I am not, by nature, a positive person. Bubbly personalities annoy me. Being told to “look on the bright side” makes me want to throw a shoe at someone.
So, when it was reported that 9 Calgary Flames players and a member of the training staff had entered the NHL COVID protocol, my baser nature took over. But only for a little while.
To recap, on Monday December 13th, the team announced that they would be postponing games up to and including December 16th as a result of 7 positive COVID tests. Specifically, Elias Lindholm, Andrew Mangiapane, Chris Tanev, Brad Richardson, Nikita Zadorov, Adam Ruzicka and the unnamed training staffer had all tested positive prior to the Flames’ scheduled departure for Chicago. The next day, Milan Lucic, Sean Monahan and Noah Hanifin were added to the list. Most recently, the number has been upped to include 7 players and 10 staffers, including the coaching staff. And game postponements have extended through Saturday, December 18th.
Everyone is reportedly “doing fine” according to GM Brad Treliving at his media availability. But he stopped short of declaring anyone as being asympomatic.
Now there’s a lot of bad news here.
The team’s top-line centre, leading goal scorer and arguably the 2 most important defensemen are, according to the NHL COVID Protocol, sidelined for 10 days. So, assuming no more games are postponed, and they play their next scheduled game, they will likely be without the overwhelming majority of the team. That, of course, sucks.
This is a huge stumbling block to a team that has, thus far, looked like a contender.
Then, of course, there is the ripple effect on the Olympics. Debates have raged on about Mangiapane’s candidacy for Team Canada and Lindholm seems to be a lock for Team Sweden. However, in light of what’s happened, inevitable questions have been raised. Will a 10-day stint in isolation affect any Flames’ chances to play for their respective countries? Will the NHL Player’s Association even opt to go at all?
And, on top of all of that, there is the direction we seem to be heading. As more players test positive in Calgary and on other teams, and as transmission rates keep climbing, it is easy to imagine the NHL and various municipal governments saying that games will be played with no fans.
Like I said…bad news all around. But is it, though?
No fans and Olympics notwithstanding, I have to think that this could not have come at a better time for the Calgary Flames. Let’s not forget that the team lost the 4 games leading up to the postponement. During that time, they were getting what Coach Darryl Sutter described as “really average goaltending” and had fallen out of the habit of consistently scoring first.
He’s not wrong. Jacob Markstrom started 3 games during the skid and was a woeful .889 Save Percentage, allowing an uncharacteristic 9 goals. Backup Dan Vladar didn’t fare much better. He got lit up 4 times against San Jose, for .846 Save Percentage. Weak numbers for a tandem that had been so good up that point.
As for scoring first, by itself, the fact that they haven’t lately is no big deal. There are going to be slumps. But that statistic is emblematic of the change in team this year. The Flames have been first on the board in about 2/3 of their games so far. Compare that to last season, which they finished having scored first less than half the time.
So, despite my general irritation with the bright-siders of the world, I wonder. Can some good come of this? Now seems like a good time for the team to stop, rest and collect themselves. It appears better than the alternative, which possibly means continuing to spiral downward and giving points away. As we, the fans, have watched division rivals like the Edmonton Oilers drop 5 straight games without the chance of a rescheduling, it looks like COVID has provided the Flames with a unique opportunity.
Precedent would seem to disagree with me. After losing 2 games to a similar postponement, the New York Islanders lost 3 games upon their return. Similarly, the Ottawa Senators dropped 4 after their hiatus. However, neither of those teams had rock star numbers going into their protocols. So it’s no surprise that they haven’t topped the league once they came out.
Finally, for a team that looks to be depleted coming out of postponed games, the Flames could do worse than having the Stockton Heat as your farm team. They are positively tearing up the American Hockey League. They leading the Pacific Division, and it isn’t even close. So if callups need to be made, there’s no guarantee that the likes of Glenn Gawdin, Jakob Pelletier and Connor Mackey are NHL ready. But I’m not betting against them.
I guess what I’m saying is that there is a LOT to be worried about where the Calgary Flames and their COVID situation is right now. But there is another side to that coin. Rest is a loss mitigation strategy, especially for goalies. The team is good enough and well-coached enough to come out of this better than they were going in. And their potential AHL support could be a whole lot worse.
Being the “bright side” guy is not in my nature. But this…ain’t all bad.