The last year has been excruciatingly painful for the Calgary Flames organization and their fans alike. The list of absolute heartbreaking news and events is far too long to list out, but surely after the season finished fans thought they could finally take a bit of a breather and enjoy somewhat of a normal summer.
That isn’t going to be the case.
With Thursday’s news bomb after news bomb, it is evident that the Flames roster is going to undergo even more change than last season. Four of the seven key players who are set to become unrestricted free agents next summer are rumored to have told the team they are not interested in re-signing with the franchise.
Elias Lindholm, Noah Hanifin, Mikael Backlund, and Tyler Toffoli all look to be headed to the trade block. Four of the team’s best players don’t look like they will be putting on the flaming ‘C’ to start next season. It’s definitely another debacle for the organization. But really, can you blame any of them?
Last season was simply a disaster and most likely caused more harm than anyone could have imagined up until this point. Here’s what we mean.
Problems in Calgary
Let’s start with the obvious: Darryl Sutter.
The former Flames bench boss made last season unbearable for almost all of the players. A clear lack of joy was peppered within the dressing room, and most of it stemmed from Sutter’s treatment of players and staff. With the most recent rumour emerging around a potential internal investigation, the players simply did not enjoy playing in Calgary last season.
You can bet that most of the players, especially the ones listed above, were all rumoured to have asked for a coaching change. The reports were made that some requested a trade if he was still going to be the coach, but clearly his firing didn’t manage to change their mind all that much.
The damage was already done.
I can only imagine working in an environment where there is a clear person causing all of the issues, and seeing upper management refuse to deal with the root cause. It doesn’t inspire confidence in a long term commitment for employment. I am sure that has happened to a number of fans in the real world, resulting in a change of employers. The same principle applies here.
Outside of Calgary
While last season’s debacle was unraveling, you can be sure that the likes of Lindholm, Hanifin, and Backlund were taking note of former Flames that were thriving in their new environments.
Matthew Tkachuk had a Hart Trophy caliber season living in the hot Florida sun, Johnny Gaudreau faced the most amount of media pressure in his lone game back in Calgary while enjoying his new home, and Sean Monahan was revered by his teammates and organization in Montreal.
Some say the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, but when you see your friends living their best lives while you’re stuck in a pressure cooker—that has to give the players some pause.
The Flames look directionless
For those that had been with the organization for a number of years, last season was just a rinse and repeat of what we have come to know and expect from the Calgary Flames. How many times do you think Backlund has seen a team undecided on whether to go all in or sell and rebuild, but rather just defaulting to the middle of the pack.
Last season, the team had the talent to be in the postseason and had an opportunity to do so. The biggest fault is that the team never really changed their approach. Management could have taken the reins and made another big trade to bring in different playing styles, they could have fired the coach, or they could have ensured they made it impossible to not play young players.
Instead, they did nothing.
Certainly the lack of action from the organization did not inspire confidence in how the team would adapt to next year. Heck, I am sure the players seeing Brad Treliving walk away from the franchise made them question just what was going on.
Despite having “new” leaders at the helm, it feels like more of the same. So, the players finally look to be the ones making the moves for the Flames.
It is rare to have one player tell an organization that they won’t be re-signing with the team, but to have four players be rumored on the same day is a massive red flag. Clearly the pending 2024 UFAs were waiting to see just how each the others would be handled, and it’s certainly one player saying they don’t want to come back inspiring the others to say “it’s time”.
All four players are within their rights to not sign with the team. In fact, it’s almost better that they are telling the organization now to ensure they don’t leave them in the dust next summer. But, at the end of the day, the issues alone that happened last year seemed to have doomed this franchises’ direction for years to come.