The Calgary Flames season has simply not gone in the direction they had planned. Heading into the 2022–23 NHL campaign, the team has extremely high hopes despite the flurry of offseason moves.
They have ended up looking just like that: a team with so much change they still don’t know who they are.
Despite being the heat of the playoff race still, the mood around the Flames has been exhaustion. With far too many emotional changes over the last several months, the slightest swing in any direction ends up being a complete extreme.
With the direction of this season still up in the air, we wanted to gauge the fan bases’ reaction on just where they think this team is headed at this point in time. The results were varied.
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The Flames’ future direction
This season has been topsy-turvy, high and low, fun and dismal—if you can name it, the Flames have felt it. The team retooled in the summer to come into the season heavily favoured as Cup contenders. That heavy favouring rapidly turned to questionable performances turned into a sense of completely hopelessness for the season.
Now, the Flames are approaching a pivotal point in their timeline as this upcoming trade deadline can have a huge ripple effect for this season and the years to come. As a gut check, what might this team achieve?
A Stanley Cup is still the goal
Should be no surprise here that this iteration of Calgary Flames doesn’t inspire a deep Stanley Cup run among the fanbase. Last year’s team may have been the best chance for the team to bring home the trophy, and this year’s team is far off from that pace.
Typically, the contenders are solidified around this time of year and rarely vary. Looking at the last five years of Stanley Cup winners, which ones weren’t a league leader in February or at last trending quickly in that direction? The St. Louis Blues might be the exception, but they had a lot of momentum working for them around the trade deadline that the Flames simply don’t have.
The biggest differentiator for those select few teams that could win a Stanley Cup, is typically goaltending. A hot goalie in the spring can often leading to deeper runs; however, the Flames are still in search of said hot goalie. That is this team’s biggest weakness at this point in the season.
A deeper playoff run
With the mood being so positive right now in Calgary, it’s also not a shock that the next best “performance” the Flames could have would be the second lowest vote. A few more people think this team could contend in the postseason, rather than win it all. That is extremely possible—especially with a Darryl Sutter-led team.
If the Flames are one) able to make it into the postseason, and two) have their best players hit their stride, they could make some noise. Look at the Dallas Stars from last year, no one thought they would win more than one game against the Flames, but they took them to seven games. If Jacob Makstrom could put on his Jake Oettinger cap, that could be all the team needs to make a run for it.
This team is built for the playoffs, so although getting there may be harder than expected, it’s still possible.
The inevitable rebuild
The second most votes went towards the Flames actually going to hit the rebuild button after this season, which is surprising to say the least.
Main reason why is the Flames’ team structure, and more so their contract structure, doesn’t lend itself well to a rebuild this summer. The team spent most of the 2022 offseason giving themselves a two-year window to contend for a Stanley Cup. A lot of key players are on expiring contracts in the summer of 2024, and others were just signed to long-term contracts.
Even right now as we speak, most of their unrestricted free agents they could sell off are simply not worth anything. Those players who have a year left after this season, are so key to the team’s success and on such team-friendly contracts that the return would have to be astronomical for the team to consider.
Secondly, the Flames have truly never committed to a full rebuild in the salary cap era. Even when they “sold” in 2013 with the Jarome Iginla trade, they only had one painful season before the Johnny Gaudreau era began. They ramped up their efforts to contend so quickly, that they never went far enough down the road.
If the team were to hit that button, it would most likely come as a result of a new coach, new GM, and a completely new vision. Which I don’t think will happen.
Retooling towards perpetual mediocrity
What else would Flames fans select in this poll aside from the only thing they have ever known?
This team is the perfect example of a Calgary Flames team the city has come to know and love: not quite good enough to contend, not quite bad enough to bottom out.
This team will absolutely come out of this season, regardless of the outcome, and simply retool a few middle of the pack pieces and expect a completely different, but somehow better, outcome next year.
Their first-round draft pick will come in the middle of the pack again, which should help their prospect pool, but won’t be an immediate enough of an impact to excite the fans for the young guns future.
Expect anything different?
Anything is possible
At this point, with the trade deadline just days away, the Flames are very much still an unknown entity. This presents problems with the team as clearly they—and any other hockey team in the playoff race—still believe they can make it into the postseason. Management will have to work with that in mind and see what direction to take.
If things go from bad to worse, then some good moves now might be immediate mistakes in the future. We’ll see just exactly what this time can do soon enough.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire