Photo Credit: Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

Reset your expectations: Five games does not a season make

The Flames finished the regular season at the top of the Western Conference: something probably very few people expected to happen. At times, they looked like they were worthy of that standing. At other times, they did not. It’s the latter that was easy to forget going into the playoffs, but that also proved the most accurate.

Remember the Flames’ first game of the season? They were throttled by the Canucks, losing 5-2 and looking like their previous season selves: the group that would fall behind in a game and instantly give up. And after they went 5-5 to start the year – that 10th game being the 9-1 loss to the Penguins – very few people were probably thinking, “I bet they’re going to go on a roll now and take the conference by storm.”

The Sharks were supposed to win the Pacific, remember? The Central Division was supposed to have some of the top, toughest teams, remember? And yet the Flames did go on that roll and took the conference by storm. The cracks were there – they waffled between good and bad play around Christmastime, they followed up an impressive January with a post-All Star break slump, they looked completely lost in early March – but still, they always did just enough to outlast their opponents. Sometimes they blew other teams out, and other times they were thrashed so brutally you had to wonder how they were even in the conversation.

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They were a relatively young team that completely unexpectedly found themselves at the top of the league.

So let’s take a page from management here, and remember how they did not go all in at the trade deadline. They probably could have gotten Mark Stone if they had been willing to give up Juuso Valimaki. Stone very well may have put the forward group over the top, albeit at an expensive clip, all the while forcing the Flames to give up a young, potential top pairing defenceman.

Valimaki helped some in these playoffs; Stone likely would have helped much, much more. But Brad Treliving didn’t budge – and in doing so, he indicated the Flames had more to look at beyond this year.

That has not changed.

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No need to overreact

Will there be moves in the offseason? Almost certainly; the draft is when Treliving has done his main work, like bringing in Dougie Hamilton, Travis Hamonic, or Elias Lindholm. His teams have played full seasons together, and anything major will likely be coming up in another couple of months, another move working towards the future, never resting on any laurels (albeit with no laurels to actually rest on).

Any future moves should not be made based on a five-game sample size, however.

Trading anyone from the Flames’ core would be a mistake unless an equally good or better player is brought back in return. For example, when Hamilton was traded, he brought back Noah Hanifin – not as good, but still able to fill a top four role – and Lindholm, a vast upgrade to the forward ranks over Micheal Ferland.

If, say, Johnny Gaudreau were to be traded… where are you finding another player of his caliber? Who is giving up their shiny 100-point forward for the Flames’?

If Sean Monahan were to be traded, are the Flames getting a number one centre back? Remember the years and years and years of angst of Jarome Iginla never having a centre on his talent level to play with? If the Flames can’t get someone on his level back in a trade – and remember, Monahan’s level is that of a player who is likely to have a 60-point season at worst – then they’ve just subjected themselves to those years all over again. And over what, a lacking stretch to close out the season and five bad games? If the Flames lose Monahan and don’t get another first line centre, then they’ve made themselves immensely worse.

You can be disappointed in players’ performances in the playoffs, absolutely. But you actually have to make the playoffs first. Those players help get you there. Ejecting them over a poor end to the season and not bringing in other players of their talent level, at minimum, is a great way to have the next season end far earlier.

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Perhaps the greatest argument for holding onto a disappointing playoff performance is Jordan Eberle. Once upon a time, in 13 playoff games, he had all of two assists. He was traded that offseason. He presently has six points – four goals and two assists – in four games as he helped his new team sweep another in the first round. The team that traded Eberle now has almost no forward depth to speak of, and all they have to show for him is Sam Gagner – after they gave up on Ryan Spooner and Ryan Strome on the way.

You don’t give up a good player for a downgrade. Ever. If there’s no deal to be made, you stick with what you have and figure out how to go forward from there. It’s how you actually give yourself a chance at success again.

Doesn’t always go your way

It’s the playoffs: a different beast entirely. They are dictated by many things, and one of those is randomness. The 2004 Flames weren’t that good; that’s part of what made their run so amazing – the mere possibility that they were capable of such a two-month endeavour. The NHL playoffs allow for that to happen in a way no other sport really does. It’s amazing when it works out for you, and it sucks when it doesn’t, but that doesn’t mean you make franchise-altering moves when things don’t swing in your favour.

Both situations require a realistic assessment of the team. In 2015, the Flames were not as good as their record and second round appearance indicated; Treliving responded by making meaningful additions in Hamilton and Michael Frolik. In 2019, the Flames were probably not as good as their record indicated and probably not as bad as their playoff appearance showed; the response should be to stick to the plan that saw them not add at the trade deadline.

In context, the prolonged playoff disappointment makes sense: in 2015 the Flames weren’t that good a team, and once they finally met a playoff-caliber opponent in the second round, they were exposed. In 2017 they had to fight to get in, and once they did, they were dismantled by an obviously better group. In 2018, their regular season rendered them irrelevant; 2019 is this group’s first playoff year ever with actual, meaningful expectations. They didn’t look like they really belonged, something far less easier to shrug off and accept.

They were also a first seed that wasn’t really supposed to be one, certainly not at the start of the year.

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It will have to be something to work on going forward, because this is a team with expectations now. They had expectations in 2017-18 and failed miserably; they had expectations in 2018-19 and overshot them. They’ll have raised expectations in 2019-20 and they’ll have to work to meet those, too. They key word there is “work”, because the talent is already largely assembled – and for all the angst, let’s remember that Gaudreau and Monahan were playoff performers in 2015. It’s not as those there’s zero hope or precedent.

Can’t predict the future

Who’s to say they can live up to expectations for the 2019-20 season? Who’s to say their forward group will have another four players aim for the 80-point marker? Who’s to say Mark Giordano can even come close to pulling off the season he had ever again? Who’s to say they’ll finally find the long-term goaltending solution they need? Who’s to say if Dillon Dube and Andrew Mangiapane can prove themselves? Who’s to say the skating group will be as deep as it looked to be through the bulk of the 2018-19 regular season?

But then, Gaudreau will be 26, Monahan and Lindholm 25, Rasmus Andersson 23, Matthew Tkachuk 22, and Valimaki 21. They’re still building towards something here.

They didn’t throw it all away on a this-is-the-year hunt at the trade deadline. This wasn’t the year. Why throw it all away when next year might be?

The players seemed to wither in the face of adversity on the ice. Now the test is for management to not follow suit off of it. Stick to the game plan – because for the Flames to have set those expectations for themselves to begin with something has been going right, and it’s all too easy to do something to make it go all wrong.

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  • Forrest Grump

    Ari is partially right. Over reacting makes things worse. However,
    1. Monohan is not a number one centre. He has a 20 foot game, from 25 to 5 feet out from opposition goal. He can finish in the regular season he does not drive play as a first line centre. Those guys are hard to come by. However his lack of compete is a disease. The greatest example of that was in third period last night and Gaudrea was being assaulted and mauled after the play and Monohan skates over and does nothing ther than put his hand of the Av’s player….nothing. Disease.
    2. Tkachuk contract just got easier to negotiate with this playoffs.
    3. See what you can get for Frolik & Brodie. Our biggest assets for return unfortunately will be one or more of our young D. Hopefully doesnt happen.
    4. Re-signing Smith as back up for moving Rittich forward in his development is possibility, otherwise a #1 goalie contract value is not worth it for a 38 year old who was not good during the year but did his job in the playoffs with the exception last game. Let him walk.
    5. Can’t buy Neal out as it will result in cap hit of almost 2 million per year for next 8 years. Best that might happen is Flames pick up 2-3 mill a year of his salary for next 4 and ship him off with a draft pick for a team to take him of Calgary’s Hand. There will be no return for the Flames.
    6. Jankowski is soft, but also young, giving up on him now is not smart, however as part of a package to move Monohan to get a true number one then I’m good with that.

    • Jumping Jack Flash

      I think there are a lot of fans that have a love/hate relationship with Janko…I am in that camp. I was frustrated that he was never given a chance to replace Monny on the top line despite Monny’s struggles. He redefined his game as capable penalty killer but did not progress past this point.
      Janko deserved this chance but he could have stated his case more emphatically. Janko and Bennett are the players I see as having the greatest upside and have the biggest opportunity bite the team in the a$$ in a trade.

      • Forrest Grump

        Definitely agree with your take on Jankowski. And yes Bennett and Jankowski could bring back a very good return, as could their young D. I hope that doesn’t happen, but to get something it usually costs you something.

        • Jumping Jack Flash

          I think we could dangle Monny to get a Josh Anderson or Chris Kreider. The problem is it would have to be “First 40 game Monny” and we could use that guy. I think we need an off season where we hire a specialist like Steve Ott to agitate players like Monny and Janko to bring out their fire. It could be done subtly like have him ram their shopping cart in the grocery store when the are least expected.

          It is time to think out of the box.

          • Speed Kills

            Hey if Adam Larsson can get you a Taylor Hall or Ryan Strome nets you Jordan Eberle, Or even better if Griffin Reinhart can get you a Matt Barzal + 33rd overall… Sam & Mark could be worth a goldmine.

          • The Red Knight

            How many points do you expect every player on your 3rdline to get ? Check around the league there number s are fine, Bennett is still only like 22 and he looks like the type of player that will keep getting better till he’s 28-30 and can’t wait to see how he does next year . Still looks like he has top 6 potential. He had a good year,maybe his best yet. Jankowski don’t seem to have a consistent drive, he plays very small for a guy his size ,disappointing

          • Speed Kills

            OML… How could you screw up what I was saying so bad? What I was saying Einstein is that Sam & Mark (IMO) are of equal or better Value than (Meh)Larsson, Strome or Reinhart … And they were traded for Eberle, Hall & Barzal + 33rd overall.. If you wanted to, you may have challenged me with “Well Unless PC gets Hired in the NHL Its never going to happen… Ya I could live with that, but Really? Two young capable NHL Forwards Do hold Value. It is all in the eyes of the GMs wanting them.

        • LannyMac

          That’s right Forrest dump trade the one player that moves the pile in the playoffs. Unbelievable wow the last thing I thought I would read in response to this article is someone mentioning trade Bennett. If this team had 12 Bennett’s they would be on there way to round two. Cmon man give your head a shake.

    • Wizeguy15

      Nailed it on Monahan. If you are a user of the terms “compete level” and “tough to play against” and then watch Monahan play, you know why we won’t win in the playoffs. It’s not about being a “number one centre” or not. It’s about the expectations you set for the rest of the roster with your effort as a core player wearing an “A”. Agree entirely. Monahan isn’t a jolt of energy, he is an energy sapping disease.

  • BendingCorners

    It would have been great if the Flames had adjusted in-flight and gone deeper, but I still enjoyed watching them play for the past six months. Their helter-skelter style of moving the puck quickly and taking advantage of gaps in the other team’s structure worked well for the most part. Against teams that anticipated their passes they struggled, but a little more Zen would cure that – take an extra step or two with the puck and choose the better target. As others have noted, taking a hit to make a play would help too, but that is something that is learned; letting large men clobber you is not natural behavior.
    The off-season will bring some changes but the biggest improvement next year will likely come from the players and coaches learning from this year’s results. In the meantime I am going to sit back in the sunshine and enjoy some baseball (aka drink some beer and get a tan).

  • jupiter

    Bag skates everyday all summer long. Time for the millennial’s to learn they are not special , and their skill only get’s them so far. The regular season success appeared to be good enough for this group. It’s not randomness, it’s a lack of preparedness and not being battle ready for games. Time to grow up.

    • Albertabeef

      They need to train at high altitudes and go hard on cardio. I have been noticing bad conditioning on the team for many months now. They get exhausted way too easy.

  • Dunk

    Monahan has shown us all he has to offer and its not enough. Paying him like a first line centre doesn’t make it happen. Janko is a late bloomer with lots of raw talent. We need to be patient. I was disappointed with Lindholm, not sure where his true value lies. Johnny is just Johnny learn how to best utilize him. Brodys time is up.
    Neal the unreal deal. Backlund how he flys under the radar and has everyone convinced he is a shutdown centre is unbelievable. He wins no wall battles, loves the fly bye, and always seems to arrive just a little late for the puck battle.
    Bennet was the real deal on our team. Our 4th line was really our number one line. Our young defence looks great for the future. I just wanted to say my peace. Thanks for an interesting year….

    • canadian1967

      Lindholm was doing the work of 2 players, covering for Monahan who refused to go below the Hashmarks or within 5 feet of the Side boards so he was too tired to make plays.

      • Albertabeef

        For good reason he does not go that low. Someone has to cover for our crappy D always out of position. He has to stay high and cover the middle in case he needs to rush back. Colorado only scored two goals in five games when he was on the ice.

  • SeanCharles

    Gaudreau, Monahan, Tkachuk, Lindholm, Bennett, Mangiapane, Dube, Backlund, Ryan, Hamonic, Andersson, Hanifin, Valimaki, Kylington and Rittich are guys I would be disappointed to see leave as I think they can all be part of the solution.

    Gio and Smith I think can be too but as 36yo’s I wonder how long they can keep this up.

    Brodie, Frolik, Stone and Neal are players I hope we can offload in the off-season and the rest of the guys I could go either way.

  • BlueMoonNigel

    The man helped the Flames win its only Stanley Cup and has cut quite a swath as a coach and administrator in the CHL plus he was Lou’s right hand man in TO, so he was mentored by one of the best. Is the clock striking Mark Hunter time in Cal? You know he is going to be an NHL GM as early as the next few months, so why shouldn’t he be given the keys to the Flames?

    • Rockmorton65

      You really don’t know of much about building a team do you, Nigel? A GM doesn’t just make a bunch of moves in one offseason and contend. Tre’s got this team moving in the right direction. He’ll evaluate what worked & what didn’t and make smart adjustments. Calgary’s window just opened. It would be stupid to fire him now. Like, Oiler-level stupid.

        • Rockmorton65

          Yeah Nigel. The only reason McPhee was successful was manipulating the draft by acquiring assets to not take players. Something no other GM has the option to do.

      • Albertabeef

        Right, he should have been fired 3 years ago. The best parts of this team were brought in by other GMs. Tre should be fired for this Brouwer/Neal deal alone. We have Brouwer on the books for 3 more years now we will have to buy out Neal and get screwed for the next 8 seasons. We’ve been paying for Bouma and Mason Raymond the last couple seasons too. Getting tired of paying players NOT to play for us.

        • BlueMoonNigel

          No, I am not advocating Tre be fired. It is just that highly-touted GMs don’t appear on the FA market all the time, so when they do, discussions about them running your team are normal and natural.

          No, Tre should not be fired over the Neal signing. Tre wagered heavily, rolled the dice and lost. He went big and lost big. It happens.

          Key now is what Tre does with the Neal mess. Clearly, Neal is not a fit with the Flames and Neal going to Robs’ boot camp this summer isn’t going to fix it. Tre needs to cut his losses and jettison Neal ASAP. I have no issue with a GM screwing up from time to time just as long as he quickly realizes he has screwed up and fixes it in short order.

      • BlueMoonNigel

        Donnie Waddell in his first season as GM of the Canes has his club 2 wins away from advancing to the next round. Waddell is the guy who was supposedly fleeced last summer by Tre and by Buffalo, yet his club is still playing and the Flames and Sabres are in next season country.

      • LannyMac

        Hey rock don’t be so high Tre. I think it is time to take a sharper look at the myth the legend to many. It is not a slam dunk he won last years trade. Yes it still looks good but not lopsided. You add in a defenceman who I really like his heart but backed up to his goalie on every rush because he was scared of being laped. Love Hamonic but he sold the farm to get him for what he offers. Two absolute bonehead free agent signings. I do not study players outside of this organization but you can’t tell me that the people that get paid 7 figures to study all players in the league didn’t see some signs of danger when it comes to Brouwer and Neal. You could say that other GMs also make mistakes and you are right but for every GM that does make his far share I will show you a middling team. Were Ken Holland and Cliff Fletcher to name a couple geniuses. No even they will tell you that some of their moves turned out better than they thought and they had some good luck along the way.But I am pretty sure they never made bad moves like the two free agent signings by this club. Should Tre be fired no but he is a first time GM and is learning on the job. Wasting away 5.75 per year really hurts a team and so he is a perfect example of the growing pains this team is having to go through from top to bottom right. Look at the coaching staff. I don’t think they game planned or prepared this group for what was going to come at them. The most important thing is that they all learn from the past number of days. Back to the GM what is inexcusable in any organization hockey or not is to repeat the same mistakes and that is what Tre has done by signing Neal. He just wiggled his way out of the Brouwer fiasco and has now put the organization right back in my estimation a worse spot. Stanley cup winning GMs don’t do that. In an extremely competitive league that just doesn’t cut it. Your move Tre how do you fix this one cause Edwards isn’t going to pull your ass out of this one.

  • Intercourse the Penguins

    Monahan is obviously injured and will need surgery soon. He is not tradeable. Smitty cannot play a full season as he is old but can bring it when it counts. Mony and Smitty can play half a season each at a high level. The second half??? Not doable for cap reasons, etc. Johnny, Ryan, Mangia and Czar are valuable players on some other team but we cannot keep all 4 BCUZ BIG BAD AND FAST is why we got beat.

    • Pizzaman

      Apparently BP is going to talk to his buddy “Coop” in T-Bay. Misery loves company. Stamkos at one time was the next Nathan McKinnon (before McKinnon) but he must have folded like a cheap suit as Nathan did last year.

  • The GREAT WW

    The Oilers should be interested in Neal; they need wingers and leadership.
    “Unfortunately” they don’t have cap space so we would need to take a bad contract back.

    Lucic wouldn’t fix much…

    Kostkinen has an ugly contract…..and we do need a back up goalie….


    • Pizzaman

      They aren’t going to trade Kostkinen….yet. And yup it would have to be Lucic for them to take Neal. But Neal never got to the front of the net, especially in the playoffs. Would Lucic have? He would have had snarl at least.
      No trades until a new GM is hired in Oiler town. Lets not forget that the next Oiler GM will be paralysed with fear to make a bad move regardless. And potential GMs with swagger (eg: Holland) are turning the Oilers down.
      I think your baby Byng idea is way better and we know that Melnyk gets inebriated and pushes a dumb idea on his lap dog Dorion. They could be just wacky enough to trade an unproven Tkachuk baby brother for Monahan.
      Saying all that it seems teams have to go through a playoff embarrassment to get to the next step, to know what its like, and what is needed. So Arii is correct you cant panic given the growth we saw in the regular season.

    • Brian Burkee

      Lucic wont fix much? Ask johnny “cry face everyone slashes me all the time and not one of my teammates will stick up for me” Gaudreau what he thinks about that. In fact Johnny makes a 3rd line Center in Monohan look a 1st line Center by padding his stats. We have all seen this time and time again Mony is as soft as butter and very very very easy to play against. So maybe he can make Lucic a 65 point man again 🤔 and Johnny gets to play hockey like a big boy again. Problem solved. Gaudreau wins the Hart trophy if the flames trade for Luc.

      • Speed Kills

        LOL Ya, an Old 260pnd Neanderthal with the skating ability of a moose in a pool of butter is going to be able to keep up and contribute on our first line… No Thanks… Keep your problem.

  • Coheed

    “If, say, Johnny Gaudreau were to be traded… where are you finding another player of his caliber? Who is giving up their shiny 100-point forward for the Flames’?”

    Gaudreau got 100 points? Hmm, breaking news I guess.

  • Steel

    Lets look at the top line centres of the last 10 Stanley Cup champions:

    Backstrom, Crosby x3, Toews x3, Kopitar X2, Bergeron

    The question we have to answer is does Monahan compare to any of them? If he had some defensive upside I think you can make an argument.

    • Albertabeef

      Would it surprise you to know that Mony was only on the ice for two goals against in these five playoff games:? That was the 9th most among our forwards. You might not notice it because it’s not all flash or bang, but he actually does have defensive upside.

  • Franko J

    A word of advice to Treliving “forget about July 1”. It is obvious his record for signing free agents speaks for itself. To say it has been an epically underwhelming endeavour would be too kind.
    Last season he went after the coach he wanted without hesitation. Made a couple trades to improve the team, in which it did. I thought last year there were a number decisions to be made. Well one year later I think after this playoff run he is no further ahead despite an excellent regular season. If anything I think he has even more decisions to make.

    • Albertabeef

      I saw that and said “and that’s why we traded you!”. For whatever anything anyone wants to complain about, you gotta be happy Dougie is elsewhere now.

  • The GREAT WW

    “The teams that won their divisions in the previous season but did not play in the Conference Finals (potentially picks 24–27)”

    That’s not great….


  • Aquavid

    What an unpredictable playoffs so far. Tampa, Calgary, Winnipeg, and Penguins eliminated already. A few people had probably expected some of those teams to move ahead.

  • Derzie

    Couple of quotes from the article angried up the blood a little:

    “So let’s take a page from management here, and remember how they did not go all in at the trade deadline.”
    Tre did nothing. Apparently his only other option was ‘all in’. In poker, hockey & life, only choosing extremes will get you out of the game almost instantly.
    The right things to do for Tre was improve the team. He tried. He failed. He hoped the team would persevere. They did not.

    “It’s the playoffs: a different beast entirely. They are dictated by many things, and one of those is randomness.”
    Tampa Bay. Out in 4. Calgary. Out in 5. Winnipeg. Out in 6. Randomness??? Biggest contributors are 2 non-random things: lax reffing & emotional pressure. Mostly the reffing. Skill teams are suppressed by plugs. Tom Wilson’s time to shine. Cal Clutterbuck’s call to action. The dregs of the league are given an edge by Bettman’s gang and the teams that worked so hard to build skill and points get them stripped away by borderline NHLers.

    So, we need to replace a portion of our skill with SOBs and upgrade the skill we have. Calgary tends to go for the cerebral guys so getting SOBs will be a challenge, but a necessary one. Rule of thumb, If we hate them and they can skate with speed, we probably need them.

  • Alberta Ice

    Now that the Jets are out it looks like this:
    Jets: Two and done.
    Flames: One and done.
    Oilers: None and done.
    For the only remaining playoff Canadian team it’s now very simple: One more Win and in.

  • idbr

    Please find a way to stop the endless trolling. I used to like to read people’s comments but it is too hard to find real comments in here any more. I do not troll other fan’s sites and expect the same from everyone else. I’m interested in real hockey talk not the crap that I’m reading here.

  • canadian1967

    I didn’t have expectations.
    I merely hoped that the team would put on a show and play as good as they could.
    I did try to allow myself to believe that The Flames are a good team, but still feared that what happened, was to be expected. You know, as my Right and Just punishment for daring to believe that there was Hope as a Flames Fan.
    Well, there’s always next Year.

    • Franko J

      Keep the Faith Hope and Belief this team will hoist the holy grail once again. This year’s playoffs is truly unprecedented where the regular standings favourites are losing to the “Underdog”. I think that more-so than ever I see before teams which were heading into the playoffs with momentum and who had to scrap and fight to just make it in have continued to play that way. Clearly evident that you cannot just turn on a switch or manufacture the ability to compete and take the game to the next level. The teams that have now moved onto round two have demonstrated just that.

  • cberg

    I’d be looking to build a “Speed Line”, with Gaudreau-Dube-Bennett that also has Bennett to keep teams honest. That leaves Tkachuk-Monahan/Lindholm-Lindholm/Monahan as your de facto “Top Line”. The third line is the “Shutdown Line” centered by either Backlund (if not traded) or Jankowski or Ryan. The key is getting 2 top lines that work, and that means both speed and protection with Gaudreau. If Bennett proves to not have the hockey sense to fit there then you have a problem because though you could go Monahan (too passive) or Lindholm (too passive) you don’t have the right mix to be effective. Perhaps you go back and re-sign Ferland but his injuries scare me. Perhaps someone like Pospisil can come in and make the team? No idea if he’s fast enough but he does seem truculent and can score as well.

  • Wizeguy15

    The question now is whether the organization is okay selling some jerseys, being generally pretty “good”, making the playoffs here and there (and generally being exited quickly)… or taking the risk now to try and build a legit contender. I think the evidence would indicate standing pat on this roster would result in the former. Two years ago, swept. Last year, failed to qualify. This year, out in 5. And our regular season success this year looks far worse if you look at the all star break forward. In short, in the last three years we have had a couple stretches of sustained regular season success. That makes for a “good enough” team to manage and make some money with. But a cup contender it does not make. The alternative is to get ballsy. It would require moving some significant pieces to make some seemingly lateral changes in an effort to change the makeup.