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FlamesNation mailbag: all is well!

The Calgary Flames have lost three games in a row, scoring three goals and allowing 14. So, things aren’t going great right now.

Surely, the mailbag is chock full of cheer!

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Sammy, Jarome Iginla is going into the Hall of Fame in November. Everything’s gonna be great.

According to Environment Canada, the sun is slated to rise in Calgary at around 7:37 a.m.

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Well, because quite simply the alternatives probably aren’t that appealing to you. If you love hockey and want to cheer for a particular team, you’re likely to latch onto either the team in your local area or the one you grow up with, even if it sometimes is a painful experience.

I grew up as a fan of the Chicago Cubs, I know of what I speak. The team’s been atrocious more often than they’ve been watchable, but I love baseball and have gotten to see the careers of guys like Mark Grace, Ryne Sandberg, Sammy Sosa, Kerry Wood, Kris Bryant and many others.

From a more Flamesy perspective, the pain of the inconsistency of the Flames may be the price we all pay for Theo Fleury, Jarome Iginla, Miikka Kiprusoff, Johnny Gaudreau, and the other superlative players we’ve had the opportunity to see up-close over the past four decades of Calgary hockey.

Mark Giordano has described the club’s identity as “a checking team that can score.” Geoff Ward has frequently discussed the importance of defensive structure, as the club’s skill can’t really do anything without defensive structure preventing goals and getting them the puck.

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Basically, they’re supposed to be a smart, structured checking team first and foremost, but they’re utterly lacking in their details and it’s causing them to lose. Frequently.

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We got a variation of “what happens next?” questions and the short answer is… we’re not sure.

Back when Darryl Sutter was general manager, he explained the rotating series of head coaches being a result of his team being a hard group to coach. The Sutter Era Flames were a veteran bunch who had a way of doing things and the Flames went through four coaches – Sutter himself, Jim Playfair, Mike Keenan and Brent Sutter – before Darryl was turfed. The Sutter Era Flames habitually under-performed and eventually, the team had to be dismantled to realign with modern hockey.

If the problems we saw with the current Flames were unique to this team, a coaching change would be a logical solution – even if we ignore the quarantine requirements complicating replacing the existing staff or the economic challenges of paying Geoff Ward to exit so soon after paying Bill Peters and Glen Gulutzan to do the same. But the problems aren’t unique and given the tight cap situation and quarantine requirements, a big trade would be logistically challenging – and a small trade would be pointless.

This is a long way of saying that there’s no cavalry coming to fix this. The Flames – meaning the current coaching staff and players – need to fix this themselves or sink to the bottom of the (Scotia NHL) North Division.

One of the reasons I love hockey – love hockey – is because it’s a team game, with an emphasis on team. I love baseball, but you can buy a bunch of good players and they don’t really need to gel all that much to be a good team. But if you want to have a championship NHL team, you need good players who can play roles well, but all the pieces need to fit together properly and all snap into place at the right time, within the right system, to really get cooking. The ingredients and the whole dish need to be just right.

The Flames have some really good players. Maybe not great, but really good. For whatever reason, the ingredients just aren’t coming together and snapping into place. They almost did in 2018-19, but not quite.

A full rebuild is probably throwing the baby out with the bathwater, but maybe it’s time (or will be after this season) to figure out what ingredients aren’t working (and why) and make some changes. Throwing out everything is probably overkill, and not prudent given how many good young pieces are still in place.

I think it’s UnderArmor, but I don’t know for sure. He goes through a few per season.

Honestly, it probably makes all the players a bit stir-crazy because they can’t go out and blow off steam. But that’s not unique to the Flames, it’s happening to everybody. (See also: short training camps and no pre-season – everyone has to deal with that, not just Calgary.)

To be honest, it may be part philosophy and part force of habit. When the bulk of current ownership came in, the Canadian dollar was in the tank and the team found ways to operate efficiently from a financial standpoint. After the salary cap came in, they were required to spend between the salary floor and ceiling on players. With the exchange rate being not great, the Flames have consistently been spending to the cap ceiling (and sometimes above). They absolutely cannot be accused of cheaping out on players, because they have done the opposite. But their budgetary and cash-flow situation – related to the damn exchange rate – has likely fuelled a team philosophy that they want to keep the money on the ice, so perhaps that’s why they have seemingly spent less on coaches.

(There’s also some analytical evidence that only the really expensive, really good coaches make a measurable difference on team performance, so perhaps the thinking is that they don’t want to go to the trouble of overspending on a coach if it won’t move the needle for team success all that much.)