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.