Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports
Sports are in the moment. Say what you will about everything else about them – the managerial side, the stats, the trades and signings and predictive measures – but the main reason most of us are even here to begin with is because they’re just plain fun to watch.
Your team winning a game can make your entire day. Not like you had anything to do with it yourself, but it still feels awesome. On the flip side, losing can put you in a bad mood for a while. Again, nothing to do with you – but that doesn’t make it suck any less.
Chances are, you’ll experience both emotions and everything in between throughout a season. Lord knows the Flames have done that to us this year.
Remember when the Flames were completely unwatchable in October? Remember when they constantly gave up and then started getting blown out in games in January? Just the worst.
And yet here we are now, on the eve of the trade deadline, and the Flames are in a playoff spot.
Probably not as comfortably as they were back in 2014-15 – but there’s more reason to believe in them this time around. They’re a 51.06% 5v5 CF team – eighth in the league, and way up from the 44.44% they were that season (and the 47.99% in 2015-16, for that matter). A giant climb in a possession proxy stat doesn’t mean they’re actually going to win anything – it’s one of those predictive stats, which can, of course, be completely wrong – but it definitely lends to greater faith in this team.
For all the bad that the Flames have given us this season, there’s been plenty of good, too. There have been flashes here and there; then there’s also the now, which has seen the Flames rebound from a 5-0 loss to one of the worst teams in the NHL – one of those low points – to a 5-0-1 record since then, mostly on the road, and featuring a back-to-back (which they have no more of this season).
There were the games against the Oilers: three catastrophic letdowns, albeit two understandable due to being the first two games with a new coach. Counter that with a sweep of the Minnesota Wild, a team currently contending for the President’s Trophy. For every blowout you can point to – and there have been far too many of them; to the Rangers, the Kings, the Leafs, the Canadiens – there’s Matthew Tkachuk scoring twice in his 10th NHL game to put the Sharks down, or the Flames inexplicably scoring eight against the Ducks in one game (sadly not in Anaheim).
There were special teams failures so immense they cost the Flames too many points early on and were unquestionably the worst in the NHL; now their powerplay is in the top half and the penalty kill at least the top 20 (impressive, considering how they still lead the NHL in penalties taken).
For every bizarre Brian Elliott goal against, there have been multiple game-saving stops, sometimes within the same game. Johnny Gaudreau broke his finger and spent hundreds of minutes playing with Alex Chiasson; now he’s piling up points all at once with impossible-to-believe passes and Micheal Ferland present to receive them (while Chiasson performs well in the role he’s actually meant for, on the fourth line). Sean Monahan stopped scoring and looked worse than useless for a time, now he has 100 career goals. Dougie Hamilton went from having Nicklas Grossmann as a partner to Mark Giordano, and elevated Giordano’s game along with him.
Mikael Backlund has been perfect all season long, though.
It’s been a bumpy ride as the Flames have looked to turn the corner of the rebuild. We’ve gone from total despair to complete awe and back within the space of a week several times throughout the year. It’s wild and unpredictable (though again, of course, there’s reason to hope for good things).
Living in the moment is easy. Taking a step back – especially when your team is doing so absurdly well in the immediate – is hard, but especially necessary at this point of the season.
Not that any of the decisions are up to any of us. But things are never as bad as they seem, and they’re never as good as they seem, either.
So here’s to the reasoned approach. A game against the Los Angeles Kings – a game that’s likely to have a massive impact on the season, same with the three to follow it – is when you live in the moment.
The next day, when you’re essentially locking in your roster, is when you step back. Because there are little moments – isolated snapshots of games, or even individual games themselves – and then there are the moments that just mean more, because they’re when something is at stake. The little moments through the regular season lead to the little moments in the postseason – only those ones don’t seem quite as little.
But first you have to get there.
It’s been a wild ride so far. Here’s to stepping back and looking up at the incline, because hopefully, that’s where the ride is taking us. Maybe not this season – so don’t rent anybody, because that’s not the stage this team is at – but soon enough.