For the Calgary Flames – A Tutorial on Tanking



*This is written with tongue firmly planted in cheek. It is not intended to insult or antagonize the Flames fan base. At this stage of the season, once we’ve finished off everything in the liquor cabinet, humour is all we have left to numb the pain.

At the time of this writing, the Flames have won their last three straight games, beating Detroit, Anaheim, and Minnesota respectively. As a result had been steadily climbing the standings and moving away from the coveted top-three draft position, currently sitting 24th overall (draft position 7th overall effective Monday). The Flames have even managed to ascend one place ahead of the Edmonton Oilers (a mixed blessing certainly for many fans this year).

They have a mere three games remaining and are mathematically eliminated from the 30th overall spot. They need to find a way to beat Colorado, Carolina, Philadelphia and Tampa Bay to the bottom of the NHL lake over the course of this week.This season has been abbreviated, but unreasonably painful for many fans of the Flaming C, however the end is in sight. Hope in the fan base now rests on the team delivering on their potential and netting the team a draft position within the top four spots this June. Doing so will require a plummet in the standings unlike anything Calgary has seen in recent years.

As a long-time Oilers fan, I have taken note of the Flames’ efforts of late and have decided to pass along some words of wisdom on the undertaking of this nosedive.

How To Fail

To begin with, you have recalled a significant portion of your AHL roster to replace injured, scratched, or departed NHL roster players. That’s good!

However, those AHL players are actually performing above expectations and forcing the team to win games in spite of a notable lack of talent or reasonable expectation of any continued success into next season. That’s bad.

These players need to show a complete lack of any hockey sense whatsoever. They need to begin putting the puck into their own net or passing between defensemen at the icing line because neither can thread a pass fifteen feet to a waiting winger. In addition, all offensive zone sorties need to end with a button-hook against the sideboards and a shot at a poor angle through traffic from roughly twenty feet away from the net that quickly results in an opposition transition and scoring chance against.

Your starting goaltender is old. That’s good!

He is playing well. That is bad. Perhaps the Flames could arrange to have a teammate run him in practice or put some cement in his hockey bag to induce back spasms.

Your backup goaltender is a journeyman that almost no other team in the league would claim on waivers at this point. That’s good.

He is performing well enough to be re-signed. That is bad (and somewhat questionable). Somebody needs to remind him that grandstanding is not tolerated in the dressing room and that for the sake of the team he had best let in some soft 40-foot clearing shots just to send the message to his teammates that he is onside. The Flames should still have Vesa Toskala’s jersey kicking around somewhere. Make Joey MacDonald sleep with it on.

You have traded away an iconic player responsible for approximately 200% of your seasonal point production as well as a stalwart defenseman who would routinely play the entire game while also selling 50/50 tickets during intermission. These are both good.

Your roster does not seem to have taken note of the absence of these two pillars, which was meant to make the entire house fall down upon itself. Instead, they appear to want to win just to spite those fans planning their draft party seating arrangements. That’s bad.

Aiming for the Ditch

The thing that makes the video above so memorable is the serene, almost zen way in which the car casually interrupts traffic and then slips over the edge of the road. The trick, of course, is that the driver had already fallen out of the vehicle in an inebriated stupor. This is an excellent metaphor for what the Flames need to do: abandon the wheel, let the car slip over the edge and into the abyss, and most importantly, make it look as though it were the most natural thing in the world.

The Jay Feaster is doing so many things well to get to the top of the league standings this June 30th, yet despite these measures the team itself cannot accomplish the failure necessary to truly be considered a success (does that sentence even make sense?).

My advice would be to borrow from the best-practices of other noted successful organizations. They could begin to submit waiver claims on every single player who crosses their desk, especially those who represent an organizational redundancy and would likely resist coming to play for the team. This is the Garth Snow model of management and has historically served that franchise well.

There is also the prospect of having a bottom six player “accidentally” injure a key offensive player by stepping on his hand while leaping over the boards for a shift as Ryan Jones did last season lacerating Sam Gagner’s wrist. This and the strategy of icing an all-AHL roster while placing all your veteran players on the injured reserve can be characterized as the Oilers school of draft positioning.

I mean, when you look at this season, have the Flames even sent a single one of their players to the IR for season-ending shoulder surgery? No. Teams that want to win (draft position) will stop at nothing to achieve their goal.

The Calgary Flames are putting together a fine season, one that could deliver great rewards this spring. However, their prize is slowly slipping away and the team and organization needs to find a way to refocus. The management certainly seems to be putting forth the effort required in a season-ending death spiral. It remains in the hands of the players to take the helm and steer this ship straight onto the rocks.

Most NHL teams employ video to help educate their players on strategies, positioning, defensive breakdowns, offensive zone entries and the like. For the purposes of the Calgary Flames ensuring a top draft pick, I have included below some video to study in an effort to help bring the team onto the same page.

Please watch carefully.

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  • Bucknuck

    At least seven years of sucking donkey balls has taught us Oilers’ fans a degree of humility. I really laughed at this, and it was at my own teams expense. Who would have thought…

    • RexLibris


      Just as they often say that charity begins at home, so does hilarity. If us Oiler fans can’t laugh at ourselves sometimes then we really are losing touch.

  • RKD

    I agree having a higher end guy like MacKinnon, Drouin or Jones is what this team would really covet but the Oilers took the top pick every year and look at where they are now. They could still lose to St. Louis and/or Chicago. They’ll probably beat Nashville because they have been pretty bad.

    We might have to take a Bakov, Lindholm, Monahan, Domi, Shinkaruk but that might not be the worst thing in the world. If they have the right supporting cast then you can build around a strong nucleus. It’s unlikely we will see all of these players as regular 82 game players next season.

    If you really want to tank, convert Babchuck to forward and put him on the first line! Let Joey Mac play with only one pad and no stick!

  • beloch

    Here are a couple more:

    – You dress a career enforcer (Salary $0.6M) and play him for a full ten minutes of the game. This is good! He gets the puck in your own end, pops it off the boards and blows past the opposing team’s #1D (Sheldon Souray), out-skates, out-dekes, out-competes and generally makes a fool of their #2D (Francois Beauchemin) and then dangles his way across the crease and wrists it past the far-side of their starting goalie (Jonas Hiller), humiliating three elite players with a combined salary cap hit of $11.6M in the process. Repeat: Enforcer goes coast-to-coast against opponents top defensive line and scores highlight-reel goal. Not good. Response: MacGrattan is now out day-to-day with a “shoulder” injury.

    – When playing against a club within two points of missing the playoffs, but who haven’t actually missed them in 21 years, you play a 34-year old “character” veteran who is 7 years removed from his career high of 11 goals and didn’t play at all last year. Good! Said veteran who is “just happy to be here” places routine forecheck pressure on Jimmy Howard when he’s playing the puck behind his own net. Normally this would be no big deal. Unfortunately, somebody swapped Jimmy’s pre-game video review reels for some classic Charlie Chaplin shorts featuring the Keystone Cops. Hilarity ensues and two bat-guano-insane blooper goals result, so the Flames win 3-2 instead of losing 2-1. Response: Begin is now out with an “upper body” injury.

    -Note that Curtis Glencross and Dennis Wideman are also both out injured, apparently for the gruesome crimes of being Curtis Glencross and Dennis Wideman.

  • piscera.infada

    Sorry. I know this isn’t the right forum for this post, but did whats his nuts get any supplemental discipline for kneeing Glencross a couple games ago?

  • beloch

    At this point, I have to confess that either the Flames suck at sucking or their AHL squad is better than we give them credit for. We saw something eerily similar last year. The injuries piled up, the Flames roster filled up with AHL talent, and the team just went on a streak that only ended when the veterans got healthy and returned to the lineup.

    Bad news: Barring a win at the lottery the Flames may not get the superstar rookie they’ve been pining for.

    Good news: The Flames actually have a supporting cast of decent young players moving up.

    The Oilers rebuild has not worked out so far, but one could argue that beyond the superstar rookies Edmonton’s drafting hasn’t been great and Tambo-the-clown utterly failed to bring in competent free agents to form a serviceable supporting cast. The Oilers are going to have oodles of cap-space to spend in a cap-strapped summer market. If they don’t turn the ship around this summer it isn’t going to happen.

  • RexLibris

    My theory is that it is a huge conspiracy.

    The league and western conference teams have gotten together to decide that the teams playing Calgary will throw the games and let Calgary win. All to screw with the Flames draft position. Payback for the O’Reilly offer sheet trying to gain a franchise centermen, they will make sure that the Flames are picking out of the top eight to ensure that the Flames don’t get a chance to draft a future franchise centerman.

    It is sad that in the last week as the young players have played with emotion that we have moved from discussing which of the elite three players (Jones, MacKinnon, Drouin) to draft. And are now moving past which of the three franchise centermen (Barkov, Lindholm, Monahan) to possibly draft. And we are now going into the which of the top three defensemen (Nurse, Zadorov, Ristolainen) do we decide to take. The Russian (Nichushkin) is the option if we are picking 10th.

    Very, very depressing that the team can be so bad and yet fall into a mediocre drafting position.

    • RexLibris


      I think I found the right balance between schadenfreude (laughing at the Oilers) and pathos (laughing at the Flames).

      Finding some video of a Teutonic jerk breaking his coccyx on a frozen swimming pool never hurts either.

      • T&A4Flames

        The only thing that could have been better about that video would have been if it cracked and he fell through at the end, when he’s pounding on the ice.

    • RexLibris

      Interesting. I wonder if VF or BoL have taken up a collection to purchase it as an Iginla Museum?

      Funny thing, the first thought that came to my mind when I saw the listing was the memory of seeing Dave Ridgeway’s (I think) house when it was vandalized after he missed a crucial field goal.

      Not that someone should do anything similar to Iginla’s house, but the kicker’s house was a pretty standard prairie bungalow, single-storey, front-facing garage, etc. Something of a discrepancy between the living standards of professional athletes in the CFL and NHL.