Flames Weekly: Outclassed on Eastern Roadie, Arena Deal is Dead

Flames Weekly offers a look 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

A measuring stick game evaluates how a team stacks up against the best. Well, the Flames just had a measuring stick WEEK, with an Eastern swing that saw them face off against the conference’s three best clubs; the results speak for themselves.

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Outscored 16-6 by the Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning and Carolina Hurricanes, Calgary headed home knowing they are not yet good enough to compete with the NHL’s top tier. Through three games, they led for just 15 minutes. Oh, and not to kick a team while they’re down, but the official deadline to resurrect the collapsed arena deal came and went. So, now what?

Flames Lack Firepower to Keep Up with Beasts of the East

Heading into last week, the Flames were probably feeling pretty good about themselves after winning their first two games after a 19-day break. While besting the lowly Seattle Kraken and Chicago Blackhawks put them back in the win column, it didn’t prepare them for the offensive onslaught they faced when they arrived in the Sunshine State on Tuesday to face the Panthers.

For a team that prides itself on playing a solid, structured game, the Flames got caught in the Panthers’ run-and-gun style that saw them give up 45 shots while they peppered Florida’s Sergei Bobrovsky with 49. While Calgary had a solid start and enjoyed a 2-1 advantage midway through the first period, the Panthers took over the game shortly after and buried the visitors 6-2, the Flames’ most lopsided loss of the season.

Related: Calgary Flames’ Biggest Storylines for 2022

Two nights later, the Flames were in tough against the reigning Stanley Cup champs, and it didn’t get any easier. After they held the Lightning to a 0-0 draw after one frame, Tampa Bay kicked their game into high gear. The Bolts scored four unanswered goals before Dillon Dube finally broke Andrei Vasilevskiy’s shutout bid late in the third period with a meaningless goal to make it a convincing 4-1 loss. After the game, Matthew Tkachuk admitted they were outclassed:

The next night, the Flames were right back at it, this time playing another elite squad, the Hurricanes. The boys in red came out on fire in the first period, outshooting the home team 21-10, but Calgary seemed to lose all momentum when the ‘Canes evened the score near the end of the frame. Team trainers deemed Jacob Markstrom “not 100%” for the contest, giving Dan Vladar his first-ever back-to-back starts.

Tied 1-1 heading into the second period, Calgary suffered a major defensive breakdown, letting in three quick ones that effectively put the game out of reach. Goals by Tkachuk and Johnny Gaudreau made it interesting for a moment, but Carolina pulled away and secured a 6-3 victory. It was strike three against the Flames. Though they proved they could be competitive at times, they couldn’t convert on enough chances to stick around in these games.

Sutter Surprisingly Upbeat after Three Consecutive Losses

After the loss to the Panthers on Tuesday, head coach Darryl Sutter said he thought his team wasn’t up to the task against a superior squad: “This is a different level of team… we had some guys that didn’t meet the challenge in terms of one-on-one stuff.” Although Sutter stopped short of ripping into his team after their worst thumping of the season, he seemed almost upbeat after suffering a three-goal loss just two nights later in Tampa Bay.

“There’s nothing wrong with how we played,” he told reporters. “We just played a better team, to be quite honest.” After losing 6-3 to the Hurricanes, Sutter was then asked if he was disappointed to go down 4-1 after a great first period, and his response was equally positive: “I’m not disappointed in that at all. I think we fought back and made it 4-3.” It’s nice to see Calgary’s bench boss trying to focus on the positives, but despite their solid play this season, this three-game set against the ‘Beasts of the East’ proved the team needs to load up on firepower at the trade deadline.

Flames Arena Deal Isn’t Just Dead…It’s DEAD

While it’s been a couple of weeks since 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, there was still an outside chance the two sides would extend the deadline and come up with a miracle. That didn’t happen.

Calgary Event Centre
Calgary Event Centre (Calgary City Council)

Last-minute cost escalations and complications due to the global pandemic derailed an event center deal that took years to negotiate. What’s more frustrating, it’s estimated that the two parties spent around $20-$25 million on the project without breaking ground. Unless they can somehow revive this situation, it will have been a huge waste of everyone’s time and money.

Related: 3 Free Agents That Won’t Be Back With the Flames in 2022-23

So, where do we go from here? The Flames have 11 years left on their lease at the Scotiabank Saddledome, and they say they’ll stay put in the old barn for as long as possible. But with the roof repairs and overall maintenance on the Dome expected to cost nearly $50 million in the coming years, playing in the NHL’s oldest building doesn’t make a lot of sense either. Will the two sides come to their senses any time soon? Your guess is as good as mine.

The Week’s Winners and Losers

I’ve called it the Flames’ “weirdest week of the season” for many weeks in a row now. Well, the past seven days have been downright normal by comparison. The boys in red played games times last week, and here’s who made the biggest impressions, positive or negative.

  • Flames fans have been hearing a lot about their hotshot goalie prospect, Dustin Wolf. The Stockton Heat’s number one netminder has been lighting it up in the American Hockey League (AHL), with a 15-1-2 record to start his first full professional season. The 20-year-old was honoured with the goaltender of the month award after a 7-0-0 record in December, a 1.40 goals-against average (GAA), and a .961 save percentage (SV%). The question is, why wasn’t Wolf the goaltender of the month for October and November as well?
  • Another highly touted prospect is Adam Ruzicka, who has suited up five times for the Flames but has had some trouble sticking with the big club. The 22-year-old Slovak has moved around a lot since he was called up on Nov. 25 and potted his first NHL goal on Dec. 8. After exiting COVID protocol on Dec 27, Ruzicka was sent to the taxi squad on Jan. 4, then shifted back to the active roster on Jan. 7, then moved back to the taxi squad on Jan. 8. I’d like to see the big center get an extended look with the Flames or get sent back down to Stockton in the AHL. Keeping him in roster purgatory won’t do him any good.
  • During Thursday’s game, the Lighting honored Blake Coleman for his contributions to the Bolts’ back-to-back Stanley Cup wins. The Flames forward also received this second championship ring before the game and told reporters that returning to Tampa Bay brought back a flood of great memories. “It’s special, obviously. I was thinking while I was walking down the tunnel, I was kind of flashing back to the last time I was on that ice, and I think it was 3:00 AM with a few bottles of champagne in me and my whole family out on the ice.” Congrats Blake.
  • Last week, Gaudreau moved up to seventh place in all-time franchise scoring. This week, it was Tkachuk’s turn to move up the list after scoring two points in Carolina. While he’s not near the top (yet), the 24-year-old winger now ranks 22nd. He leapfrogged Calgary assistant general manager Craig Conroy along the way, and if you think the young buck didn’t rub it in, then you don’t know “Chucky” very well.

Flames Week Ahead

Last week was the Flames’ busiest in ages, but because of COVID capacity restrictions in Canadian arenas, their upcoming schedule will be light. They were supposed to host the New York Islanders on Tuesday, but that has been postponed. The NHL has also moved Saturday’s tilt against the Vegas Golden Knights to a later date. That means the only contest still on the docket is Thursday night’s home game against the Ottawa Senators. I guess the league decided it would be too difficult to reschedule the Sens’ entire western road swing that also includes games against Seattle, Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers and Winnipeg Jets. 

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