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Why missing the playoffs might be the best outcome for this year’s Flames

From a fan perspective, a spring without playoffs would be an atrocity. There’s no feeling more empty than watching the postseason without a real rooting interest.

But for the Calgary Flames, missing out might be just what the team needs.

It sounds counter-intuitive, given the fact that failure in the playoffs is so often linked to future success, and once you’ve locked up a berth, anything can happen — as the 2004 Flames entry proved by making the Cup final while largely devoid of top talent. But the truth is this group seems to need a more painful lesson rather than the false sense of accomplishment they would no doubt feel if they make a late run and get the help they need to squeak in.

Last year in a disappointing first round sweep at the hands of the Anaheim Ducks, the Flames learned that bad goaltending can cost you a series… and quickly.

So far this year, with just 11 games remaining the team is still scrambling to figure out what its identity is, and the only real consistency has been the goaltending while Mike Smith has been healthy.

That’s one of the hard lessons that needs to sink in somehow. One way to fail is by taking your star goaltender for granted too often. (Just ask all the Miikka Kiprusoff-backed Flames teams from 2004-09).

Smith’s importance is undeniable, and by itself isn’t at all a bad thing. The season would have already been lost if not for his MVP performance. His mere presence in practice following his lower-body injury seemed to inspire one of the team’s most impressive performances of the year with a 5-1 victory over the Sabres in Buffalo. They rode the wave through a tighter battle in Ottawa a couple of nights later, but his long-awaited return to the crease earlier this week was an unmitigated disaster. In one of their most disappointing early efforts, they were down 2-0 to the New York Islanders just 2:32 into the contest and trailed 4-1 before the first minute of the second period had passed at the Saddledome.

It’s as if the team’s lack of consistency stems from the knowledge they have one of the most reliable backstops in the league to bail them out.

Smith did that again in what was essentially a must-win situation while hosting the Oilers this week, making at least a quartet of spectacular saves to preserve a 1-0 victory and keep the playoff hopes alive.

Having a great goaltender is a good thing, but he should be complementing an equally great team, not just keeping them afloat.

Nov 2, 2017; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Calgary Flames goalie Mike Smith (41) stops a shot from the Pittsburgh Penguins during the second period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

While on the topic, that lack of desperation — which for the sake of argument we’ll define as obvious urgency and determination from the drop of the puck rather than when it’s dictated as a response after falling behind — is extremely troubling in the same vein as the culture of losing was a couple of years ago in Edmonton and currently plaguing Carolina. It’s not as much a culture of losing in Calgary as it is a frustrating air of indifference that suggests some core players are so gifted with talent that they may feel they don’t have to work as hard as possible on every single shift to contribute.

They do. Sidney Crosby is one of the most talented players the league has ever seen. He may also be its most tireless when it comes to work ethic.

The Flames’ starts have been abysmal most of the year, especially at home where their sub-.500 record is almost inconceivable when you consider how good the road record is. But too often they find themselves trailing in games and playing catch-up. Inconsistencies trouble many top-end players not named Johnny Gaudreau, who is in the midst of an incredible statistical season.

When Sean Monahan isn’t scoring, he’s often forgettable in games. The same goes for Micheal Ferland, and the two top liners have been held off the scoresheet on many nights when their playmaking left flanker still manages to earn his points.

Ferland’s fog started long before his injury knocked him out of the lineup. As he has in years past, he stopped doing the simple things that earned him the 20 goals in the first 50 games of the season. History has been repeating itself. In the past, expected the success rather than working for it.

The third line has shown glimpses of greatness but also instances of ineptitude, and the recent scratching of a healthy Mark Jankowski shows he’s still a developing player who needs to be reminded about what got him to the NHL level this early.

The end-of-season exit interviews will take on a much more somber and serious tone if the team has to schedule them for mid-April rather than May or June. And there’s a real possibility some of those conversations will be the last they have as members of the Flames — for coaches and players.

Yes, another benefit to a season without playoffs is a cold, hard look at the personnel.

Nov 16, 2016; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Calgary Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan on his bench against the Arizona Coyotes during the overtime period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Calgary Flames won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Whether or not you believe Glen Gulutzan is the right person to lead the Flames going forward, there is sure to be some serious self-reflection if he stays. And some not so-subtle suggestions from above are likely, too. There is a fine line between being a players’ coach and a coach that’s letting his players dictate his decisions.

“Should I have broken up the Brodie/Hamonic pairing before Christmas? Why didn’t I put Dougie Hamilton and Matthew Tkachuk on the top powerplay unit sooner? Maybe I should shorten my bench more often and play my best players in third periods of games we’re behind. Could Jankowski have been better served with a few healthy scratches earlier in the year to learn from above? Perhaps Troy Brouwer doesn’t need to be a regular in all situations just because of his salary.”

The frustration Gulutzan has displayed in recent days has as much to do with his own inabilities to bring out the best in his charges with regularity as it does with their apparent inability to do so.

Regardless of the changes the front office lands on, you can be assured there will be some impactful ones made if the season ends earlier than planned. And that is so much better than the belief that after a season that clearly showed the team is missing something will somehow find it without help next year.

  • McRib

    The only reason missing the playoffs would be positive is it would force our management group to make basic rational decisions like trading Michael Stone and calling up the far surperior Ramsus Andersson, also buying out Troy Brouwer would have to happen, but why didn’t these moves happen months ago when we still had a chance at the playoffs? Michael Stone NHLe 5.8. Rasmus Andersson NHLe 28.1. You don’t think this team that is absolutely starved for secondary scoring could have used 22 extra points this year from a defender? We wouldn’t be having regular trouble scoring more than one or two goals against backup goaltenders if Andersson was on the team, I can tell you that.

    I just pray we don’t win the draft lottery.

    • McRib

      The fact that our management group cant make these stupidly simple decisions though, it makes me seriously question there capabilities as managers. It truly blows my mind that Troy Brouwer hasn’t been a healthy scratch once this year and just shows how indenial our management group is. Only five goals with regular PP time isn’t good enough, not even mentioning to he is clearly an anchor to every line he plays on.

    • Jessemadnote

      I don’t disagree that Rasmus Andersson has earned a shot, but his NHL equivalency has come from top pairing and PP time, he would not have a guaranteed 22 extra points this year. Mangiapane’s NHLe is 45 points and he has not yet had a point in 10 games. People on this site really overvalue the prospects. Seeing as Jankowski and Bennett were our best and they are barely producing better than Troy Brouwer, I’m not convinced that a lack of rookies is the problem. In fact, I think it’s the opposite.

        • Avalain

          Looking at the stats, Bennett is running an average of 1:18 on the power play while Brouwer is at 1:05. So Bennett has more power play time than Brouwer. The thing is that people freak out when they see Brouwer on the ice during a power play so it feels like he’s there more than he is.

    • Trevy

      The problem lies way beyond trading Stone. I love Andersson but I find it hard to believe he would of made that much of a difference to turn the Flames season around. We have no identity, no consistency from the bottom six, special teams sucked for a long period of time, we’re horrible at home and our coach is off in his own bizarro world with the likes of what Steve mentioned. This team needs a lot of changes, what you said is just the start. As for the article itself, I couldn’t agree more!

  • Atomic Clown

    Theres a couple of things to be gained from making the playoffs: we, the fans, get some more hockey to watch. The youngsters get playoff experience. And most importantly, the 1st round pick the flames gave up for Hamonic will be no higher than 16. However, if the flames do make the playoffs, and win the first round, the current coaching staff will stay. And thats something unacceptable. I am not a fan of firing coaching staffs after chirstmas, so GG and co. should get a stay of execution until the season is done. Clean house in the offseason, and hire a new head coach, PP coach, and PK coach. Joel Quenville might be on the market. Alain Vignealt could be an option as well. See if the flames can pry Travis Green out of Vancouver, tell them they can have GG in return.

    One last thought about GG- I dont necessarily think hes a bad coach. I just think this early in his coaching career, hes not capable of coahing a contending team. He’s the sort of coach you bring into a rebuilding team. Like Arizona/Vancouver/Buffalo. He would be able to set good work habits, improve posession and and generally establish a foundation. But he cant take a team to the next level.

  • Jessemadnote

    I think the real issue with this management and coaching groups is they really can’t decide if we’re a developing team or a window team. The Jets sold their team the past few years as a developing team and the fans have been patient and it paid off in a big way this year. If the Flames are developing, why so many future assets out the door? If they are in their Window, then why are we integrating four rookies into the lineup? Kulak has been great, but Jankowski, hathaway and Rittich have performed below expectations directly or indirectly costing us games. I think this group skipped steps and now they’ve painted themselves into a corner. Now to be fair, I don’t think there are many managers in the league who would predict regression or stagnation from Brodie, Bennett, Jagr, and Versteeg. The bad bets this summer however: Stone, Lack, and Glass.

  • Rusty Shackleford

    Yes GG is partially to blame, but ultimately its BT that put an incomplete roster together. The bottom six forwards (with the exception of Bennett and Janko at times) as been a complete tire fire. Signing Stone and trading for Hamonic which blocks Andersson was a complete misstep.

    • BlueMoonNigel

      Kid, you’re not going to make many friends around here talking like that until the snake oil salesman is finally run outta town.

      Stick to your opinion on this one as it’s the right one.

      How blind are some of these posters to the legend of Tre? One dumbass was livid with Tre picking up Stewart off waivers. Then a few hours later, the same poster wrote that while he had hated the pick-up when he first heard about it, having listened to Tre’s rationalization for the move, the acquisition made sense and he was now in support of it. Talk about letting another man do your thinking for you.

      Sutter bamboozled the locals for several years before they finally wised up, yet some of the rubes here still call for Sutter’s return as coach. Sutter set this club so far back on its heels it is still recovering from the damage that clod wrought, yet some folks still want him back–but just as coach. Blows the top of my head clear off.

      • Theo4HoF

        Sutter also gave us the best season we’ve had in close to 30 years. Two Stanley cups and got the bad news flames to game 7 of the stanley cup finals. Sounds like a pretty good resume to me.

  • BringtheFire 2.0

    I’ve been waiting for an all-encompassing evaluation of the team, and here it is. Thank you.

    Yeah, we might need a new coach but unless he’s Harry Potter he’s gonna be playing with like, five new players next year or he’s doomed too.

      • BringtheFire 2.0

        So under another coach Brouwer and Stajan and Hathaway and Shore and Janko and Bennett would all bump up their production and a second goaltender would appear as a solid backup?

        Maybe. But I’d guess no.

        • Chucky

          under any other coach Brouwer would be eating popcorn and the first power play unit would have several more goals. Janko and Bennett would be better but the big thing is that the Flames would have two elite right defensemen (Hamilton and Brodie) not many teams that don’t make the playoffs have the right side covered like that.

        • ThisBigMouthIsRight

          Yes … They would, maybe not Brouwer? But if a coach would play the players to their natural strengths instead of forcing them into the same cookie cutter system that obviously dosen’t work for them including very poor player usage and TOI, I’m betting we could see a huge jump in production and morale. We have a decent BU in Rittich, Why have all the goalies who’ve come here struggled? It really doesn’t seem to be a question so much as who.. but maybe it should be asked Why is that? Goalie Coach? Defensive System? etc…

  • Mike Kennelly

    So many great points made in both the article and group discussion. If I may put my 2 cents in , I really think all the players on the team need to practice on the accuracy of thier shots and try to hone thier snipe shots 10 fold. As well as concentrating on a more effective way of entering the deep end without carelessly tossing it in the corner and chasing it.

          • Trevy

            That’s a real good question…I think it’s a combination of both. We have some players that to me, are true core players because they have one main thing in common…they all want to win bad. I would include Gio, Johnny, Tkachuk and maybe a couple more In that group. Then, as Steve mentioned, there’s someone like Monahan that if he doesn’t score in a game, you wouldn’t even know if he played. Now are these players failing the coach, probably, or is the coach the one to instill that work ethic and energy into his players from the start and if they don’t respond, sit them regardless of who or how much they make. That’s part of GG’s failures…Brouwer being the biggest example of this. I truly believe having a coach with the pedigree of a Quenville would have a major impact

  • oilcanboyd

    My main observation for the difference between Hartley’s team and G’s team is that Hartley’s team was prepared to start a game and finish a game. They still had a lot oomph in the last 5 minutes of a game as they were for the first five minutes. Their identity? They were hard to play against! We cannot say that about GG’s team. They go to sleep for 2 or 3 minutes at a time and bang 2 or 3 goals against. I don’t believe they are as well conditioned athletes as they were under the previous regime.

    Need to fire all the coaches before the players leave the Saddledome and given a training regime for the summer.

      • Rockmorton65

        This team has at least two fundamenal flaws that need to be addressed for them to have long term success. Coaching and a legit 1RW. Making the playoffs could be a bad thing in a couple of scenarios.

        1 – Flames make the playoffs and go on a Cinderella run to, say, the conference finals. Management sees that and says, “See. If the players just play the system, they’re effective. It’s not the coaching, it’s the players motivation. Don’t make any changes, just stay the course and work on that.”

        2 – Similar to last year, the team makes the playoffs and gets bounced in four or five. Players leave, dejected again and with no change on the horizon, look forward to more of the same next year. The trickle down effect of that is a player like Fox, seeing no desire to change the logjam in front of him, decides to pursue greener pastures.

        Ideally, in my opinion, would be for the team to go on a run & get close, but fall short. It protects the pick and the players stay hungry. Meanwhile, management isn’t happy with the progress and is forced to look at the team’s shortcomings and make the necessary changes. Something, I don’t think, it would do with even a moderate amount of on ice success.

  • buts

    Missing the playoffs will only prove that the personnel assembled wasn’t good enough OR coached properly, this will be a negative on BT. I believe it’s coaching as I think we are a solid 2nd scoring line and a good coach away from being a cup contender. BT has a lot of the important pieces put together and his next few moves are what will make us or break us. If GG is retained I will not cheer for the flames till he’s gone.

  • FL🔥MES

    So you all know that if Smith somehow manages to squeak us into the playoffs we will play Vegas in the first round. I think it’s safe to safe Gully is gonzo.

    Not to be a wiener but the pre game snack of warm milk and cookies is not going to help us against Vegas.

      • Bob's Hockey Stick

        I’d say the odds of ever seeing an Edit option for posting. Occurs if the Oilers ever win another cup. Article wise agree. We need several changes if this team has any hope of writing the ship to success. The coaching staff gotta go. Secondly the players whom lack heart and desire to win, they too need to go. nine forwards with the heart of byng and top four D with Gio’s heart . and with a back up and future starter ( for when smith retires ) with smith’s compete and heart. Then a Coach who coaches for the win and knows how to step on oppositions throat. Give me THAT team and we’ll see some good stuff. Problem not easily done. One can Dream tho !.

  • OKG

    Sorry but nope. Any time a team is

    Top 3 in CF%
    Top 5 in FF%
    Top 10 in xGF%
    Top 15 in Penalty differential
    Top 15 in SV%

    and has a goalie top 10 in SV%

    and has no first round pick.

    That team shouldn’t rationalize missing the playoffs. This year may well be our best opportunity to win a cup, who knows if Gio falls off next year.

  • Honkydonk

    Missing the play offs will be catastrophic!

    The problems with coaching begins with David Cameron. He is terribly bad at the assignments he gets paid to own such as power play. That becomes a much larger problem when the coach take away his voice seriously.

    Look there is no doubt GG has not been very good at deployments within game to say the least. He could have shortened the bench many a times at the incept of this season to get ahead. There’s likely a hundred things here you can pick at.

    Cameron needs to go full stop. More freedom and less structure during power plays are needed. If your power play is designed to give our RD the shot while you have Johnny on the ice and Mony that is a problem. Why? Because with your best slot players you are relying on scoring from the point! What exactly does that tell the penalty killers? Tells them cover the slot and let the point shot fly them clean it up.

    In terms of the system I cannot actually afraid against it. It’s generating possession and doing what it needs. The only thing about it I can fault are that players are shooting whenever instead of making the play and that is bad on so many fronts. It is bad because it doesn’t keep possession of the puck it becomes a scramble job. It is bad because of development as players are not judged on creating a play they are judged on getting into the zone and releasing shots! Wrong again!

    A system should get you in the zone and possession should create a higher net result “goal” and you can see by the amount of shots missed this is clearly a problem. That is why I argue against evaluating success of a system based on how many high danger slot shots they get off.

    A truly dynamic team would actually have that spread all over the zone because they are creating all over the place. Another point that proves this is our defensive goals are way down. Our defenders aren’t scoring nearly as often because again the zone isn’t kept and the puck isn’t being spread around.

    In this system you need two possession players and a finisher. That is exactly why the 3M line has flourished under this system

    • hank 57

      Got them McDavid LOL not all that bad i would say but unfortunately we don’t have a lottery ticket and there won’t be another McDavid coming around to draft anytime soon, but gard darn it if they get to draft chuckies brother I’m going to say edmonton needs a arse with a horseshoe sticking out of it as a welcome sign to the city lol

    • Puckhead

      OTW, I just checked for the heck of it and I’m back. I guess they figured that if they pardon really bad dudes like you that they would have to free minor offenders as well.

      • Off the wall

        Ha, awesome Puck.
        I was just listening to Rodney Dangerfield. Here’s some classics for ya. Speaking of offenders.

        “ The other day I was doing push-ups in the nude, All was going well until I didn’t see the mousetrap on the floor “

        “My wife signed me up for a Bridge Club. I jump off it tomorrow”

        “I know I’m ugly. I went to a freak show. They let me in for nuthin”
        No respect..

        • Stockton's Finest

          Another Rodney classic: “This morning I put on my shirt and a button fell off. I picked up my briefcase and the handle fell off. I am afraid to go to the bathroom!”

  • Hotwing

    Cut the pu$$y coaching staff

    Make a VERY aggressive bid to get into the top 3 picks for BRADY TKACHUK

    This team NEEDS a 2nd Tkachuck

    Trade Brodie, Anderson (or Fox), plus our 2019 #1

    This team needs more balls.

      • The GREAT WW

        Wow; that’s really bad.
        There is no reason to think Baby Byng will be anywhere as good as Byng. Look at his numbers this year….

        He will go very high in the draft only because of Byng.

        It will take a few year before the team that drafts him realizes that he is not as talented as Byng before we can trade for him. At a reasonable price…..

        WW

    • BlueMoonNigel

      Yeah, he has done an amazing job. A guy in the know said that when Vegas was doing its GM search, they called King to ask if they could interview Tre. What followed was that windbag King’s shortest conversation on record: “No.”

      Maybe this summer, the Flames can do something unprecedented and name Tre GM for Life. It’s his job for as long as he wants it.

  • oddclod

    Bye Glen & Troy. Both are on you Tre. No more big boo boos cause remember even a group of small boo boos can result in big boos. IE your GREAT moves were mitigated by poor ones no matter how you look at it. Get it right please sir. Thank-you!

  • VK63

    Forensic audits are a ton of fun. Especially when the decision making and “corrections” are being done by the same people that orchestrated the current mess.
    What could possibly go wrong?

    • Steve Macfarlane

      Here’s how I look at it from a real-life perspective. I try a recipe. It sucks. I hoped it would be good but I was wrong. I ate it anyway, but I’ll make changes next time to make it taste better. I orchestrated the mess but I’ll make it better … but maybe my family will fire me as the cook and they’ll order takeout or cook themselves next time.

  • Derzie

    Big Picture vs Small Picture. With tanking, players & coaches want to win, scouts and managers want to lose. Same with playoffs for a bubble team. Small picture thinking is win. Big picture is ‘what would be best to enable change to get better’. Whichever camp you are in is correct.