Flames Weekly: Arena Deal Falls Apart, Return to Play Delayed & More

Flames Weekly looks at how the Calgary Flames performed in the previous week. Be sure to check in every Monday for my take on the week that was and to find out which storylines and players took center stage. Feel free to use the comment section below to let me know how you thought the team performed or post any ideas or questions about the Flames.

Matthew Tkachuk, Johnny Gaudreau Calgary Flames Weekly

For the second week in a row, I had ZERO games to recap, but there was certainly no shortage of breaking news coming out of cowtown during the past seven days. We’ve seen the shocking collapse of the arena deal, another player entered COVID-19 protocol, the province reduced the capacity at the Scotiabank Saddledome, and the NHL postponed Calgary’s much-anticipated return to action. Yup, it’s been one gut punch after another for Flames fans hoping for something positive to happen this holiday season.

Flames Back Out of Event Center Deal

The week actually started out with some good news, as the Flames announced last Monday they had reopened their facility for players and staff that have remained negative with daily testing. However, those positive vibes completely evaporated just a day later when Calgary’s mayor Jyoti Gondek tweeted out the bombshell news that the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation (CSEC) will ‘pull the plug’ on the arena deal.

Calgary Event Centre
Calgary Event Centre (Calgary City Council)

CSEC CEO John Bean came out on Wednesday to explain why the Flames could no longer support the deal, and there appear to be two major sticking points — the costs associated with sidewalk and road right-of-ways around the new event center, and the costs associated with installing solar panels on the roof.

The City of Calgary is already committed to covering $287.5 million and has zero appetite to kick in any more funding. The only good news is the city council has yet to receive written notice from the Flames that the deal is off, so maybe there’s still hope they can still salvage this?

Vladar the 20th Flame to Enter COVID-19 Protocol

After multiple days of no new positive tests, the Flames’ luck ran out on Tuesday when the team announced that their backup netminder Dan Vladar had entered the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol. I assumed that the 24-year-old had to isolate in quarantine for 10 days, so I figured that would definitely affect the team’s goaltending situation when they returned to play on Dec. 30 in Seattle.

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It was speculated that Dec. 30 was the earliest Vladar could rejoin the team. But on late Sunday afternoon, Flames head coach Darryl Sutter told the media that the team’s backup netminder would be returning on Dec. 27. There was some chatter about the need to recall a goaltender from the American Hockey League (AHL) Stockton Heat to back up Jacob Markstrom, but it appears that Calgary will be at full strength after all before they leave for Seattle later this week.

Alberta Government Announces New Restrictions to Saddledome Capacity

And the hits just kept on coming on Tuesday, as the provincial government announced new measures designed to curb the rise of the omicron variant and avoid super-spreader events, meaning any facilities that seat more than 1,000 people would face a 50 percent capacity limit. Moving forward, crowds at the Scotiabank Saddledome will be capped at 9,600 for the team’s upcoming home games. There will also be no food or drink consumption allowed in seated audience settings or during intermissions. I get why the Alberta government is doing this, but I don’t envy the arena staff tasked with enforcing this new policy.

NHL Pulls the Plug on 2022 Olympic Games

With 64 regular season games already postponed, it came as no shock when the NHL announced on Wednesday that it would not be participating in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. With the league facing an onslaught of COVID-19 cases and a pending rescheduling nightmare, this was definitely the right call. However, not being able to watch best-on-best hockey this February after the league also missed out on the 2018 Olympics still hurts my heart a little bit.

The move actually impacts a boatload of Flames who were a lock to represent their country — like Elias Lindholm and Markstrom for Team Sweden, Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk for Team U.S.A., and Adam Ruzicka for Team Slovakia. Other players who were strong candidates to crack a roster were Rasmus Andersson and Mikael Backlund for Team Sweden, Vladar for Team Czechia, Nikita Zadorov for Team Russia and Andrew Mangiapane for Team Canada.

Battle of Alberta Scheduled for Dec. 27 Postponed

For all of those Flames faithful who have been waiting patiently since Dec. 11 to see their favorite team play some professional hockey, you’re all going to have to wait a little bit longer. On Christmas Eve, the league put another lump of coal in everyone’s stocking by pushing the NHL’s return to play back by one day to Dec. 28. That meant the latest installment of the Battle of Alberta scheduled for the 27th had to be postponed.

The NHL made the move to give officials a chance to assess the latest league-wide COVID-19 test results and figure out if teams will be ready to resume play. It was the right call, as the entire Flames organization is still emerging from a 33-case outbreak that impacted 20 players, three coaches, one trainer and nine support staff. The boys in red are now scheduled to face the Seattle Kraken on Dec. 30 and the Winnipeg Jets, at home, on Dec. 31.

The Week’s Winners and Losers

Two weeks ago, I boldly declared it was the “weirdest week of the Flames’ 2021-22 season.” Seven days ago, I had to rethink my position because last week was even weirder! Well, I hate to break it to you, but once again, I stand corrected. This past week has been the weirdest and wildest to date, so let’s get right to it and decide who made the biggest impressions – positive or negative.

  • The biggest winner of the week? The entire team — for finally taking to the ice yesterday afternoon after 15 days off. Boxing Day at the dome saw a vast majority of the affected players out of COVID-19 protocols, and if you were wondering if they were taking their first practice seriously, then look no further than the Flames’ number one netminder. After allowing a goal in his first time on skates in two-plus weeks, Markstrom angrily broke his stick across his post and tossed it into the netting behind him. It’s great to see the competitive fire still burns in his belly.
  • The Flames were the very first team to pause their season after the omicron variant tore through the league, and they’ve definitely been the hardest hit. However, there could a silver lining to all of this because according to the NHL COVID-19 protocol, once a player tests positive, they don’t have to be tested again for 90 days. When Calgary resumes play, there will be very few roster disruptions as the only regulars who didn’t test positive were Tkachuk and Coleman. What started as a huge disadvantage could actually work out quite nicely for the boys in red.

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  • The Flames were shut down on Dec. 11, right after they dropped a 4-2 decision to the Boston Bruins. At the time, they were still battling for the top spot in the Pacific Division, but after having seven games postponed, they find themselves in third place, four points back of both the Vegas Golden Knights and the Anaheim Ducks. However, if you look at points percentage, Calgary is still the top team, and with four games at hand on both clubs ahead of them in the standings, I’d say they are in pretty good shape when the NHL resumes play.
  • Last week, I gave you a glimpse into the personal life of Flames’ newcomer Blake Coleman by sharing an Instagram post of him playing some pond hockey and enjoying his time off during the holiday season. The native of Plano, Texas certainly has a grade ‘A’ social media game, so this week I simply had to post another one of his latest gems – this time from Twitter.
  • With the boys in red banned from hitting the ice for the past two weeks, local Flames pundit Ryan Pike has been doing a deep dive into Calgary’s stats and has come up with some interesting numbers. According to Pike, Mangiapane leads the team with 35 goals in his last 82 games (which is also 15th in the league), Gaudreau has 77 points in his last 82 contests (good for 21st in the league), and Markstrom has seven shutouts in the team’s last 82 games (that’s second only to Marc-Andre Fleury’s eight). I think it’s safe to say that these three players would be prime candidates for the team’s early-season MVP.

The Week Ahead

Monday’s previously scheduled game against the Edmonton Oilers has been postponed, so the next opportunity to restart the Flames’ season comes on Thursday in Seattle against the Kraken. On Friday night, the boys in red are scheduled to host the Winnipeg Jets at the Scotiabank Saddledome for the annual New Year’s Eve game. If all goes well, Calgary will then travel to Chicago to take on the Blackhawks on Jan. 2. Will they actually play any of these contests? I’m going to say YES. I think there’s a very good chance the Flames successfully resume their 2021-22 campaign in the next seven days, giving me some actual GAMES to write about!

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