How to watch the Flames the rest of this season

This time a year ago, Flames fans were in a conflicting state of emotions. On one hand, the team was in a playoff spot, as it had been for much of the year, and that was a cause for joy. On the other hand, oh god Mark Giordano is done for the season we’re doomed.

The Flames being on the verge of returning to the post-season seemed almost too good to be true. And in a way, it was – but in March 2015, that wasn’t really the focus of watching this team. Not when every game still actually mattered, not when being so close to the playoffs was so tantalizing. Not when it was possible, even with the captain’s injury posing a serious roadblock.

A year ago, every single game was a must-watch. It’s pretty much the opposite this year. 

So… how is one supposed to get through 60+ in-game minutes of bad systems, incomprehensible player usage, and no hope for the immediate future? Here are some suggestions.

1. Just watch Johnny Gaudreau and T.J. Brodie

Do you need to pay attention to anybody else? No. No you do not.

As the Flames currently stand, Johnny Gaudreau and T.J. Brodie are the absolute upper echelon of their respective positions. 

There’s been no slump for Gaudreau. He entered his sophomore season with guns blazing, and hasn’t let them cool down once throughout the entire year. He continues to make players twice his height and with many more years experience than him look like fools, even on the more innocuous plays. He isn’t infallible – but with 63 points in 63 games, and sitting at sixth in league scoring, it’s really difficult to find major faults in his overall game.

As for Brodie, well: all one really has to do is point to the first nine games of the season. The Flames probably weren’t going to be a good team this season no matter what, but they were a special level of abhorrent at the start of the year, when they lost one of their most important players – if not the most important guy, period. His skating alone is enough to make him a top defenceman, but combine that with his vision and sensibilities, not to mention his ever-increasing offensive presence – 40 points in 55 games, and when considering points per game, that’s roughly seventh in the NHL for defencemen scoring – and you have a bonafide number one, flat out elite guy.

The Flames have some nice complimentary pieces, too. Everyone’s going to have their favourites for whatever reasons best suit them. But objectively, there’s nobody on this team better than Gaudreau and Brodie right now – and no matter if everything else around them goes straight to hell; they’re worth the watch.

2. Watch children, too

One of several nice things about Gaudreau and Brodie is that they’re still young. Gaudreau is 22 years old, Brodie is 25; they’ve both still got several years ahead of them. 

But we know who they are. You know who we don’t really know? Jyrki Jokipakka. Garnet Hathaway. Probably another call up or two. Hell, we’re only just getting to know Jakub Nakladal now.

It’s fun to see how new players fit on a team. It’s only been a couple of games so far, but Jokipakka is looking good on the bottom pairing. He’s only 24, too – there could still be more to him. But right now we’re just meeting Kevin, and he’s certainly more interesting to watch than another iteration of Ladislav Smid: especially considering he’s likely expected to have greater impact on this team down the line.

So there’s the element of interest, but when you look at just rookies, there’s the human element, too. This could be the only time some of these guys play in the NHL; it’s a really difficult level to reach. There’s a lot of joy to be found in watching someone make the absolute most of a very rare opportunity.

Especially when they achieve just that much more. Remember Nakladal’s first NHL goal? He was pumped. He jumped up into his teammates. Yeah, he’s 28 years old, but he’s still an NHL rookie. He was probably waiting a long time for that goal, and to watch him get it was rewarding even on a whole other emotional level. Those moments are worth watching for.

3. Love the insanity

The Flames are a bad team. What’s something bad teams do? Fall apart – or fall together – in a moment’s notice, usually with no rhyme or reason. They’re inconsistent. You never know what’s going to happen.

Give up a natural hat trick to a kid in just 2:38 when you’d previously been leading the game 4-2? Why not? Fail to score for much of a game, only to suddenly get two in 50 seconds – with the second goal being hilariously terrible? Hey, all of a sudden you’re back in the game! Give up a shorthanded goal, then score one on your power play just 15 seconds later? (And then give up another goal a minute later?) We’re not here to judge anymore, we’re here to laugh in awe at just what can happen next. 

Maybe Deryk Engelland will get a hat trick. Maybe Brandon Bollig will. Maybe it’ll happen in the same game. Anything can happen. Let’s get wild here.

Okay – so there’s some room for judgement. If goals against are the fault of someone who’s going to be in Calgary long term, they’ll get broken down and learned from. If goals for happen due to exceptional efforts or plays from those who are going to stick around (or are trying to make a case to), they’ll be lauded.

This season is doom and gloom, but it can’t be that way the entire time. There’s going to be levity to break up the losses and sense of hopelessness. Some of it is going to come in the form of crazy things happening, so let’s have fun with the unlikely moments bad hockey can bring.

4. Stress-free hockey

A year ago, watching the Flames was stressful. It was a fun kind of stressful, because with the Flames so close to breaking their drought, every game meant something. Every game was important to capitalize on. A goal against the Flames was good cause for angst.

It’s not like that anymore. And sure, I miss it. At the same time, there’s something nice about being able to sit down and just chill while watching a game. Nothing really matters. Goals against the Flames are kind of… good now? You don’t have to cheer against the Flames, but goals against are learning opportunities that push this team one step closer to better lottery odds. There’s no reason to be sad when a goal goes against them now. There’s no need to worry if the Flames can make a third period comeback this time.

Apathy is rarely good to experience, especially in sports – but sometimes, it is nice. And in the meantime, there are still enough players on this team that we can enjoy the beautiful plays they perform, and still appreciate the goals they do score – especially when they’re signs of things to come.

No negative emotions when watching, only bursts of positivity. It’s not the ideal way to close out a year, but it is much better for your heart.

5. Get hype over the draft class

Disclaimer: do not get too hype over the draft class. You’re only setting yourself up for disappointment if you do, because we all know Auston Matthews will be an Edmonton Oiler. The lottery is what they win nowadays, we’re just waiting for it to become official. Don’t upset yourself too much when it happens.

You know how as we approach the draft, we start hearing more and more about the amazing potential some of these kids have – especially at the top? In all likelihood, one of those kids is going to become a Flame. That’s your guy everyone is getting excited over, you just don’t know it yet.

There’s a very bright light at the end of this tunnel. His name could be Jesse Puljujarvi, or Patrik Laine, or Alex Nylander. Someone very talented will soon be wearing red.

And if that’s not exciting on its own, consider: look at how good Gaudreau is already. Now imagine what more he could do with a giant Finn on his line. That’s the future we’re looking towards – and while we watch the Flames stumble their way through this final stretch of games, knowing what’s around the corner should stay ever-present in the backs of our minds.

This team looks to be in good hands. It already has some young, bordering on elite talent; it already has a handful of complimentary pieces that should thrive for a few years yet. It has a base for the future, and it’s a good one – and it’s one it keeps adding to, with more picks and prospects coming in as older players not in future plans depart.

Add at least one more highly skilled youngster to this group, make a few more tweaks here and there, and this team has the potential to be a force soon enough. As terrible as this season has been overall, it’s still been an improvement on the previous years of the rebuild.

This isn’t a bottomless well of despair. There’s hope still to be had. Another top pick added to this group is going to be fun – and it’s already still kinda fun with what we’ve already got. So we’re just looking forward to more.

But in the immediate, having fun is all that really matters. So let’s do it. Let’s have fun.

  • ZoilerZ

    Welcome to life as an Oiler fan. 🙁

    Kinda like how most of us fans watch just for the magic of McDavid these days, at least you can enjoy the magic of Gaudreau. That kid is amazing.

    Hopefully next year, we can truly hate each other once again….both great teams wanting to kill each other on the ice, just like the good ol’ days. 😉

  • mk

    Someone mentioned this in another article’s comments, but it stuck with me: I doubt Gaudreau is paired with whatever big Finn we might get at the draft. Lots of teams go with the pairs-method of making forward lines – I bet we’ll see a lot of Gaudreau/Monahan & Bennett/Finn (or swap the centres) in the longer term. Thoughts?

    • FlamesFanOtherCity

      I propose a “Guess you favorite Bob Hartley excuse for not starting Ortio” poll.

      Possible voting options:

      1) He wasn’t next in the rotation for starter.

      2) Hiller wasn’t at fault for the last loss, so we are giving him a chance to improve.

      3) We need to showcase Hiller.

      4) We owe Hiller the opportunity to earn a starter job in the NHL.

      5) We need to evaluate Backstrom.

      6) Hiller was the best one in practice.

      7) Hiller played best against team x.

  • Rockmorton65

    Austen Matthews will be a Leaf. The league will see to it. They won’t let the Oilers win it again and they seem to have it in for the Flames too.

    I’m stoked to watch the new guys and Johnny’s worth the price of admission…

  • First Name Unidentified

    If it came down to drafting Laine or Puljujarvi who would you guys prefer?
    I personally would be stoked at either player being a Flame, however i have slight inclination towards Puljujarvi considering he skates better and has an explosive burst, is better at 2-way game, and is more dangerous in the red zone areas down low.

    Laine would be awesome too.

  • MattyFranchise

    I was wondering about this last season: is Brodie good because he plays with Gio or Gio good because he plays with Brodie?

    This season has answered my question, Brodie is clearly the better defenseman. If he scores more goals than he has already then he gets more nods in trophy voting and international opportunities than Gio does.

  • A cheer I propose for the Dome C of Red the rest of the year:

    Tank tank tank.
    Who do we want?
    Auston Matthews!
    When do we want him?
    Now!
    Tank tank tank!
    Put Hiller in the net,
    Put Colborne in his way!
    Let’s lose some effen games.
    Tank tank tank!
    What did I just say?
    Tank!

  • smatic10

    I would be really concerned about this teams future…..but they’re obviously a much better team then they have shown this season. A team with Brodie, Giordano, Gaudreau, Monahan, Bennett, and Frolik on it cannot possibly be this bad.

    I think this team can realistically be back in the playoff picture next season if at least some of the following can be checked off the checklist:

    1. Find a goalie who can be consistent (doesn’t even have to be Vezina calibre….just consistent and gives a chance to win the game).

    2. Fire Hartley. I think he has done a solid job overall since being head coach, but he’s definitely not the guy for the future. Constant stretch passes, ineffective pp, horrendous penalty kill, and perhaps most importantly a LACK of ability to adjust to opponent tactics should all be reasons.

    2. Draft in the top-3 and if the player is NHL ready….put him in the lineup. This team needs to improve it’s PP and just generally be a more constant threat in the offensive zone.

    3. Get rid of dead weight: Engelland, Raymond, Bollig, Smid, Colborne

    4. Find a top-4 dman to play with Dougie.

    5. Solidify that bottom pairing. Kevin can hopefully play responsibly to have one of those spots, but whether or not Nak will be re-signed is still up in the air. So sign a solid third pairing dman.

    6. Sign a top-6 forward.

    • freethe flames

      1. Who in your mind are the top candidates for goal? Please elaborate. There was a really good write up on Flames from 80 on this. We might need 2.

      2 Fire Hartley. Any recommendations as to who you would like to replace him. Another NHL retread or should they try a new thinker? I wonder who BT might know from his days in Arizona?

      3. If we get a top 4 draft pick this year it is highly likely that he could crack this line up.

      4. Get rid of the dead weight. Good how many are you going to buy out. You forgot Wideman. Also so people who hate Colborne he may have his best NHL season this year. He is close too it with 19 games remaining.

      5. Why not see if someone from within can do this job. If not how much can we afford to spend.

      6. Improve the 3rd pairing, I think this can be done within but if you need to sign one who do recommend and how much will you be prepared to spend.

      7. Sign a UFA top 6 free agent. Again whom and what is your budget.

      8. You forgot we still need to sign Johnny and Monny.

      Your ideas have some merit but don’t forget the salary cap and don’t forget we have some prospects that might surprise us next season. To fix all the problems you have listed will need for some guys from within to step up as the salary cap will prevent buying all the guys you suggest we need to add.

  • BlueMoonNigel

    No more ducking the issue, Kids. The cost of Frederik Anderson has ratcheted up following his selection to Team Europa.

    What do the Flames have that would entice the Ducks to move him? I’m assuming that Monahan, Gaudreau, Bennett, Gio and Brodie are off limits and likely Hamilton is too. A package of current Flames’ players won’t get it done. Don’t think a pack of Heaters will do it either.

    I am quite sure that the only solid bargaining chip the Flames have to excite the Ducks is their first draft pick, likely to be a top 5. Would you trade the pick for the Great Dane? Andersen is primed to be a starter in the NHL and his new contract is going to be a whole lot less than Ramo/Hiller.

    Alternatives: UFAs–Reimer or Ward. The best goalie in the KHL. Ortio.

    A top draft pick for a top young goalie. Could be a fair trade.

    I reckon if the Flames draft between 1 and 5, they will hang on to it, but what if it’s a 6 to 10 pick? Would the Flames deal it for Anderson?

    If you build a team from the net out, would you rather have Reimer or Frederik the Great? While it won’t cost the Flames to acquire the UFA Reimer, it will cost them more in salary as he will be paid higher than Frederik the Great.

    • freethe flames

      Sorry I’m not sure I would pay that price when we need a skilled forward. I wonder what the cost of the kid Murray out of Pittsburg will be? Will Anderson be enough to carry this team or is it better to use the resources in a different way. Sign a UFA which costs nothing but money and keep the first.

      Raanta and Enroth are two UFA’s I would at least consider.