Photo credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin/USA TODAY Sports
And lo, just when the Flames fall into a six-way tie for last place in the NHL, they snatch up another two points and get themselves in a tie with Winnipeg as the teams with the third-worst points record in the league.
The better fate the Flames deserved against Columbus came against Vancouver. The Flames were roughly controlling play until they scored; once they were on the board, the Canucks finally kicked it into gear. (Though you’d suspect if it had been the other way around, the Flames would’ve been the one generating more shot attempts.) (They still only had four over the final 11:44 of the second period, which, yikes.)
They generally played well. When they didn’t, Jonas Hiller did. Throw in a couple of empty net goals and Calgary got themselves an out-of-proportion score (and are now 22nd in the NHL in goal differential! Moving on up).
Checking in with the trade bait
The Flames’ two biggest trade chips are Jiri Hudler and Kris Russell. Hudler played 17:32 on the top line, got top unit power play time, and registered a rather gutsy assist – making the hit to make the play will probably win him some points from prospective buyers – on what ended up being the game winner.
Russell, meanwhile, played 21:11, one of just three Flames players to crack the 20 minute mark. He had himself a solid game, with nary a flop to the ice to take himself out of the play. At no point was he really in position to cost his team, and for a game that was spent mostly tied or with a precarious one-goal lead, that means a lot.
So basically, this was a really good showcasing game for both players.
To go off on a tangent, a few oddities surrounding them: Johnny Gaudreau didn’t have a single point in a game in which the Flames scored four goals; and somehow, Russell’s regular partner, Dougie Hamilton, ended up playing less than Deryk Engelland. Only by 1:33, but still… okay.
And T.J. Brodie led the way with 27:29, nearly five more minutes than the next most frequently used player, Mark Giordano. He had two assists, including that beauty that led to the first goal, and is now tied with Hudler for fourth in team scoring with 28 points. He seems kind of important to the team, to say the least. It’s nice when he’s not injured.
Looping back around… could Karri Ramo, perhaps, be trade bait? He’s an unrestricted free agent, and it’s not like the Flames will be left floundering around without a goalie for the rest of the season if another team wanted to give up assets for Ramo.
What happens, assuming the trade bait goes?
Russell has been used as the Flames’ third defenceman for quite some time now, so Calgary would have to promote someone else in his stead. That someone should be Hamilton, so at least a Russell departure could see more appropriate usage for the 22-year-old.
As for Hudler’s replacement: he should probably stay with Gaudreau and Sean Monahan until it’s time, but when it’s time, assuming no players or prospects of note come back… it’s gotta be Micheal Ferland, right? He was getting a spin on the top line before his injury, and every now and then, he shows real, legitimate chance-creating talent.
“Ferland is a goon.”
“Ferland has no skill.”
HOW DO YOU EXPLAIN THIS, CANUCKS FANS?! pic.twitter.com/nyiYYnFJWZ
— FlamesNation (@FlamesNation) February 7, 2016
Like, at absolute absolute absolute worst, when all is said and done, he could end up being the third-line left winger alongside Mikael and Michael. He’s known for his physical play, but he’s got more to his game than what a fourth liner has to offer. And assuming Hudler is gone, he could get a decent 20 or so game stretch with Gaudreau and Monahan (the latter of which is looking much better as of late) to audition for a top six spot.
When the Flames traded for Brandon Bollig, they certainly weren’t counting on Ferland breaking out. And at this point, his upside is probably higher than Lance Bouma’s (who has been used almost exclusively in a fourth line role this season – though to be fair, he’s performed well in that position, and had a lot of jump the past couple of games).
And yet, Ferland only has eight points through 40 games this season. It’s like we’re on the cusp of just waiting for him to break out and start putting up some numbers. Though we are talking about somebody who has only played 75 games, including the playoffs, so there’s still time for his efforts to start translating into tangible results.
Here is a section of Mikael Backlund love
This game was the game where I don’t get why people can have problems with Mikael Backlund.
No, he doesn’t score a lot. He did have a goal and an assist last night, though, bringing him up to 24 points – on pace for 39 this season (the same number Sam Bennett is on pace for, by the way) – and both points encapsulated two different facets of his game to love.
The first was the assist, which he got on the offensive zone entry. The zone entry itself wasn’t the most amazing thing, and Brodie gets more credit for making himself an available passing option when Chris Tanev challenged Backlund, but the point is Backlund is one of the Flames’ best players at carrying the puck into the offensive zone. And it’s kind of hard to score from outside of there, so.
The second was the empty netter, which he clawed and fought for. Backlund, more often than not, will show enthusiasm and effort in his play, and generally has throughout his time in Calgary.
He’s a heart and soul player. Don’t people generally love those guys? Just because he doesn’t play a style that lends itself to hitting or blocking shots – because both are actions you do when you don’t have the puck, and Backlund usually does actually have it – doesn’t make him not a heartbeat of this team.
He’s ideal for a third line role. Hopefully, one day soon, he’ll be bumped down there. But that doesn’t make him any less valuable to the Flames, whether he’s putting up points or not.