After making some calls, I can confirm that hell has not frozen over. This can only mean that the Calgary Flames are seriously only four points out of a playoff spot.
The Flames have struggled out of 14th in the Western Conference and now bask in the glory of 12th. A win over the visiting St. Louis Blues on Wednesday could push the reenergized team even further up the standings. A loss, on the other hand, could see them drop back to familiar territory.
The unfortunate aspect of this semi-resurgence is that the Flames are becoming a bit of a flirt. It’s hard to tell if this is for real. Are successive wins over three teams in the top five of the Western Conference a sign of things to come, or just a fleeting moment of joy in what will be a disappointing season?
Flames fans are left asking if the playoffs are now a chance. And if the playoffs are achieved, what happens if the team goes out in the first round against Vancouver or Detroit? Will staying the course at the trade deadline be worth a first round exit? Or should Jay Feaster move forward with a plan to reshape, or dare I say rebuild, the Flames roster?
Ultimately, the Flames roster is the same whether they are winning or losing. Second oldest in the NHL, prone to lacklustre performances and inconsistency. Granted, the team that showed up against Dallas, Vancouver and Nashville this past week was a veteran team that has the potential to go the distance. If the Flames have truly turned a corner and go deep into the playoffs, I’ll be eating my words, but their recent performances aren’t necessarily a sign of things to come.
The Flames, as a team and organization, are in deep need of new direction. Short term success can’t sidetrack the future.
Jay Feaster is going to have to push forward with his plan, which will mean ruffling some feathers if the team continues its winning ways.
No fan should ever hope for a last place finish. Nor should they hope a team purposefully loses in order to get a high draft pick. That course of action is simply unethical. However, with only one pick in the top 100 for the 2011 Draft, management needs to think strategically.
For the good of the franchise, more draft picks in that top 100 are needed. Those picks don’t always come cheaply, so moving a player like Curtis Glencross, David Moss and/or Robyn Regehr – all important short term players – will be a necessary evil.
In Glencross, the Flames would lose a strong penalty killer with a lot of speed. In Moss, the Flames would lose a grinder who has a good scoring touch. And in Regehr the Flames would lose a premier shut-down defenseman. In second or third round draft picks, however, the Flames would gain potential building blocks for the future.
Moving Miikka Kiprusoff for high draft picks or established prospects should still be a top priority. Kiprusoff has found his confidence again, but his uncharacteristic performance lull serves as a warning for his future trade value. He may be able to help push the team to the playoffs this year, but what about 2012 and 2013 when he’s 35 and 36 years old, respectively, and a $5.8 million cap hit?
Finishing in the middle of the standings without any additional draft picks leaves Calgary in a tough situation — just outside the playoffs and without the much needed future assets.
Making moves at the trade deadline for picks will more than likely dash any hopes of making a push for the playoffs this season. However, it could lead to a better draft spot in the first round and would most definitely mean more top 100 picks. And despite the perceived lack of top line depth in Abbotsford, creating a few empty roster spots at the trade deadline would open the possibility of finding another diamond in the rough like T.J. Brodie.
Until Feaster pulls the trigger on his first trade, the opinion roller coaster will remain open in Calgary. With each winning streak fans will proudly declare their hopes for the playoffs. With each loss the fans will be calling for heads to roll.
The trades and accompanying struggles will hurt less if done quickly. Move out assets, bring in picks, and provide hope for the future. Flames fans are smart and they’ll see the big picture after a brief mourning period. Dragging out these decisions, or being side tracked by short term success, only makes life worse for the players, fans and organization.
No fan wants to hear it, but the Flames’ short term pain truly will lead to long term gain.