You would’ve been hard-pressed to find a hockey analyst heading into the 2013-14 NHL season that picked the Flames to finish anywhere but in the League’s bottom five. The main reason for that forecast was obvious: the roster. Their best offensive players were Jiri Hudler and Mike Camalleri (not quite Getzlaf/Perry), they didn’t have great goaltending, and their team was young.
The Flames, predictably, were never a seriously threatening team in the first half of the year. But since that was the consensus outcome for them, nobody really batted an eye, and because the Edmonton Oilers sucked in a year people foresaw a turnaround, the other Albertan team took the brunt of the abuse.
Lately, however, the Flames have been drawing a lot of something that borders on praise. Analysts on Canadian TV are calling for a Bob Hartley extension for the great work he’s done, Elliotte Friedman wrote about how hard they work, and while not exactly “praising” them, Tyler Dellow wrote about their improved Corsi over the past 25 games or so.
And for the most part, the compliments are just: they do work hard, they’re still a young and learning team, their Corsi has improved.
I hate to be the guy to burst another team’s bubble here – I already have Avalanche fans after my head – but this is still a team that’s about to finish second last in the Western Conference, and that’s with Mark Giordano having a season that has people chucking his name into the Norris mix. They’ve needed every ounce of his season to avoid being the Sabres, and I’m not convinced they’ve suddenly got it figured out.
The Flames (26th overall) went 9-7 in the month of March, prompting the positive talk about their direction. Six of those wins were against teams currently not slotted to make the playoffs: the Oilers (29th), the Senators (23rd), the Islanders (27th), the Stars (17th), the Sabres (30th) and the Oilers (29th) again. While they did have three quality wins (all at home), and you do have to beat the bad teams too, I think the schedule at least partially helps explain their recent “turnaround.”
The team is at their best with Mark Giordano on the ice, and it’s not even close (from Dellow). They lean on him hard to stay competitive, and fortunately for them, his numbers this year are staggering.
He’s 10th in points by a defenseman despite having played 10 less games than any other d-man in the top-25. That’s more points in considerably less games than names like Chara, Doughty, Ekman-Larsson, and Suter, while playing for the Calgary Flames. He’s plus-12 on a team with a minus-31 goal differential, and that’s while playing the most minutes of anybody on the team (10th in the league) and facing the toughest competition. He’s been dominant in shot-attempt differential despite starting in his zone more often than not. There’s a reason the Flames were 5-13 during the month of November when he was hurt. I think if he’s healthy that month, he owns a gold medal right now. I also think if he’s not healthy for another month, they’re awfully close to still being that team.
The long and short of it is, when Giordano isn’t on the ice, this still isn’t exactly a shining example of what a team should be.
I fully understand that this is a team in the depths of a “re-tool,” and they could be worse (though not much, standings-wise). I know that they’re not the Sabres, and they’ve worked hard, and don’t deserve to be derided for not being better. That’s not the point. It’s not derision to say that this is still a comparably bad hockey team with a great player that still looks miles from the playoffs.
Maybe Burke makes some big moves, maybe they get to playoffs sooner than later, maybe, maybe, maybe. But for now I think it’s a little bit batty to be clamouring for a contract extension for a coach because the team is going to finish, what, five points higher than most forecasted for them?
As a guy analyzing hockey, I don’t believe in the old adage “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” I wouldn’t be very good at my job if I did. But if you’re someone who does subscribe to that, I suggest you still opt for silence when the Flames come up. Unless you’re talking about Giordano, of course.