The Calgary Flames have missed the playoffs — and there need to be major consequences
Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
By Mike Gould7 months ago
With a 3–2 shootout loss to the Nashville Predators on Monday night, the Calgary Flames finally clinched what many fans had seen coming for weeks: playoff elimination.
The Flames can no longer catch the Winnipeg Jets for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot. With their 37–27–17 record through 81 games, the Flames are guaranteed to finish with at least six more losses than wins.
Indeed, the only thing keeping the Flames in the hunt into April was their inordinate number of losses past the end of regulation time. They’re one loser point shy of tying the all-time NHL record of 18. And with dreadful records in one-goal games and against non-playoff teams, the Flames’ 2022–23 season can be summed up as one of countless squandered opportunities.
This year’s Flames season followed a similar pattern as their 2020–21 campaign, which saw them blow every single opportunity they had to sneak into the final North Division playoff spot down the stretch. Darryl Sutter’s club ultimately surrendered that last playoff berth to the Montreal Canadiens, who ultimately went all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.
Monday’s game might’ve been the biggest missed opportunity of all. With the Flames one shootout goal away from staying alive in the Western Conference playoff race, Sutter elected to use depth forward Nick Ritchie over the likes of Tyler Toffoli, Andrew Mangiapane, Elias Lindholm, and Rasmus Andersson in the skills competition.
Ritchie missed, the next two Predators scored, and the rest was history. For the second time in three seasons under Sutter, the Flames are done early. Sutter has now won a grand total of one playoff series in his last six years as an NHL head coach.
It’s been a miserable season in Calgary. Prized acquisitions Jonathan Huberdeau and Nazem Kadri have greatly under-performed. Multiple veterans on the team have reportedly clashed with the head coach. Even when the general manager has recalled younger players, Sutter has scratched them into oblivion. It’s almost as though Sutter has operated this year out of spite, whether it be for the media, the fans, or his own GM.
There must be consequences for how this season has played out. The very first one should be Sutter’s dismissal as head coach. With his reluctance to adapt and his refusal to take any responsibility for the Flames’ shortcomings, he’s squandered nearly all the goodwill he enjoyed with the fanbase before he signed his two-year contract extension at the start of the season. and the Flames’ top priority should be to find a replacement who will help their top players reach their full potential going forward.
Brad Treliving’s status is uncertain. The long-serving GM doesn’t have a contract beyond this summer. The off-ice drama in Calgary has been far more compelling than the happenings on the playing surface and it’ll be fascinating to see what new power dynamics, if any, are created in that front office.
What absolutely cannot happen is a reprise of Sutter’s disastrous GM tenure. With Sutter at the helm between 2003 and 2010, the Flames were one of the worst-drafting teams in the NHL. After the Cinderella run in 2004, they lurched into a period of mediocrity that lasted the better part of a decade.
The Sutter GM period was defined by the mantra of “get in and anything can happen.” Aside from the 2019 St. Louis Blues, that hasn’t proven to be a winning strategy in today’s NHL. And while the Flames’ hands are tied for the foreseeable future as they deal with the Huberdeau and Kadri contracts, there’s also nothing preventing them from being proactive as Tyler Toffoli, Noah Hanifin, Nikita Zadorov, and others enter the final years of their respective deals.
The Flames have been unlucky this year. They’ve also been hampered by a coach who favours ineffective veterans and inexplicably distributes playing time. Sutter is, in theory, a ‘win-now’ coach, but the Flames’ star players badly need a reset in the room — and somebody willing to give younger players opportunities to grow in the NHL. The Flames need to bite the bullet and make a change. The pieces to contend are there. It’s just time for someone else to take the wheel.
Otherwise, it’s hard to see how things will ever demonstrably improve.
Recent articles from Mike Gould