Today is the day. It is do or die for the Calgary Flames.
Over the past few weeks, Calgary was looking like a whole new team. They came into last night’s game coming off a four-game win streak, they were hot and brimming with momentum. But when they were faced with the ice cold Chicago Blackhawks who were in the midst of an eight-game losing streak they failed to capitalize.
The Flames needed to win last night.
Now that they didn’t though, they absolutely—repeat, absolutely—need to win tonight.
Many fans have had this game against the Winnipeg Jets in their calendar for the past few weeks, it’s been clear for some time with both teams desperately fighting for the second wild card spot in the west. Now it’s pretty much a single game elimination playoff series where one team has way more at stake.
There is still a path to the playoffs, but it’s not one that the Flames have full control of anymore. As of this morning, MoneyPuck now gives the Calgary Flames a 13.9% chance of making the playoffs. Even with a win against the Jets tonight the Flames would still need the Jets to only collect four of the eight remaining points in their final four games. If the Flames lose tonight though. Then the Jets would need to lose the rest of their remaining games.
Tonight’s game will most likely come to define this Flames season, and it has the possibility to greatly affect the future of the team.
What’s at stake for Calgary
Obviously, the playoffs. It’ll require a true miracle for the Flames to make the playoffs if they lose tonight.
But the playoffs likely aren’t all that’s at stake. The Flames are coming off perhaps the single biggest offseason in the history of the team, and they look to add a whole lot of money to the contracts of Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar. The Flames are also only set to offset those pay increases with the expiring contracts of Milan Lucic ($5.25M AAV), Nick Ritchie ($2.5M AAV), and a number of other smaller contracts coming off the books.
There will be very little flexibility available to the Calgary Flames, and if this team doesn’t make the playoffs whoever is at the helm of the front office will need to seriously take a look at moving a number of the upcoming 2024 unrestricted free agents.
Changing of the core
The Flames would be smart to consider moving Tyler Toffoli who is having a career year; Noah Hanifin, a 2015 fifth overall pick with tons of experience, could easily fetch a pretty penny; or even Mikael Backlund, the longest serving member of the Calgary Flames, as tough as that might be.
If the Flames miss the playoffs this season, this core shouldn’t all remain come September. The cap situation indicates the Flames will need to play a number of their young prospects like Jakob Pelletier, Matthew Coronato, and Connor Zary and the Flames should take this opportunity to retool with some futures as they probably already should have started doing.
Changing up the crease
With that push towards youthfulness the Flames should also trade away Dan Vladar. Dustin Wolf has been having a historic AHL season and has done excellent work goaltending at every level he has played. He has more than earned a proper look in the NHL and the Flames should be running a Markstrom-Wolf tandem to start the 2023–24 season.
If you need some convincing that a Wolf-Markstrom duo could work just look up north to the success story that is how the Oilers used Stuart Skinner this season.
But the players aren’t the only ones who find themselves at the crossroads of destiny tonight.
So do Brad Treliving and Darryl Sutter…
Changing of the management
Treliving has yet to sign an extension after this season, and if the Flames are unable to make the playoffs after the infamous Summer of Brad and his ninth season at the helm, the Flames should probably start looking elsewhere for something new. He’s had mixed results as GM of the Flames but nine years with only two lacklustre appearances in the second round is nothing to be too proud of.
Sutter on the other hand signed a two-year extension at the start of the season after winning the Jack Adams last season. Many fans have put the majority of the blame on this seasons failure at the hands of Sutter, and with both Huberdeau and Nazem Kadri seemingly upset and frustrated with him during a number of media scrums. It’s starting to become easier to see a world where the front office might move on from Treliving and Sutter this season and fully blank slate things.
When Sutter loses a locker room, he loses it hard, and it really does seem like he lost this locker room a number of months ago.
If the Flames miss the playoffs, everything should be in question this offseason.
Is there anything to be optimistic about if the Flames lose tonight?
With regards to the 2022–23 Calgary Flames not really.
In classic Calgary Flames fashion, the upcoming 2023 NHL Draft also isn’t as exciting as it could be as the Flames aren’t gonna be in contention for Connor Bedard even if they miss the playoffs. Due to the new lottery rules the Flames would need to have at least the 11th best lottery odds to have a chance at the first overall pick.
As it stands this morning, Calgary has nine points more than Detroit and St. Louis who both have 79 points and hold the 10th and 11th best odds in the draft. Detroit would have to go undefeated for the remainder of the season to make up the 10 points needed to get ahead of Calgary. St. Louis only has four remaining games and can only come away with eight more points if they go undefeated for their last few games making it impossible for the Flames to get ahead of them in the lottery.
The one thing Calgary hockey fans should be excited about right now, is the Calgary Wranglers who have had a truly unreal inaugural season playing out of the Saddledome. The Wranglers led by Dustin Wolf’s stellar goaltending could very well win the Calder Cup.
So if things go poorly tonight for the Flames you should definitely take a look at the Wranglers because they could give us some really fun spring hockey this year. It might also be worthwhile for Flames fans to get more accustomed to Wranglers head coach Mitch Love because if Sutter is fired this summer he should be one of the frontrunners for that gig.
If things take a dark turn with the Wranglers playoffs though, I guess you could watch the final season of Succession to share in your sadness with the Roy family or you could lift yourself up a bit with the final season of Ted Lasso. That’s what I’ll be doing.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire