It’s February: trade deadline month. No matter what the Flames choose to do over the next three weeks and change, we should probably just roll with it. After all, who saw this coming?
The Flames, like pretty much all teams, could be better. Another high-end forward could make them that much more threatening; another scoring depth forward could make them that much more difficult to defend against. Another defenceman could shore up the concerns surrounding the current group: three rookies, some injuries to veterans, a tendency towards lapses at times. Another goalie, one with less mileage on his body, could give the Flames that much more confidence no matter who’s in net.
They aren’t all realistic targets – certainly not with the few assets the Flames have available to them (no second round pick and not much in the way of top prospects, and those who could yield a good return may already be too valuable at the NHL level to lose) – but no team is ever going to be perfect; even the Stanley Cup Champions will have flaws in their roster.
But no matter what happens, let’s just enjoy the ride.
At the start of the season, who thought this group could be a legitimate Cup contender? And who thinks that now? This team has gradually risen its own expectation levels: just make the playoffs. Okay, maybe get home ice advantage for the first round. Or, okay, maybe get home ice advantage for future rounds. What do you mean, if the Flames beat the Predators in this early December game, they’ll be first in the West? And then they’ll just stay there? That they’re the only other team currently within striking distance of first overall in the NHL? And it’s how late into the season, exactly?
Expectations probably started to shift around mid-November; I’d point to the 4-2 victory over the Oilers on Nov. 17 as a turning point – the one in which the Oilers took a 2-0 lead but, once the Flames started playing actual hockey, they scored four straight to win. After which they started to blow other teams out – and good teams, at that.
They continued to come back from multi-goal deficits. They took over first place in the Western Conference. They kept going. They kept winning. And with each two points gained, with each bit of separation from divisional opponents, expectations changed along with them: from “you had better be a playoff team this year” to “so, just how many rounds could home ice really last for?”
There are inklings of 2004. On a personal note, that was the year that really kicked off my sports fandom: a realization that this could be a ton of fun on a day-to-day basis. And non-stop, at that, with something new to look forward to with each passing day: a game tonight, basking in a victory or at least an admirable performance the night previous. Now, 15 years later, the same sort of vibes are finally shaping up again this season. It took 15 years, but they’re finally back.
They’re toeing a weird line between being an underdog and not. The 2004 club was the epitome of being an underdog: they had two amazing players, some decent supporting cast, a guy who couldn’t stop scoring series-winning goals, and that was about it as they took down three division winners.
This year, the Flames are kind of underdogs in that they massively underachieved the previous season, and their biggest moves were to acquire players and personnel from the Eastern Conference underdog version of themselves. Unless you were paying attention to them, they wouldn’t be on your radar; and if you were paying attention to them, you’d be wary because you’d remember how the season before went and how disastrously it crumbled apart.
But they’re also kind of not underdogs because, well, they’re second in the NHL. They’ve played through some poor stretches and they’ve still won. They’re the only team with more than three 50-point scorers. Underdogs aren’t usually this high in the standings, they’re the ones who surprise those who have climbed to those heights. Except the Flames also so happened to surprise many – perhaps even themselves – by reaching these heights to begin with.
So whatever the Flames decide to do at the trade deadline – stand pat, make a minor move, make a splash – let’s enjoy it, because who could have seen this coming. However far they make it into the playoffs, let’s enjoy it, because who could have seen this coming.
This isn’t the do or die year, this is the sit back and enjoy the ride year. The signs were there, but they had to all come together first, and that’s never a guarantee. Still isn’t, really. But it’s looking like that reality is ever closer by the game.
In 2004, the Flames came out of nowhere, and it was such an explosion of joy across the entire city that it’s still looked back upon fondly. In 2019, it’s finally shaping up to be the exact same thing, including that promise of a good future for the team – and hopefully, this time, one they can follow up on.
Of course, just enjoying the ride is null and void if they make a truly indefensible move – but let’s hope that doesn’t happen. There’s no reason for it; this team has no reason to panic. They’ve got every reason to be optimistic. And that should be the way to go.