1. That’s your team
Head on over to Capgeek. Click on the Flames page. Look at what you see there.
You see that the Flames have 11 NHL forwards under contract, and two more RFAs to re-sign. They also have six defensemen. And two goalies. That’s 21 players, and doesn’t include guys who will at the very least get their tires kicked at one point in the year or another (like Tyler Wotherspoon, Sven Baertschi, Corban Knight, and maybe a few others). Looks to me like this roster is finalized.
And so now the time has come to actually think about what that means for the Calgary Flames as they embark on what looks to be a disastrous 2014-15 season, one with no hope of advancing to the playoffs, and probably not even out of the bottom of the West.
Vegas has the Flames as 75 to 1 to win the Cup, tied with Florida and Buffalo. That seems just about right, based on this roster.
2. “Rebuild on the fly”
I think we can all agree now that the concept of this team just needing to rejigger a few things here and there was never a reasonable one that was going to actually come to fruition. In hindsight, it really is shocking to see how many people bought into it.
What we learned since the start of July is that this is a team that still has to overpay for even submediocre free agents, and with no real stars in the offing any time soon, it seems that the climb out of the basement isn’t going to be as easy as everyone thought, especially with you-know-who in charge.
I think it’s pretty safe to say that in order to be even decent in today’s NHL you need top-shelf players. I’d say the worst playoff teams last season — the ones with no hope of winning the Cup or even advancing — were Colorado (who had Paul Stastny, Nathan MacKinnon, and Matt Duchene) and probably Detroit (Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg). It’s hard to see Calgary as having someone who even approaches that level.
3. Dim your views
The problem I’ve seen in Calgary is that if you say this team is going to be bad — which it is, and was pretty much since this site opened, on an unequivocal level — you are branded as being “negative” and “a troll.” The other problem is that there’s no way to paint this broken down Oldsmobile station wagon in such a way that it looks anything like even a reliable 2002 Honda.
If you think this team is capable of competing for anything but the best chance at the No. 1 overall pick, you’re living in a fantasy world. That’s as simple as things can be painted. I think Buffalo is probably worse, still. I think Florida’s in the mix but a bit ahead of Calgary because of their center depth and the fact that they’ve been bad for so long they do have some pretty good young players, and Luongo helps a ton (or hinders, if you prefer).
There are bright spots on the roster, yes. Hudler is still going to put up points. Mason Raymond is solid. Mikael Backlund is as good a No. 2 center as there is in the league in terms of possession. Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau are both going to be fascinating to watch this season. Brodie and Giordano are great. Dennis Wideman should be fun to watch if he’s healthy.
Beyond that it’s a wasteland. Will be for a while. Tough realization to come to, I understand. But I just named eight players out of 20-something who will be with the big club this year and I’m not sure any of them are going to be anywhere near good enough to help the team do much of anything besides lose a lot. Too much dead weight.
4. A quick word on development camp
With that having been said, it’s probably wise that the Flames have done so much work to pump up development camp — in as annoying a manner as possible — this week. Gotta sell the future and all that, and they probably kept that in mind when putting Gaudreau and Sam Bennett on the same line.
Surprise surprise, the best amateur hockey player in the world and the No. 4 overall pick who would have been higher (literally and figuratively, I guess) if he’d done a pull-up were really good together and dominated the game. A shocking turn of events there. I wouldn’t be shocked at all if that’s a regular combination a year or three down the line. Gaudreau seems to have chemistry with literally anyone he shares the ice with, of course, but you want your best players to play together whenever possible, so there’s that.
But this was something Kent and I discussed briefly the other day: I basically see no chance Gaudreau plays in the AHL this season. Even if he struggles against NHLers, I don’t think it’s something sending him to the minors fixes: Every part of his game is battle-tested against elite talent at every level he’s ever played, basically, and the only concern is whether he can take the physical beating in the NHL. If he can’t it’s only going to be worse in the goon-filled dregs of the AHL. He’d also be guaranteed to put up a billion points down there, and at 22 you have to wonder how much there would be for him to learn that he wouldn’t learn to greater effect getting fourth-line minutes and power play time in the NHL.
The difference between his situation and Monahan’s a year ago is that Gaudreau doesn’t have other options to keep the sands from falling through the hour glass. Send him to the AHL and a year of his deal expires just as it would in the NHL. The Flames also have no better options on the left side than Gaudreau. Unless you count Brandon Bollig and a wheels-falling-off Curtis Glencross.
5. But guess what
Being this bad is responsible from Flames management.
Be bad until you’re ready to be at least somewhat good. Standing on the middle ground and saying it’s progress is idiocy. Fans want to see them win, but that thing the Sabres said last year about having to suffer through some lean times to get the good ones? That’s the case with every team in the league that’s been elite in the past few years, save for Detroit. Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Vancouver. All terrible for a prolonged period. The Flames are in that boat now.
I’ve said it a million times: Rushing anything to get to 40 wins instead of 35 would be crazy and counterproductive. So to see them not-doing that now is pretty much good and acceptable.