So. This season, eh?
In their first 10 games, the Flames were a 4-5-1 team. Not particularly good, as it was a brief three-game stretch that redeemed them for just a moment before they completely fell off the wagon once again. The season was effectively over; you can’t be that bad to start and expect to really go anywhere.
In their most recent 10 games, the Flames are a 7-2-1 team. That’s actually extremely good, and the majority of those games came on their longest, most gruelling road trip of the season. That’s a playoff caliber team. That’s a team that might actually be able to do some damage.
There are still 53 games to go in the season, though. That’s a lot; almost anything can happen. The Flames could fall back in a hole, bottom out, and give us nothing but the draft to look forward to. Or they could play meaningful games in April and, dare I suggest it, beyond.
What’s better for them?
Where is this team?
Either the Flames are bad and their number one priority has to be getting top talent, they’re good and their number one priority has to be proving they deserve to play more than 82 games, or they’re somewhere in between.
If they’re bad, then the solution is easy. If they’re good, then the solution is obvious. But they’re probably more in between than anything else, and that’s where things get complicated.
What’s more important: getting another high draft pick and waiting until next year to hopefully take that next step forward, or taking that next step forward now? If that step forward cannot be taken, is it better to fall off completely or to continue to make movements towards the playoffs, even if unsuccessful?
How much of a benefit to the Flames has Matthew Tkachuk been? How much stronger will the lineup be with another young player of his caliber?
On the other hand, Mark Giordano is 33 years old and not getting any younger. The core itself is overall pretty young, though, and one of the biggest benefits to having a good, young core is a longer window. The longer the window is open, the more fun hockey is, period. And how much really needs to be added to it?
So where is this team? Is it worth forgoing more potential young top talent to take a shot at the postseason, even if they likely won’t get very far in it this year? On the other hand, how much did that taste of the playoffs in 2015 help?
This is a team that’s growing
Presently, according to Natural Stat Trick, the Flames are a 49.47% 5v5 CF team. Spit on fancy stats all you want, but fact is, the 2014-15 Flames were an anomaly; typically playoff teams – and Cup-winning teams – have excellent corsi numbers. If you want to go anywhere, you’ve gotta be above 50%.
The Flames aren’t there yet, but they’re close. With so much of the season left, and the way their play has improved as of late, they could very well clear that hurdle. Right now, they’re 18th in the NHL; a little over 50% gets them into the upper half.
Last season, the Flames were a 47.97% team. That’s bad; they were 22nd in the NHL in that stat and finished with the sixth overall pick. Since then, at least for now, they’ve shot up 1.5% – a very important step forward.
This, to me at least, would indicate a team that needs to be taking that next step forward – with caution, because they aren’t even close to being out of the woods. If the Flames are getting noticeably better, then they may be at the point where another high pick isn’t their most pressing priority; this current group – and specifically, its core players – proving they can take things to the next level is far more important.
But it’s going to have to be on their backs to prove it. In 2014-15, Brad Treliving wasn’t buying the teams’ success; he was right not to, because that mild selling at the deadline netted them the extra picks they needed in order to trade for Dougie Hamilton and draft Oliver Kylington. The former is a crucial piece, the latter has the potential to be. That was worth far more than a couple of extra games with Curtis Glencross ever would have been, even in the midst of a playoff push.
And as much as the Flames look to be improving this year, and as much as we’re running out of time for this current group to take that next step forward, they still don’t look like a surefire playoff team. The 2014-15 approach is probably going to be the correct one again: sell off what you can, and tell the group that isn’t going anywhere that it’s up to them to prove whether they’re taking that next step forward or not.
Whether they can or not will be what determines if this season was a success. Even if they don’t make the playoffs, as long as they at least look like they can next season, then they should be in a good spot.