A lot happens when your computer crashes and you take three weeks of Christmas vacation. But then, a lot doesn’t really change much, either.
In Flameland, the huge news was the firing of GM Darryl Sutter shortly after Christmas. The team’s present to him was, apparently, not sending him home without a job on Christmas morning – the only explanation why he wasn’t canned a week or two earlier.
It’s sad to say for a guy who was, for several years, a folk hero in Calgary, but he won’t be missed. Years of mismanagement, extraordinary pig-headedness and a legendarily surly attitude aren’t welcome in very many places, and he’d certainly become the biggest obstacle to turning around a struggling franchise that he first built up and then gradually drove into the ground.
His kid brother, Brent, remains behind the bench – apparently the two of them are no longer on speaking terms, testament to how crappy things had become under Darryl’s reign. But Brent clearly is the same old Brent – slagging his players in the press and grumbling publicly about the poor play of his all-star goalie, showing again that his idea of dealing with brush fires in the dressing room is to throw gasoline on them. Now he’s got another guy on the roster who loathes playing for him. Congratulations.
And after a brief bounce in the heady post-Darryl-firing days, the Flames are back to the same-old-same-old, dropping four in a row.
Their last two losses – in their first two games of the second half of the season – were particularly frustrating, as both came in shootouts. The wins were there for the taking, yet the Flames couldn’t take them. Pretty much par for the course that was set in the first half – as was Brent Sutter’s tediously predictable belly-aching about his players afterward.
The team has made it perfectly clear that Darryl Sutter’s interim replacement, the well-qualified and much-better-liked Jay Feaster (who has won one more Stanley Cup than Darryl Sutter ever will), has the job now of assessing whether the team still has a chance to make the playoffs this year, and if they don’t, what he should do to start the rebuilding process. Well, Jay, you can tick off the first box on that list – this team won’t make the playoffs.
I’m not being negative, just mathematic. Calgary has 39 games left, and it has 41 points – eight points out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. History tells us it’s next to impossible to make the playoffs with fewer than 90 points – and, generally, you need a few more than that to secure a spot in the stronger Western side of the league.
To rack up, say, 91 points, the Flames would need to get the equivalent of 25 wins in their last 39 games. We can assume a few OT/shootout losses to help reach that total, so let’s say 23 wins and four OT losses. That leaves just 12 regulation losses.
For a team that dropped 20 in regulation in the first half, it’s some very tough sledding. And that’s just to get 91 points – which would tie for the lowest total for a Western Conference playoff qualifier since 2001.
It’s not impossible. But it’s an extreme long shot, for a team that is showing few signs of changing for the better. Time to cut bait, guys, and start developing toward next year.