First of all, I'm very sorry for that title.
Anyway, it's obviously going to be difficult to discuss the state of the Calgary Flames without talking about that thing everyone's talking about. Last night's line brawl against the Vancouver Canucks has the entire hockey world in a tizzy—you hate fighting, you like fighting, you think John Tortorella is awesome or the worst, you think Bob Hartley is awesome (really??) or the worst, et cetera.
Look, I'll be frank here: I don't like hockey fights. I understand the place and origin and accept that fights born from heated rivalries or other emotional situations will absolutely happen. This is fine and I can live with it. Staged fights and goons and general thuggery, however, have never been high on my list of things I want to see in hockey. International hockey tournaments' allure, for me, comes from that: I want to see fast and clean hockey, not people beating the hell out of each other. To each their own, and so on.
I don't think that last night's mess was indicative of the Flames being go-getters or that they're jump-starting themselves out of a slump. The Flames had to run with four defencemen last night, all of whom racked up insane TOI. They sustained a ridiculous number of penalties and misconducts off the draw in the first period. It was disastrous. Ari's recap from last night covers everything better than I would here, especially this:
I understand some people enjoy the fighting aspect of the game, and I agree: it can be awesome and add a whole other element. Staged goon fights do not do this. Staged goon fights at the beginning of the game, when nothing has happened, do not do this. And the only tone staged goon fights set is one for further needless violence throughout the game. Yes, hockey is a violent sport. It can generate more than enough violence, action, and entertainment on its own without petty stunts such as this. This was not hockey, and that is wrong.
I look forward to hearing opposing opinions about this, because I know there are hundreds at least. Fighting is contentious and it makes sense for it to be so. Even as an advocate of it, though, I would find it difficult to say that that was a good idea. There were thousands of fans who enjoyed it heartily, but the teams did end up completely exhausting themselves; perhaps the worst part was that the Flames actually played quite well, and had they not lost multiple players from the line brawl, they could have pulled out a win.
There were still, however, some positives.
The kids are better than all right
As Ari noted, the young kids like Mikael Backlund and TJ Brodie were outstanding, even though they had to play a significantly longer amount of time than they've been used to. They've both been really good for the Flames, and Backlund has progressed immensely (it helps quite a lot that Hartley's been putting him out on the first line instead of healthy scratching him, of course). It's comforting to know that even in a bad situation, when everyone is dragging themselves through the final 20 minutes, we have some good young guys who still have the ability to be above average.
On the prospect side, Boston College's Johnny Gaudreau, selected by the Flames in the 2011 entry draft, is on an absolute tear:
Five assists in a night. Can we have him now? How about now?
Gaudreau has 21 goals and 26 assists in just 23 games so far. He's ridiculous and we are all going to throw a huge party when he plays with the Flames, I am certain.
Gunning for the draft
Calgary sits at second worst in the West (guess who's worse). This is currently good for third last in the league, six points up of last-place Buffalo, who have two games in hand and have a chance to surge past Edmonton. The Oilers play the Canucks twice and the Sharks once in their next five (Calgary gets the Sharks twice), while the Sabres see the Panthers, Hurricanes, Blue Jackets, Penguins and Capitals.
Let's be honest: it's going to be hard to complete the tank when the Oilers are in the division. They are terrible. It's just a disaster here in Alberta and it isn't going to be good anytime soon. The Flames are still poised to draft real high, though, and if they don't somehow screw it up for themselves (still a possibility) they will draft higher than they have in franchise history—they have never had a pick higher than sixth. Be bad for Ekblad. Fall apart for Reinhart.
If the Flames keep playing their young kids, letting them have the ice time to develop and grow and improve, I hope that means fewer goon fights and more good fast hockey. There are some great players on this team and more great players coming up through the system, and it would be great to be able to do something good here—for the fans who've stuck around through these miserable directionless times, and for these kids who could have a chance at success. Let's not think so much about the wins and losses this season—except where they affect the draft, of course—and more about the players. In that respect, the Flames are doing all right, fourth-line thuggery notwithstanding.