Saturday, February 06, 2016

Catfished: Flames Fans Left Disappointed After Being Lured Into Big Expectations

It's an analogy that nicely sums up the disappointing 2015-16 season so far for the Calgary Flames.

True, isn't it?

In 2014-15, the Flames were hot stuff. Fans everywhere became infatuated with this club. Charming, adorable, hard-working. It was the type of team you would be proud to bring home and introduce to your mom.

Whether it was an eight-game losing streak in December or the loss of the team's captain and best player in February, every time you counted them out, they refused to quit. Stubborn, but in a good way.

That was the profile photo. That was who Flames fans thought they were about to meet when after a year of courting, it was time for the first date -- the season opener against Vancouver.

Instead, the team that showed up at the door on the evening of October 7 in a 5-1 loss to the Canucks bore little resemblance to the team fans had fallen for. In the 49 games since, not much has changed. The harsh reality is this team isn't who you thought it was.

Facelifts were performed going into 2015-16 in the addition of Sam Bennett, Dougie Hamilton and Michael Frolik but that has not been enough to overcome the many imperfections this club had a year ago, which were conveniently photoshopped out by the team's two-round playoff run. Oh, the things you don't notice when you're in love.

With the Flames 2-1 loss on Friday night dropping them into a six-way tie at 47 points for last place in the NHL, it's time for a reality check.

Here are five claims from last year's team bio, that in real life have turned out to be not true.

1. I love to travel.

Last Year: Calgary tied a franchise record with 22 road wins, 14 coming in regulation. Only nine teams won more often in opposing rinks. In an unusual scheduling twist, the Flames had five road trips that were five-games-or-longer. They legitimately finished above .500 each time:
  • 4-2-0
  • 3-2-0
  • 4-1-0
  • 4-2-1
  • 3-2-0

This Year: Calgary has seven road wins in 24 games, just four coming in regulation. Two of those came against teams also tied for last -- the Oilers and Blue Jackets. Nobody has fewer road wins than the Flames, who are tied with Edmonton. So far, Calgary has had five road trips of three-games-or-longer and in a stark contrast to last year, they have finished at or below .500 each time:
  • 0-2-1
  • 1-3-0
  • 0-2-1
  • 2-2-0
  • 1-3-1

2. My secondary scoring is real and spectacular.

Last Year: 12 players scored at clip that would get them at least 14 goals over 82 games.
  1. Hudler, 33
  2. Monahan, 31
  3. Gaudreau, 25
  4. Raymond, 17
  5. Jones, 17
  6. Bouma, 17
  7. Jooris, 16
  8. Backlund, 16
  9. Wideman, 15
  10. Giordano, 15
  11. Glcncross, 14
  12. Granlund, 14

This Year: Only six players are scoring at that same pace and two of them -- Bennett and Frolik -- were not on the team a year ago. From last year's dozen, only Gaudreau, Monahan and Giordano crack the 14-or-more list this year.
  1. Gaudreau, 34
  2. Monahan, 25
  3. Bennett, 22
  4. Giordano, 20
  5. Frolik, 17
  6. Colborne, 14

3. I like late-night excitement.

Last Year: The Find-a-way Flames. The Cardiac Kids. The nicknames were aplenty and so were the number of thrilling come-from-behind victories. Calgary was 10-20-4 for a .294 winning percentage in games in which they trailed after two periods. The 10 victories, fewer only than Anaheim (12) and Detroit (11), were a franchise record.

This Year: The Flames started off similarly with two comeback wins in the first two weeks of the season. However, since rallying to beat Detroit 3-2 at the Saddledome on Oct. 23, Calgary's third period magic has almost completely disappeared, going 1-14-1 in that scenario for a winning percentage of .062. On the season, they are in the NHL's bottom half at 3-18-1 and a .136 winning percentage.

4. I enjoy moonlit walks along the Pacific.

Last Year: The biggest reason the Flames made the playoffs a year ago was their success in divisional games. Their 22-6-1 record against Pacific opponents were four victories more than any other Western Conference team had in divisional games. Included were four wins in five tries against the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings. That alone was the margin of difference with Calgary edging out Los Angeles by two points for the final playoff spot.

This Year: It has been the complete opposite with Calgary 4-8-2 inside the Pacific. That's two more losses and 18 fewer wins. Across the entire NHL, only Toronto (1-7-6) in the Atlantic has fewer wins against divisional foes.

5. I like to meet new people.

Last Year: Twelve rookies appeared in at least one game. Four played in at least 25 games, six had at least one point and combined, first-year players racked up 46 goals, 113 points and four wins. There was an excitement and energy around the team that comes with players new to the NHL.
  1. Gaudreau, 80 gm, 24-40-64 
  2. Jooris, 60 gm, 12-12-24
  3. Granlund, 48 gm, 8-10-18
  4. Ferland, 26 gm, 2-3-5

This Year: Only three rookies have seen game action and only one has played in at least 10 games. The only player with points is Bennett. It had been over two months since the last player had been called up from the minors when defenceman Jakub Nakladal got summoned on Wednesday. However, the 28-year-old Czech has yet to make his NHL debut. In two recalls from Stockton so far, Saturday night in Vancouver when he's expected to sit out once again will mean all seven games he's been with the team have been spent as a healthy scratch.
  1. Bennett, 49 gm, 13-9-22 

Final Word

For anyone still dreaming about last year's team, the glass of ice-cold water splashed in your face came last night. Losing to the 30th placed Blue Jackets at home, and with the visitors on the back end of a back-to-back. That's inexcusable. Now 10 points back of Anaheim and the third and final Pacific playoff spot -- and even in games with the Ducks, it's time to cancel your Red Mile reservations for April.

The feeble offence you're seeing right now, the inconsistency you've seen all season. This is the real Flames. We're two-thirds of the way into the season and Calgary could be 29th out of the NHL's 30 teams by the time Saturday's action is complete.

The Flames may eventually become the Baywatch lifeguard you envision and with some smart off-season moves and a high pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, that dream could become a reality a few years down the road. But for now, this team is more like the disheveled out-of-shape victim in distress than the fit heartthrob doing the rescuing.

Sinking, drowning... oh, the metaphors at this point are countless.

By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Go there and do so now. It's just another way to be alerted to new Calgary Flames articles that I've written.


Recent Flames Reading: