The Flames Will Never Flicker for a Pick (Part 1 of 3)

DALLAS TX - DECEMBER 23: Goalie Miikka Kiprusoff #34 of the Calgary Flames at the darkest moment of the season. He walks to the ice before a game against the Dallas Stars at the American Airlines Center on December 23 2010 in Dallas Texas. A game he would go on to win in the SO. The starting point of the Flames comeback run to the playoff race. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Given the Flames terrible start this season I’ve heard and read a lot about a hockey philosophy/strategy that I am strongly against: The "Dive For Five" or "Fall for Hall" mentality. The logic of it is pretty straightforward; if you are not a playoff team, it is best to dive to the bottom for a higher pick rather than just miss the playoffs.

This buzz has died down a lot lately with the Flames resurgence but I am certain it will return. This three part series will likely put me in the bulls-eye for a lot of bloggers, fans and analysts out there but nonetheless, I am going to carve out a argument why the Flames should not only not adopt it this season, but should never have a "Fall for Hall" mentality.

Part 1 – The Fan’s Paradox

Part 2 - The Gambler GM

Part 3 – Respect the Crest

The Fan’s Paradox

From a strictly fan perspective, getting out of the hypothetical GM chair altogether, how can a fan ever cheer for their own team to lose a game? That to me is a paradox, a contradiction of terms like a ‘round square’ or ‘married bachelor’.

If you are cheering for the other 29 teams in the NHL to beat ‘your’ team so you can get a high draft pick, is it really your team anymore?

I’ll admit to being one of those anti-Leaf fans. I cheer for every team to beat them. I have my reasons – not hockey related. The self-proclaimed center of the Canadian Universe has a big black hole in the middle of it called the Toronto Maple Leafs, it is a bit of Karmic balance in Canada that they are just terrible in the national sport.

But does this actually mean I am really a subconsciously repressed member of Leaf Nation who secretly wants them to finish low in the standings so they can get high draft picks and build a Cup team? I don’t think so.

Even when your team is low in the standings and wins are few and far between you cheer for the win each game.  That win against a divisional rival becomes even sweeter when you are the underdog. As brief a moment as it may be in a rough season, the rarity of it makes those wins seem even bigger then they are when you are a top ten team.

When your team is in the top ten it is the losses that seem bigger; they're harder to take and they burn a little more but when your team is in the bottom ten it is the opposite. The wins seem bigger and more impressive and they make you feel better even if it is just for that night.  As a fan, why would you ever want to cheat yourself out of that experience?

"But I am a smart fan, I know hockey. I know you need excellent young prospects if you are ever going to go for the Cup. Just missing the playoffs is the worst of both worlds, you have a non-playoff team and you have lower overall picks – you will never improve"

In part two of my series, "The Gambling GM," I’ll address this line of thinking, but again, this is coming strictly from a fan perspective. Consider the risk you take for yourself as a "smarter" fan in this case.

The NHL season is a marathon. A team that stumbles early can recover. The Flames themselves are evidence of it this season. As a smart fan you may have been advocating the "Fall for Hall" mentality as early as mid November, patiently lecturing the less informed fan of how the Flames will get to a Cup.

You may have run into a child-like fan, an 8-year-old mini-Kipper of sorts who was so passionately behind the Flames they simply would never waiver no matter what. They cheered Jokinen and Kotalik and would cheer Betty White herself if she put on a Flames jersey and skated into the line-up. As a smart fan you may have thought to yourself, well that is just a little kid. They don’t understand that Betty White is old and not a good hockey player.

So the Flames keep losing with Betty White in the line-up and you keep rubbing it in to little Mini-Kipper, "See Mini-Kipper, Betty White sucks – she can’t play hockey – Sutter was dumb to sign her" and so forth. "The team has to be blown up and the rebuild has to occur. We need to fall in the standings to get those elite picks like Taylor Hall. Don’t you see what the Edmonton Oilers are doing? Don’t you want the Flames to be better than the Oilers?"

But still little Mini-Kipper does not waiver. He may not know much but he knows one thing, and his response is probably not much more than "I am not an Edmonton Oiler fan" or "The Flames are still better than the Oilers today, maybe not by much, but they are still better."

So you shrug and move on with your analysis, but now something statistically fantastic starts happening; despite all your calculations, all your analysis and all your discussion with other like-minded analysts--and with such low probability you can scarcely believe it--the Flames start to win.

Mini-Kippper explodes into the room yelling at you. The Flames won, did you see that Kipper save! Promptly mimicking it to a tee. "Ha-ha," he says. You probably ignore him and think to yourself, "Yeah, little dude, enjoy it, it was one game, they’ll lose the next one. "

But they don’t, and with each win – Mini-Kipper comes rolling into the room with more and more passion, staying longer and longer. "Yeah, I remember when you said this and that about this player, well he just scored three points in one game" Olli Jokinen and Betty White could kick Taylor Hall’s and Sidney Crosby’s butts all the way to Finland.

Such blind and exuberantly passionate hockey comments, devoid of even a shred of hockey logic will start to make your eye twitch if not make you twitch out right at some point.

At a certain point you are going to find little mini-Kipper right in your face laughing out loud at you, but worst of all, as a smart fan you will not even be able to enjoy the success of your team.

You will likely be tucking all those logical and rational thoughts of yours about the team away in a dark corner of your mind. Coiled up and waiting to let them out the moment the Flames start to slide again. But really, you have to ask yourself, are you a fan or are you just an analyst now, an armchair GM? Someone who may actually secretly want the Flames to lose just to prove your line of thought was right?

At this point mini-Kipper has you absolutely cornered and is peppering you with such irrational hockey statements that you can no longer respond.  "Betty White on the Flames throws down, Sidney Crosby falls down. Man, if the Flames met the Penguins in the Cup final – she would check Crosby into the next time zone."

What do you do with this little fan?

I don’t think this means you cannot be micro-critical of the Flames as a fan or expect more from them when they are losing. I don't think it means you can't call a player out after a bad game. I think you can wear both hats, but I think the arm-chair GM hat is one you put on loosely and with caution IF you want to retain your fan status.

As a fan, you simply can never advocate for your team to lose. I had a conversation with an old friend of mine who is an Oilers fan. We’ve debated hockey since we were kids. He personally is not an advocate of the "Fall for Hall" mentality that has swept over the Oiler fan base, but he did offer probably the best attempt at a defense of it. It was simply something in his mind that he felt some Oiler fans did "to make lemonade out of lemons."

I just smiled. He shrugged, he understood me without me saying a word. An Oiler fan cheering for their team to lose was a Flames fans ultimate victory in the rivalry.

Often Flames fans hear from the Canuck fans today such ~neutral~ advice on how the best thing for them to do is mimic the Oilers rebuild. Acknowledge the failure of their team, blow it up, cheer for them to lose and dive to the bottom.

Do any Flames fans really wonder why the altruistic fans of the Vancouver Canucks tell us that? 

(Part 2 of this series "The Gambler GM" will appear later this week)

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