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 -- this year's season opener against Vancouver.

Instead, the team that showed up at the door on the evening of Oct. 7 in a 5-1 loss to the Canucks bore little resemblance to the team fans had fallen head-over-heels for. In the 50 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 cover up 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.

After a split of weekend games with Columbus and Vancouver finds the Flames just two points out of last place overall, 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 eight road wins in 25 games, just five coming in regulation. Three of those came against teams also near the league cellar -- the Oilers, Blue Jackets and Canucks. Only Edmonton (7) has fewer road wins. So far, the Flames have 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, 26
  3. Bennett, 23
  4. Giordano, 19
  5. Frolik, 19
  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 for 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 5-8-2 inside the Pacific. That's two more losses and 17 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, he's spent all seven games with the team as a healthy scratch.
  1. Bennett, 50 gm, 14-9-24 

Final Word

For anyone still dreaming about last year's team, the glass of ice-cold water splashed in your face came Friday night. Losing to the 30th placed Blue Jackets at home with the visitors on the back end of a back-to-back, that's inexcusable.

Calgary bounced back nicely Saturday with a 4-1 win in Vancouver but this pattern of win one, lose one, win two, lose two, win one, lose two -- that isn't getting it done. Now eight points back of Anaheim and the third and final Pacific playoff spot -- and with the surging Ducks holding a game in hand, it's time to cancel your Red Mile reservations for April.

The feeble offence you're seeing right now (11 non-empty net goals in the last six games), the inconsistency that has plagued them all season. It seems these are the real Flames.

Calgary may eventually become the Baywatch lifeguard you envision and with some smart moves this off-season and a high pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, that dream could become 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.


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  1. I think the problem is that we have forgotten that we're only in our 3rd year of the rebuild. It's only 2 years and 11 months ago since we traded Iggy and Bouwmeester, and we've only had 2 high picks since. Last season was a great story, but the reality of our team is that we need more young high end talent to complete the rebuild. Getting lucky so young with Gaudreau, Brodie, Monahan, Bennett and Hamilton has made us pretty bare in the prospect pipeline, especially at forward. Sill one or two more top 5 picks away before we can start to expect a perennial playoff team. Keep in mind that Chicago had 3 high picks, Pittsburgh had 3 or 4, and hell, Edmonton has had like 6 or 7!

    1. Last night might have turned out differently if Hamilton hadn't tried a McDavid and gotten himself totally out of position on their 2nd goal. Imo, we don't need more top picks - we need less rookie blunders and more consistent effort from the veterans. Also, last year stretch passes won a lot of games; this year, other teams are just waiting for them and for the defence to put themselves out of the play.

    2. When you say 'we', I think some fans are guilty of that but Flames management and many others are aware of where they are. For me, considering they pretty much ran the table vs Pacific opponents including beating the Cup champs LA four times just to squeeze into the playoffs, not making the playoffs this year (like easily could have happened last year) is fine. But it's the overall drop-off in effort and intensity that surprises me. This team should overall be better than last year and they're not. They're playing far worse. It's puzzling.

  2. So totally true. Not only have we "regressed toward the mean"; we've gone right past it.

    1. Not really. We were projected to be basement dwellers for at least 2-3 years after the lockout shortened season, and we are still in that time frame.

    2. I agree with you. It's a 30-team league where many teams don't have the same raw talent that Calgary has in 5/7/27 on defence and 13/23/93 up front. The Flames should be better than they are showing right now. Not necessarily a playoff team, but should be better.

    3. As for predictions that Calgary be a basement dweller for 2-3 years. That's not taking into consideration that they went out and added a top two/four calibre of d-man in Dougie Hamilton and signed arguably the top UFA forward last summer. When you do that, your expectations become higher than 'basement'.

  3. Last year we had everyone against us and we simply played to prove people wrong and it worked. This year - some analysts had the Flames winning the cup after one year of proving people wrong. The players came in EXPECTING things to happen rather than playing 101% of their hear and soul out to MAKE things happen. Is it a coincidence that Phoenix is doing the same thing this year and proving people wrong although not to the same extent but granted they were projected at 30th. Even Hartley doesn't have the same level of confidence in the media as he did last year with how much "you cant question this teams compete level" or "I love these guys, I love coaching this group"

    1. Those are fair and accurate comments in my opinion. They thrived last year in the role of the underdog. They were motivated to prove people wrong. This year, there was perhaps a bit too much 'cruise control' that was not going to get it done as they still don't have enough talent. Add in the weight of expectations and that has also changed the dynamic. When they got off to such a slow start, the pressure built very quickly and they have never dug themselves out of that hole.