1. We begin with a loss
That game against the Rangers was, I think, a nice encapsulation of what Flames fans should expect for most of the remainder of the season. There are more than 20 games left, but this was a contest in which the Flames tried very hard for a while and at least held serve for a lot of the early goings of the game, but once they conceded it quickly became apparent that this was not a game in which the Flames were going to score. Even a one-goal lead at that point felt insurmountable based on how things looked on the ice.
You really do have to wonder when this team’s shooting luck runs out. So many guys shot 10-plus percent for so many games that it necessarily has to come back to bite you, and we’re getting to the point at which regression tends to hit teams: about 60-70 games in, things start going the way they “should” when teams PDO their way to early success.
Going into the game against New Jersey last night, the Flames had lost three straight and four of their last six, and basically none of the data — even in that brief window — suggests it was an accident. The share of scoring chances has plummeted. Their shooting percentage is down. Their save percentage is at one of the lowest points of the season.
That obviously contributes to losing even for teams that dominate possession, but here’s the thing: The Flames have never been good at that, and it’s really escaped them in the last 10 games or so. But even if they turn the possession game around and get back to a level in the high 40s — and you have to keep in mind they’re struggling now with a mostly healthy roster — you really can’t count on their ability to get things sorted out in terms of maintaining as high a shooting percentage as before. Which leads to being outscored more often, which leads to losing. Which probably leads to missing the playoffs.
2. A decision to make
In 30 Thoughts yesterday, Elliotte Friedman wrote this, and I’m not really sure what it means for the direction the Flames are going to take over the next five days:
“You can see what this means. Calgary knows giving up the future doesn’t make sense. Not at this stage in their growth. But, what Treliving and his staff know is you have to reward your team when it deserves it. You have to show your young guys you’re there to win.
Whatever they get for Glencross (or think they are going to get), they’re going to invest it in this season. Maybe a bigger deal pops up for a good player with term, and the add really jolts the team. But, failing that, they’re going to try and bring in a little something, because they know this group deserves a legit chance.”
This was something I talked about a few weeks ago: Giving up assets — even if they’re not particularly important ones — in pursuit of making the playoffs because “eight-seeds have gone to the Cup Final before” is, I think, a very real concern.
And yeah, they’re not going to trade anything of their own, but whatever they can get for Glencross really shouldn’t be invested in this season, because it’s almost certainly going to end in tears. Who do you get that actually helps this season you for a player like Glencross? Shouldn’t the goal be a pick or a prospect that helps the team down the road instead of doing what I said weeks ago was the organization’s probable plan: Trying to sneak in.
After the Rangers loss, they were down to like a 21 percent chance of making the playoffs when you factor in more than just strength of schedule and past numbers going forward (that is, advanced stats and other more predictive metrics) and yeah that’s a one-in-five chance, but they’ve been dropping hard the last few weeks as Minnesota and Los Angeles rampaged up the standings. The Flames are almost certainly going to be mathematically capable of making the playoffs as of next Monday, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see the odds in the single digits.
3. So what do you do?
Curtis Glencross is on the move, and that’s perfectly fine. He’s not the biggest contributor to whatever success the Flames have had this year and he’s going to want a ton of money for a number of years to slowly get worse. The Flames are wise not to oblige him, and are similarly wise to instead put him on the market. He’ll land with a real and actual contender, the Flames will probably take a bad contract in return.
What they really ought to do is take on a truly bad contract, though. Like, a “the team will give up a first-round pick so you take Stephen Weiss”-level deal. Because Going For It this season is, again, a fool’s errand, and investing in it rather than the future is likewise dumb. If you get a Stephen Weiss-type player, you can say “this is a guy who has a lot of experience in the league and has been known to chip in offensively and provides leadership,” and so on until you’re blue in the face. Shows you want to reward the players for their high PDO over the first five months of the season.
But it doesn’t cost you anything beyond money and a wasted roster spot for a few seasons. And if you help someone out by taking on such a deal, they gift you something in return. Give a little, get a little.
That’s the ideal scenario, of course. And I don’t think it’s a particularly realistic one. The Flames do have guys to extend and there was a quote floating around yesterday that some GMs are planning for a cap of just $69 million (unchanged from this year) in 2015-16. If that’s the case, the Flames aren’t going to have as much money to eat as many of us probably thought.
By my count, based on the current roster, they have $44.667 million committed to 16 players for next season. That doesn’t include RFAs they need to re-sign, like Mikael Backlund, Josh Jooris, Lance Bouma, Paul Byron, and Michael Ferland. Most of those guys are probably due raises. So let’s say all those guys get re-upped. Combined, the five of them probably cost $7.5 million (let’s just say that’s the case). So you’re looking at a little over $52 million for 21 guys. That number also doesn’t include a backup goalie, who’s probably Joni Ortio. So let’s say it’s like $53 million for 22. There’s also Sven Baertschi and Sam Bennett to consider.
Not a lot of room to add without subtracting something.
4. Why don’t you just…?
Here’s the real question, though. You trade Glencross, get a pick back. In a perfect world, you also get a bad deal with term left to boost the value of the pick and figure something out over the summer. Right. That’s the easy part.
But what if you don’t do anything at all after that? You don’t invest anything in the current team. You just let the chips fall where they may. (And acknowledge that “where they may” is “probably outside the playoffs.”)
I know that maybe “sends the wrong message” to the dressing room but this is a team of rookies and not-great players (with a few exceptions) no one expected to see succeed in the first place. It should never have been the goal, and even if it came close to happening — and yeah, might still happen — the likely end result here was what you should have seen coming. Hell, if this team finishes, like, ninth or 10th in the West, they will have dramatically exceeded most rational expectations for them.
Just because they won 57 percent of their first 60 games, it doesn’t mean you have to throw anything at it to get them to, what, 60 percent the rest of the way if they’re lucky?
Depending upon how you define “success” — and I’m not sure you’d be smart to include “just wins and losses” in the mix, because of how much it ignores — why can’t you say the Flames had it with this group before, and let’s see if they have it again.
5. It doesn’t really matter
Because that’s the thing, right? This was a group no one believed in who hung around the playoff picture longer than they really had any right to on paper. “Success” and “showing the kids how to win” and everything, yeah?
And at this point, in terms of what making the playoffs means or doesn’t mean is the difference between picking, like, No. 12-14 in the draft, or maybe being 16th. Total waste of a “rebuilding season” because this is the deepest draft class in a long time and the ability to lock down even a Noah Hanifin, or Mitch Marner, or whoever, doesn’t come along every day. Tanking was never going to happen the second they signed Jonas Hiller — which was still a silly move — but then everyone on the team complicated things by shooting 11 percent, collectively, for five months.
So now I figure the Flames have a 2.5 percent chance at winning the draft lottery in a best-case scenario. The team’s about to learn how hard it is to draft impact players when you’re picking outside the top-6. Which is saying something for a team with a draft record as poor as the Flames’