In the strictest of definitions, there’s only one way to have success in a professional sports league: win.
Not just a game. Not just a series. If you don’t win the ultimate prize at the end, you didn’t win. Period.
In the NHL, that means there’s only one winner, and 29 losers. That’s a really high bar, and an unfair one for even contenders, let alone those still working to get to that status. The Flames are among that latter group – but even then, we don’t know quite where they fall.
With a lot of (bad) contracts soon to come off the books, this is a year of transition. What would make it a successful one for you?
Another high draft pick
The nice thing about this is just that – you’re likely adding another elite player to a lineup that already has a fair share of great talent. Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie, Dougie Hamilton, Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Sam Bennett? Add Matthew Tkachuk to that group and–
Yeah, we went through this last year. It wasn’t fun. It was fun in June as we were writing draft profiles, knowing the Flames were going to have a good shot at someone who would be a high-end player. It wasn’t fun in October when we saw the Flames’ season end pretty much right in the first month. It wasn’t fun when games became a chore to watch. It wasn’t fun to watch stupid decision after stupid decision or crushing goal against after crushing goal against.
Another high draft pick isn’t the worst thing in the world. But going through another full season of, well, garbage to get there, in hopes that maybe things will be better for 2017-18 – at that point, probably only with the hope of a cleared out cap? We’re well past that point. That’s not a success.
On the outside looking in
We lived through this quite a bit before the Flames finally committed to rebuilding. “If we can just get into eighth place, anything can happen!” Yeah, maybe when they had a 26-year-old Jarome Iginla; that dream died a long time ago.
But at this stage, just barely missing the playoffs is actually a sign of hope rather than hopelessness. This is a team on the upswing, not a downswing, and there’s something to be said about how fun it is to watch the playoff chase. Meaningful games in March aren’t the ultimate goal, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t fun.
Of course, it would still be crushing to see a team come that close and still have their season end early in April regardless – and without the compensation of one of the top draft picks available of that year.
This option may not be what one would call a success, either, but in the ultimate game plan, it would probably be much more satisfying.
Barely in the playoffs
Think 2014-15, but with a little less luck and a little more growth to get them there. The division the Flames play in probably works to their advantage – the journey isn’t as much of a struggle as it would be if they played in, say, the Central – but getting in the playoffs is getting in the playoffs.
In 2014-15, the Flames got lucky in that the opponent they drew, the Canucks, was probably one of the few they actually had a chance against. When they moved on to the second round, they were comically outclassed by the Ducks. It was a fun year, and there wasn’t really anything to complain about during it, but it wasn’t a sign of natural progression. It was a fluke.
If the Flames are in the playoffs this year, chances are, it won’t be because of a fluke. It’ll be because of a combination of their division, the natural growth of their younger, high-end players, and hopefully, because Glen Gulutzan turns out to be the right fit.
To make it in and do so convincingly – not necessarily with a positive possession team, but at least with one that’s on the edge of being so – would probably be both the most attainable, and most satisfying mark of success for the Flames this year.
Everything would need to fall into place for this to happen, and I mean everything. Hamilton, Gaudreau, Monahan, Bennett, and probably another kid or two would have to have record years. Brian Elliott would need to not miss a beat as he moves on to his next team. Gulutzan would need to turn out to be one of the top coaches in the league from pretty much the get-go. The weaker players on the roster would probably have to be either buried or put together strong redemption years.
In other words, everything would have to go right, and some things would have to go beyond that. It’s certainly possible, but it’s probably not something to bet on.
Not for 2016-17. Maybe for 2017-18, depending on how the Flames handle their newfound cap space and how far the kids progress (plus Gulutzan). But whenever the Flames reach this status – assuming they actually do – it’ll definitely count as a success for them.
Any team that wins the Stanley Cup has a successful season by default, come on. And I mean… everything is possible in this life?