

      • RexLibris

        Kent I am truly sorry, and please accept my most humble apologies if this makes you feel dirty, uncomfortable, or ashamed: we are in agreement.

        I know, this is a dark day indeed. But I, like you, will struggle to move on from this nadir in Flames/Oilers relations and get back to what we do best.

        Seriously, though, I look forward to the article.

      • RexLibris

        Kent I too am looking forward to hear what you & others feel realistically the Flames need to do to move forward given the philosophy of Ownership & Ken King. Many think we can just go sign Parise & Suter but in reality, those players probably wont even make it to free agency let alone a contract pitch from the Flames. Finding a balance to keeping every side as happy as possible is alot easier said than done. But it’s sure fun to play GM for a day.

  • BobB

    Devils advocate here… and I do appreciate the optimism Kent.

    The distinction for me is not the difference between the two “goals”… it’s the difference between the two “paths”

    In all instances I think the goal needs to be, has to be, to get in the playoffs and compete.

    However, this is what frustrated me so much with the Bourque-Cammy trade. Today, it’s an arguable upgrade, increasing our slim chances of making the playoffs this year.

    Tomorrow, it’s likely a lateral move at best, if not decreasing our chances to be competitive in 4-5 years.

    I wouldn’t have liked to see Turris in return for Bourque, but I would like to see a “Turris-like” player without the attitude in return. Bourque brought Cammy, so he had quite a bit of value. What could have he brought in the 23-25 year old range?

    If that doesn’t work…. we lose. Big deal?

    The vision needs to be the future, not the now. Because the now is running out and that’s less we have for building a future

  • SmellOfVictory

    It really is amazing how bad a team has to be to truly hit rock bottom in this league, despite the relative parity. Even during their terrible run of awful garbage this season, didn’t they bottom out at 12th in the conference? That means, even at their absolute worst, there were 3 teams in the west (and I think 3+ in the east) that were equally as bad/unlucky as the Flames.

    They may actually have a legitimately better chance of winning the cup than they do of finishing dead last.

  • Captain Ron

    Triple Joe its hard to argue with that. If memory serves me correctly New Jersey was also pretty stinky for a while prompting Gretzky to call them a Mickey Mouse organization prior to them eventually winning the cup.

    Still remember Michel Terrien whe he was coaching in Pittsburg saying in his french accent “dis is da worst group of defense I ever saw” when describing some of his teams problems.

  • joey joe joe jr shabadoo

    I disagree, I think the flames can still make at least 8th. They have the least games left to play but have been starting to get the points and the good play going. Meanwhile the good teams are starting to fall behind like Dallas for example.

    If we keep hanging our heads despite the way the flames have been improving over the last few weeks,I don’t think it is realistic to wave out their chances.

  • Greg

    I’m not a proponent of blow-up-and-rebuild but when I look at this roster I can’t help but think it would have been a good year to be a seller. Jokinen, moss, Hannan, Stempniak, sarich, jackman, Morrison… There’s a lot of UFAs that would be desirable assets for a playoff team which translates to a few pretty decents picks for us. I liked the cammalleri trade regardless, but I still hope we are either clearly in contention or obviously out of it in the next few weeks so we can capitalize on that opportunity before the deadline.

  • Rockmorton65

    I cant believe how many people (not just on this board) believe that if the Flames are not going to win the cup THIS YEAR, they need to burn it to the ground (no pun intended). If the Flames make the playoffs and make a halfways decent showing, then the season can be considered a success, or at least an improvement from last year. I’d like to see Feaster make one more move to get a middle six scoring foward. Push hard for the playoffs and see what happens. Then, in the offseason,take a huge chunk of that cap space that you freed up and go hard after a guy like Parise (just keep the term reasonable). Is he THE player to win us a cup? No. Is he a player who can help us take the next step? Absolutely. Give away Stajan or bury him in the minors, and you are more than halfway to signing a guy like Parise.

  • I don’t know Kent, I can’t see the logic how the 16th to 18th overall pick is better then 10th to 12th makes little sense to me. I don’t see how trading off draft picks for players that will only marginally help make any sense for that matter. The Flames desperately need to improve drafting and there prospect pool, despite what Feaster say’s, sooner or later decisions on the future will be made.

    It’s like the Oilers trading for good players, why? What is the point in trying to be better now! Speaking from a managements perspective and not the athlete.

  • everton fc

    “My take on the Flames plan for the future: – Keep trying to make the playoffs – Only consider trading Kipper or Iggy if the offer is mind blowing, or one of them requests a trade. – Continue to develop Bartschi, Reinhart, Ferland, Nemisz, etc. with the goal of promoting 2 of them next year. – Be active in pursuing the Giordano-eque undrafted players coming out of NCAA and Europe. – Be active this summer in free agency to fill the spots left by Sarich, Morrison, Hannan, etc. – Let David Moss walk (too injury prone). – Resign Jokinen as 2nd line C for same or less $$$. – Resign Blair Jones – Buy out or demote Stajan. – Keep draft talented, scoring forwards – Aggressively pursue trades that will make the team younger and faster.”

    Where to begin…

    Buying out Stajan makes some sense, regardless of the financial liability it creates… He simply must go – for his benefit, as well as ours.

    Many speak of developing Reinhart, Ferland, Nemisz (all Darryl picks, by the way) as well as Baertchsi… others… Yet no proof exisits this organization can actually develop talent properly. Until this issue is resolved, who can say what happens to the aforementioned quad of prospects, as well as any others…

    Second, we seem to be an organization that can destroy a guys career. Over the years we’ve seen guys come here and wallow. Where’s the evidence all these UFAs we all covet don’t end up producing like JBo… Stajan… and so on?

    Our organization – from the top, to start – needs to be changed. From the top you start, then move downward. And the odds of this occuring seem slim….

    While I like and appreciate Blair Jones so far, and thought the Comeau move was one you simply have to try, look where they couldn’t succeed – two struggling organizations who are no better off this season than the Flames…

    For this fan, a change of President, GM and coach/staff is warranted. Again, I’d like to see Ward have a shot here. Why not? How many young AHL coaches have successfully made the jump these past few seasons? Some have not panned out; many have. Or, we could sign one of the revoloving-door coaches in the mold of Ken Hitchcock, and hope it works out for us like it’s worked out for the Blues. But it seems to me we’ve been down this road, as well, with Keenan… Brent…

    This is a deep draft. Any pick in the first three rounds has a legitimate chance at being a good one. Not sure how many picks we have left in this deep draft. Feaster has moved a few, just like Darryl did in the past. How is his “vision” for the future any different – because he picked up a guy like Jones, or Stempniak, who is recently looking to be another who stagnated in Calgary…

    As an aside… last years draft may have been a great one for the Flames. But outside Baertschi, the rest are not guaranteed to even make it in the AHL. Wotherspoon, seldom mentioned here, seems like he at least has the size we need. The others are on the small side. My belief is you need fast, big bodies on both sides of the ice. Guys with skill, who also play with an edge. Tough to secure, of course… But should be how we rebuild…

    We lose Sarish, Morrison, Moss… Perhaps Hannan… Perhaps Jackman… Perhaps Stempniak… Comeau… Kosto… Perhaps move Babchuk… Perhaps see what you can get for Kipper, who has saved us this season and thus has probably reached his absolute value…

    I think you do re-sign Jones… I think you do try to move JBo at the deadline, if we are out of it. I think you sign Kolanos at league minimum… Replace Kosto/Jackman with a players like Dorsett in Columbus, or someone else like him.

    Rebuild, not blow up.


    Finally… If the insance offer Feaster crafted to secure Brad Richards is any indication of how this man operates in the UFA market… A guy who has fewer points than both Jokinen and Glencross at the moment, with a good team… The offer for Parise will be similar madness. As it will be for Suter, Weber, or whomever else he thinks we need. Don’t forget we’ll need a new coach next season, as the odds of Brent coming back next season seem as slim as King and Feaster heading down the road, as well. Who will be our next head coach??

  • RKD

    The Flames brass probably like many fans predicted this outcome. They knew they would be either middle of the pack and close to a playoff spot.

    They also know they can ride out the season because of all the contracts expiring in the summer with $20 million coming off the books.

    Even if they do miss the playoffs, they can sell to the fans the optimism of next season because they can go out a sign a big name free agent.

    Also, having our coveted pick Bartschi in the lineup will give fans something to cheer for.

    Murray Edward and Ken King can do what they want, when they want and how they want. They don’t have to listen to anyone if people are still going to games and season ticket renewal is at a whooping 97%.

  • Old Soldier

    One of the biggest issues people are forgetting when discussing the Oilers “scorched earth” rebuild, is that it wasn’t simply to collect lottery picks in the hope they will gel. It was also about changing the “Culture” of the team and the dressing room.

    While none of us has a true insight into what happens behind closed doors, and the media tends to “hero worship” when discussing local teams, there was no doubt that since the cup run the locker room was a mess. With the departures of Pronger and Peca, debates over how management was handling high profile players, and the suspected comfort factor of the veteran core, it was definitely the right move.

    I will never be a Tambellini fan, but I can’t criticize the job that he has done over the last two years. He has put a coach in who is famous for being a great teacher, though perhaps not great for taking the next step, but the Oil aren’t at that next step. He cleaned out locker room staff, and removed every potential cancer there was in that room. Every veteran remaining or brought in since is well-known as team first players, to hopefully instill the right ethics in the younger players. And lastly, the biggest change, Stu McGregor. There is a confidence now in Oiler scouting and drafting that never existed before.

    I am not here to criticize the Flames, but objectively, how are you different than we were in 08. Iggy is a great guy, but the fact is he isn’t a grab em by the collar and shake them leader. How much dead weight is poisoning the dressing room? Bourque? Stajan? Sarich? Even Cammalleri. The two things the Flames have are a great 4th line, and great goaltending. I am not sure adding Cammalleri(sp?) is the answer. I am not sure trading to 2nd’s to get him were the answer. This is an old team who’s prospect pool was rated 28th by ESPN and 26th by THN, both listing less than 6 actual potential NHL players in the team system. The Oilers were 2nd and 5th respectively with 14 actual potential NHL players.

    That is hard to hear, I know, I had to accept it a couple years ago. But for all the criticism the team is receiving for the rebuild, they were honest with us. They looked at the team, the system and said “we need to change this”. And for that they earned our respect and patience. I don’t see that honesty from Feaster, and I am not going to cut and paste quotes to provoke Flames fans, but there is no denying the man is either delusional about the team, or blatantly misleading the teams fans, or worse yet, assuming you will believe and buy anything he says.

    Hope is a scary thing, especially when some use it to mislead others.

    • Old Soldier

      Holy cow, personally I think Tambellini has crapped the bed. He’s so scared to make a bad deal that he doesnt make any. He lost most of the value Hemsky would have brought to your rebuild & now you’ll be lucky to get a 2nd for him or if he gets injured again, he walks in July. When things were hot, he could have brought in some important pieces & maybe extend the early success you were having, instead, he did nothing. Parjarvi stock is down & the lotttery picks are learning how to lose again. FYI we didnt give up 2 seconds, we gave up 1- 2nd & we got prospect for prospect for Holland versus Ramos, just different positions. Cammi will get us way more than Bourque would have ever gotten, bonafide top 6 versus a 3rd line player. Scooped Cammi when his value is low, bet you wish ST could do that. Cammi is not a problem here so not sure where you think he’s poisoning the dressing room. In fact Iggy has played with a different intensity, something we havent seen for a while, since he’s back. As much as hope is a scary thing, futility & no hope is even worse. Maybe have a little success before becoming the all wisdom of how to do a rebuild & judge a GM before he even has a chance to actually show what direction he is proceeding with.