The Calgary Flames are hovering just north of the .500 mark just 10 games into their season. Now, they’re headed onto the road for their first bonafide trip of the season.
As the Flames prepare for a heck of a stretch – three games in four nights – let’s check in with the mailbag!
The date of American Thanksgiving is usually tossed around in terms of determining whether a team has a shot at making the playoffs or not. It’s set for (Thursday) Nov. 24 this year. The Flames play their 20th game the following day. So 20 games is probably the proper amount of games for everyone to form conclusions upon, and perhaps freak out a small amount.
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That said, the focus should be more on the Flames’ placement in the division standings rather than their pure points percentage – especially when you consider how many of the league’s top teams they’ve played against early on. The important thing is the club keeping pace in the race for a divisional playoff spot, least they qualify for the playoffs in a wild card position and – as Darryl Sutter has so eloquently suggested – waste eight day against a team like Colorado.
Being in a strong position in the playoff race by American Thanksgiving is key. But failing that, it’s important for the Flames to be in the thick of it.
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I’ll say two things about Connor Mackey: he was really good in pre-season, and he’s been pretty shaky in three appearances in the regular season.
Granted, Mackey played in a trio of games where the entire defensive group was pretty rough, but he has the worst expected goals percentage on the entire team – 34.5% expected goals for. His on-ice goal differential (minus-3) is a bit of a product of luck and circumstances, but you can’t argue he’s been good. He’s been un-good and unlucky.
But Mackey was good in pre-season, and made the team over both Nick DeSimone and Dennis Gilbert on merit. If the choice is sticking with someone who’s been shaky over a couple players who’ve never played a game for the team at the NHL level, Mackey’s experience with the big club, with the coaching staff and with the system arguably make him best-suited to stay in the lineup.
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It’s probably not an ideal scenario, but being without three significant blueliners unfortunately is the reality of the situation for the Flames in the short term.
Speaking of…
Nope. The last we’ve heard from the club was Brad Treliving’s statement when camp opened. We likely won’t hear anything more until shortly before Oliver Kylington returns. (We know fans are curious about his situation and anxious for his return to the club, but it’s really appreciated how respectful everyone’s been with their queries to us about this, and we hope that continues.)
We’ve discussed this before in this space, but let’s discuss this again because it bears repeating.
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Brad Treliving’s WHL scouting staff really liked Matthew Phillips during his draft year. Those scouts lobbied for his selection during the 2016 NHL Draft, which happened in the sixth round. His development staff recommended Phillips get signed to an entry-level deal, and continued to work with him as he developed into a really strong AHL player. You don’t put that kind of time, money and emotional investment into a player you don’t like.
However, two things work against throwing him into the NHL and seeing if he can hack it. The first is simple: the Flames are in a contention window, or at least they feel that they are, and they’re risk averse because of that. Simply put: for the team’s sake and the sake of any up-and-comers, they don’t want a rookie mistake costing the Flames a win/point/high seed/playoff spot/playoff series. And so they’ve back-filled their lineup with some high-floor, low-ceiling types like Brett Ritchie, because they’re low risk.
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And when you’re risk averse, it frames the types of risk you’re willing to take. The two young-ish faces on the Flames roster this season are Adam Ruzicka and Connor Mackey, who bring both size and a good amount of production and reliability at the AHL level and so it’s a little easier to project them into a few different types of roles at the NHL level and imagine some degree of success. Because of his size, Phillips – much like Johnny Gaudreau – would probably need to be used in very specific circumstances to have a chance of success.
The Flames had the willingness to try out Gaudreau in that manner in 2014-15 because the team was in the middle of a rebuild and the stakes were low. The situation is much, much different now, and the stakes for the hockey club are much, much higher.
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