Five things: Balancing act

1. We gotta call it

At this point, we have to just concede that there’s no more reason to watch the Calgary Flames for the remainder of the season, right? Well, apart from masochism.

Obviously everyone on the planet knew they were going to be bad this year. I thought they’d be the worst in the league, and they’re certainly trending that way, but a lot of very smart people had them a year away from bottoming out. I don’t know how you get much worse than this.

Apart from that, ahem, “hot” start, they’ve not only been bad, but difficult to watch as well. They were effectively .500 on Nov. 3 when they inexplicably beat the Blackhawks, but that was the beginning of the end, as they lost their next six games and gave away points in three more after that.

Since that big W, the Flames are 9-16-4 (.379 winning percentage), and that includes just three regulation wins. Using the Sabres as a frame of reference, the Flames are actually worse than the worst team in the league. Since Nov. 6, Buffalo is 9-12-3 (.438). The Oilers, the only team in the West currently below the Flames in the standings, are 10-16-3 (.397).

It’s going to be a hell of a race to the bottom.

2. The offense, or lack thereof (again)

Well that was a real nice streak they had once. After a run of scoring just one goal in 240 minutes of hockey, the Flames rained hell on JS Giguere, whose numbers are starting to come back to earth after an absurd start. Four goals on just 19 shots, because when 87 of the previous 88 get stopped, that’s what happens. Only having 88 shots in four games, by the way, is appalling.

But there was the four on 19, and everything seemed like it might have turned the corner. And then Tuesday. Another shutout. This time on 27 shots. So you wonder where the offense went and sure some of it’s not getting bounces, obviously. But the other part is that they’re putting just 22.3 shots on goal a night in the last six games and that’s, like, indescribably awful. Especially considering they’ve trailed for the majority of each.

Again, as a point of reference, the Sabres have been shut out six times this season. The Flames? Five. And things seem like they’re only going to get worse; all five of those shutouts have been in the last 10 games, and during that time they’ve scored 13 goals. Thirteen. Thirteen!

3. What happens with Gillies?

There’s been a lot of speculation, informed and idle, about the chances that the Flames sign Jon Gillies when the NCAA season ends, and frankly I’ve heard it could go either way. Neither his leaving nor staying for another season would surprise me at this point.

To that end, the comments of Brian Burke, who was in Providence for the game, about his ongoing contract situation are so interesting.

"Obviously he’s had a terrific first year and a half as a Friar. And there’s no reason to think that that won’t continue.

"I know there’s a lot of speculation that he’s going to be asked to turn pro after the season, but we have not in fact made any determination yet as to his status. I met with him (Monday) and told him that. We have not promised him that he’s being offered a contract at the end of the year.

"We’re going to wait and see how the rest of the year goes. Certainly we’re happy with his play. He’s a big guy. He stops the puck. He competes. He’s technically sound.”

For the record, though, Tuesday was also one of the worst games I’ve ever seen him play — his coach refused to comment on the performance, in which he stopped 27 of 29 — but the two he allowed came with 34 seconds left in regulation and then just 12 seconds into overtime. Neither was one he should have had any particular amount of trouble with.

4. Other NCAA notes

A few more musings here about how the Flames’ prospects are doing in the NCAAs that I’ve seen in the last few weeks.

First and foremost I have to give credit where it’s due to the much- and (deservedly-) maligned first rounder Mark Jankowski, who I thought played exceptionally on Tuesday night in that loss to Northeastern. He only attempted two shots, but both got on net and one was dangerous, and he seemed much more interested in getting his linemates the puck. They combined for six more shot attempts, four of which got on net. He also went 13 of 18 at the dot, which was probably the best performance I’ve ever seen him turn in by a wide margin.

Not a bad performance on the fourth line at all. Which, yeah, you don’t wanna see a first-round pick demoted for the fourth line, but I thought he made hay even if his game tailed off in the third period (which itself was highlighted by his being muscled off a loose puck by a guy who’s listed somewhat generously as 5-foot-7). I’m not ready to start referring to him in any terms as an effective player, especially due to his invisibility against Merrimack on Saturday, but it’s not nothing.

Then, of course, there’s the play of Johnny Gaudreau and Billy Arnold, who have been absurd in the last month thanks to one reconfiguration in the lineup. On Dec. 6, coach Jerry York added Chicago’s 2010 first-round pick Kevin Hayes on their line, and they’ve taken off in no uncertain terms. In the five games since (NCAA takes off a three-week stretch in mid-December for winter break), the three have combined for 10 goals and 34 shots. That’s 10 goals in five games. As far as I can tell, they’ve been on the ice for just one even-strength goal against that entire time.

And one has to keep in mind, too, that York has a policy of effectively benching his first line when the Eagles start to run up the score, so Arnold and Gaudreau’s combined 7-11-18 (again, in just FIVE games) should actually be a lot uglier than it already is.

5. I tried

I couldn’t balance out the negativity at the top with the positivity at the bottom. Just not a lot to go around. But you knew that. I couldn’t even talk about the Olympic team selections because the most notable of those was, in fact, Hudler being left off. Tough week. Tough season.

  • mk

    I definitely still watch when I can: Backlund, Brodie, Monahan, Russell and Byron are all reasons I do. If nothing else, just to look past the rest of the roster.

    I would watch more if there weren’t so many games on SN-WEST. Ugh. Vancouver is a stupid city to live in as a Flames fan.

    • piscera.infada

      “Vancouver is a stupid city to live in as a Flames fan.”

      Dude, Shorthouse and Garrett are the worst thing to happen to sports broadcasting since the advent of radio. When I moved back to Calgary I was in heaven with Kerr and Simmer – which is very strange to say…

      • mattyc

        I can stomach Shorthouse but Garrett makes me want to punch my TV regularly. He is absolutely the worst and the biggest homer in the history of everything.

        Having said all that, Kypreos may be the worst thing to happen to sports broadcasting.

        Nice article Lambert, your unending negativity is so complete that its actually making me like you a little bit more. Thanks for pointing out that the Flames stink this year, I wasn’t sure, you cleared it up. Cheers.

        • piscera.infada

          @stan

          Kypreos is bad, but at least he always has lame and off-topic personal anecdotes to fall back on. Garrett/Shorthouse spend 98% of their broadcasts talking about hotdogs.

      • Couldn’t agree more with the Shorthouse/Garrett comment, those guys are terrible(biased and homers as well). The worst part about Rogers buying pretty well all the rights to Hockey in Canada is that theres now a good chance those two clowns may now be on national television rather than 1 province.

        As for watching the Flames, I’ll still watch them, no reason not to. I might not watch the third period when we are going into it down 6-0, but for the most part I’m gonna still watch. Theres still likeable parts of this team that you can watch, I like seeing Gio, Brodie and Russel on D, Monohan, Hudler, Backlund and Bouma are okay to watch upfront. Once the inevitable sell off happens it will be intriguing to see who wins the call up battle, if It’s Knight or Reinhart, or Granlund gets another shot. All I know is if we do sell off a bunch before the deadline, the Flames might be okay to watch, but I wouldn’t want to be a fan of the heat.

    • piscera.infada

      I couldn’t agree more…

      That group coupled with Hudler, Bouma, Colborne, Gio, Wideman and Smid are the only players I think are worthwile on this team.

      McGrattan/Westgarth/B. Jones might be worth keeping as 4th liners/healthy scratches.

      D. Jones, Galiardi, Stajan, Stempniak, Cammalleri, Butler, O’Brien and Smith represent the mediocre nature of our team that I’ve grown ambivalent towards…

      Glencross is somewhere in the middle. Memories make me fond of him, but recent play and constant injury drive me nuts..

      Side note: Flames fans in Calgary don’t like games on SN-WEST any more than you do…

    • BurningSensation

      “Vancouver is a stupid city to live in as a Flames fan.”

      I lived there for around 5 years and I have to agree. It’s a very difficult place to be a Flames fan.

      As for reasons to watch the Flames?

      – Is one or more of Ramo/Berra actually any good? If either one could be an NHL average guy I’ll be happy, and it’s worth watching.

      – Monahan. He’s the future, and it bears a close eye to see how he develops this year. He’s also a legit Calder candidate and hardware is nice.

      – A commenter before the Iggy trade cautioned that for the Flames ‘winter is coming’ (a GOT reference I shamelessly endorse), but I’d say ‘winter is already here’. The moves Burke makes over the rest of the year are going to shape how long the cold and darkness will last, and those moves will be made with the guys playing right now. Bears watching to see how they are playing for that alone.

      • the forgotten man

        Agreed, Gamecenter was very worthwhile for me when living in Van.

        As far as the rough play, I’ve got to say I find this whole rebuilding thing actually kind of relaxing. I fully expect the Flames to lose all of the games they play and watching Monahan get himself on the score sheet is pretty entertaining. It beats watching the Iggy, Jokinen and Tanguay group break your heart every night.

        These recent shutout losses though. That’s some Chinese water torture stuff right there.

    • Frank Miron

      Hey, don’t complain. Here in Montreal we don’t have any Flames games or anything Flames. It’s all about the Canadiens. Unless you have Center Ice, its blacked out… Hope the deal with Rogers next year changes things up in here !

  • piscera.infada

    But I have to agree with the majority of my brethren here. I’m still watching the Flames, if only to see what happens with Bouma, Monahan, Brodie, Gio, and Wides. I’m actually having a surprisingly easy time watching the games this year. Perhaps that has to do with the fact that I don’t have to watch Tanguay dog-it around the ice for 20 minutes a night anymore.

    I’m going to the game tonight. So please, let us pray it’s closer to the last time they played the Blues than any of the games since.

  • SB

    Wow, glad to see I am not the only flames fan still watching them. Good on you guys for acting like armchair scouts with the new young guys development game in and game out. For me I keep telling myself and my family thats why I keep watching them too. However, I keep thinking something will change playing the same way. Is there a definition about doing the same thing and thinking things will change. Just kidding of course so far.

    I liked Rob Kerr better on radio. He is a bit of a odd person, but you need one of those types for evening entertainment after a lost.

    • Derzie

      You know, the flames have fired GM’s, coaches, traded away players, all in the hopes of winning. Am I the only one who thinks that are problems could have something to do with the ownership group, and more specifically Ken King? Since 2001, when King was hired we have only made it out of the first round…..1 time..1 time.1 time in 13 tears man! True we made it to the cup finals in 04, but that was 10 years ago.If you gonna rebuild, start with repacing Ken King.

  • Lordmork

    I still enjoy watching the Flames. I guess I don’t need the team to win to enjoy a game. Losing a lot is brutal, but I see it as the first and necessary part of the path to building a better team.

    • piscera.infada

      Trade him.

      But no, I get what Lambert’s saying here. I mean, the kid has been so stellar through a year and a half that we get to nit-pick his “bad” games, like allowing 2 goals (one at the tail end of a game, and one in OT), or losing two games to Russia and Canada in a tournament against the best players of his age group in the world. It’s a definite positive that that’s what we have to harp on, but it also goes to show how much pressure we put on some of these prospects. Godspeed Jon Gillies.

  • I will always watch the Flames. I watched Bure beat us in game 7, Tikkanen beat us in game 7, the floater over Vernon against LA in 90 and Martin St Louis game 6 stanley cup. I watched through the dark Young Guns era, through horrible coaches like Gilbert, Page and worst of all Keenen. I watched while Gilmour got packaged to Toronto, Phaneuf the same. I watched while we traded too much for Jokinen, only to then trade him away for Kotalik and his crazy cap hit. I watched flames I’d rather forget like Valaire Bure, Trevor Kidd, Freddy Braithwaite, Steve Smith, Todd Simpson, Phil Housley, etc, etc.

    I also jumped to my feet, watching Gelinas score three times series winners in 04, when Fleury scored in game 6 in 91 against the oilers, when Iggy sniped the 2nd period goal against the canucks in game 7 of 04. I watched Iggy and Kipper wow me throughout their careers. I watched Regehr pound Hemsky time and time again. I listened to the “ya babys” on the fan and Conroy call in on after hours. I was proud when my favourite player Lanny hoisted the cup in the Forum. I got drunk on the red mile and saw Calgary come together as a city during the 04 run.

    Point is, good or bad, I will watch the Flames. If you don’t live the bad, you don’t REALLY feel the good.

  • Matty Franchise Jr

    Speaking of the Heat, is there a way to listen or watch their games? I feel like Calgary Flames Radio should broadcast them, but I don’t think they do.

    • BurningSensation

      You can listen online at one of the Abby radio stations I believe, or you can watch online at theahl.com I think, but not 100% sure(theres a live games section on the website, but I can’t check cause it’s blocked at work).

  • BurningSensation

    Best tonic for painful rebuilding teams is get in plenty of hockey pools. That way you follow all the games, all the players & can watch Flames with both your heart to want to win & hedge yourself that players you have on other teams in your pools get lots of points. :-}

  • mk

    I just read on Puck Daddy that the Flames are 4-2-3 (winning .611) against Metropolitan Division teams: LOL. They’re 11-20-3 (.368) against the rest of the league.

    Good job, Metro.

  • I don’t know how you get much worse than this.

    Picture this line-up, except without Cammalleri and Stajan. Then add one more 18 year old (whoever they pick first round this year) and probably one or two more rookies besides.

    Also, there’s a non-trivial chance Burke trades away one of Baertschi or Backlund this year.

  • Derzie

    I was thinking of parading around the dome in a Flames jersey with ‘Blame Ken King’ on the back and a big $ for a number. How long before Mongo & Gus drag me out of the dome with a ‘get out and stay out’. Control the message. Control fans. Rake in the dough. Winning not required.