After making massive changes and gearing up for a long-overdue rebuild of their roster over the last month, the 2012-2013 Calgary Flames found themselves in an unfamiliar position- the win column. Since a 5-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on April 6th, the Flames have gone 6-3-0 and have earned 12 of a possible 19 points. Ironically, the winning streak could not have come at a worse time for the franchise as they have effectively played themselves out of a top-3 draft selection. The likelihood of a top-tier prospect such as Nathan MacKinnon, Seth Jones, or Jonathan Drouin was supposed to be the silver lining of a season that saw marked inconsistency and the unloading of Jarome Iginla and Jay Bouwmeester. This is rumoured to be one of the deepest drafts in recent memory, and the three first round picks (including one expected in the top 3) was supposed to serve has a massive step forward for the Flames future.
While the Flames will still likely pick in the top 10, they are not just no longer part of the top 3 but find themselves outside of the top 5 as they currently find themselves 24th in the league- ahead of Carolina, Edmonton, Nashville, Tampa Bay, Colorado, and Florida. The only way the Flames could find themselves back into the running for an opportunity to draft one of the big three prospects is for all of the teams below them, outside of Colorado and Florida, to win a few games while the Flames simultaneously lose. Even if that unlikely scenario occurs, the best the Flames could muster is third.
To put it bluntly, the Flames proved that they can’t even lose properly.
It is important to keep in mind that, despite the obvious observation that the Flames need to begin stockpiling through the draft and losing is in their favour, the team does still have quality veterans on their team who undoubtedly have no interest in losing. Professional athletes hate losing, which may be the most obvious statement that has ever been made. Say what you will about the Calgary Flames, but players like Curtis Glencross, Alex Tanguay, and Jiri Hudler are not guys who earned their keep in the NHL by coasting. The same assessment can be extended to head coach Bob Hartley, who is used to winning over the majority of his career.
The Flames management, to their credit, realized this was not in the best interest of the club before it was too late and on Tuesday night in Nashville dressed a lineup that would have matched up well against a solid minor league team as Tanguay, Cammalleri, Lee Stempniak, and Mikael Backlund joined the injured Glencross up in press box as healthy scratches. The Flames roster resembled a “who’s who” of “who’s that?” Only three forwards in the line-up had at least 100 games of NHL experience- Hudler, Blair Jones, and Brian McGrattan. Infused into the ranks were Ben Street, Ben Hanowski, Carter Bancks, and Paul Byron. Despite Nashville dressing five rookies themselves, the Flames still fell 4-3 in regulation.
While the go-to defence is that the Flames wish to see several prospects in NHL action in order to evaluate them is passable, it does deserve some scrutiny since as aforementioned the Predators also dressed a pretty thin lineup. Even if both teams stuck to this explanation, they would not be getting a true evaluation of how their players would play against established NHL talent. This is an unfortunate by-product of flailing teams down the stretch as fans (a reported 17,113 in Nashville on Tuesday) unlikely had the luxury of inferior prices despite an inferior product. While diehards would likely relish their team playing young talent in order to evaluate them themselves, neither team in Tuesday’s game dressed their best respective roster- even if both stick to the evaluation defence.
Nothing can be definitively substantiated and all speculation is at the end of the day just speculation, but it sure did appear that both managements of the teams involved tried to influence a loss. This is not to say that the players themselves were both trying to throw a game, as it can be argued that many of the young players were hungry to make good of their opportunity and impress. The problem lies in the fan relations. The NHL, fresh off its second labour stoppage in just 7 years, has often spoken of the fans. The most recent lockout, fuelled by unspeakable greed, served as both a public relations war just as much as a labour negotiation. The game is for the fans, we are truly sorry to the fans, the fans deserve better, we would be nowhere without the fans, and so on and so forth. Well, the fans in Nashville were not offered the best possible product on Tuesday. The teams playing their youth against the others’ simply doesn’t make sense, and one could imagine just as much could have been learned about their prospects in a matchup between the Abbotsford Heat and the Milwaukee Admirals- their respective AHL affiliates.
The Flames have two more games before their 48-game season ends, and their current standing within the draft can fluctuate either way. If they continue to inject youth into their lineup, it will likely improve.