Returning to the Flames

Bruce Bennett

After a glorious two-week break in which we got to watch some of the world's best athletes, it's time to go back to the Calgary Flames.

The Sochi Olympics are over. Canada had a great showing, including one of the most dominant hockey performances we may ever see. It was very... removed from the Calgary Flames, in pretty much every way possible. It’s unfair to compare a rebuilding hockey team to the Olympic Games, but in this case, there isn’t much choice. We’re going directly from one to the other.

And the Olympics were, of course, much better. It’s a pinnacle of athleticism. The grind of an 82-game season is great as well, but when you take a team just beginning to find itself again, and compare it to some of the best athletes in the world... Well...

The Flames didn’t have the misfortune of sending absolutely no players to represent their countries at the Olympics, but the players chosen were underwhelming; those who aren't even the best on the Flames and may not be around long-term.

Team Switzerland

Had Sven Baertschi made the Swiss national team, this blog likely would have taken a pro-Switzerland turn (at least it would have from me). But Sven didn’t make it; Reto Berra did. And Berra,

  1. Barely played.
  2. Is Reto Berra - not even the Flames' best goalie.

It’s cool Berra got to represent his country, but at this point, he’s mostly yet another representative at how god awful Jay Feaster was at trades; one-third of a horrific return for a defenceman on the best defensive team in the tournament.

And he may not even be long for the Flames themselves. He could be traded soon. His contract expires at the end of the season, which is about a month and a half away. Either he's let him go and we pretend this never happened; or he’s re-signed, and we hope that Berra has yet to peak, still isn’t done adjusting to NHL ice, still has some surprises left in him.

It all boils down to this: did you watch Team Switzerland’s games to get a glimpse of him on the bench? Probably not.

Team Czech Republic

Jiri Hudler, as one of the highest scoring Czechs in the NHL, should have been a lock for this team. He was not. Even when an injury to Vladimir Sobotka forced the Czechs to pick another forward, Hudler still was not chosen to be on the team. Ladislav Smid, however, made the cut.

Hudler’s been a great vet for the Flames. He’s fun to watch, he scores a lot, he’s probably a great personality to have around for the rebuild. He probably would have been worth watching.

Smid is still a newcomer to the Flames, relatively speaking. He still has some of the Oiler stink on him. But trading for him did improve the Flames’ defence, in that they got to send Shane O'Brien down. In his short time with the Flames, he’s also provided us with some dancing and overtime-winning noogies, so he’s been fun. Still, he isn’t exactly great. If you’re a Flames fan, does Smid’s presence alone inspire you to watch the Czechs?

The Others

The Flames have players better than Berra and Smid. Players fans are likely more excited to watch. Some of them could have - almost did - make the Olympics.

Hudler was left off the roster for what was probably really, really petty reasons the Czech Republic should feel shame for. Mikael Backlund was briefly an injury replacement for Team Sweden, until he wasn’t, because apparently checking for sources before you tweet out information is a very hard thing to do. And Mark Giordano was named an injury replacement, but that injury never came.

Backlund was on fire before the break. Whether the Swedes were actually considering him or not, he played himself into the conversation, and that’s huge for the 24-year-old who has been previously maligned for doing literally everything but not scoring enough points.

Not only that, but the Swedes are a good team. To have a player from one of the worst NHL teams named to a good national team would have been very exciting. There would have been a lot of reason to watch and cheer - except for in the gold medal game, of course.

As for Gio, he came close. Maybe if he hadn’t been injured, he would have made it. Gio has completely exceeded the expectations anyone probably ever had for him in his hockey career, and at this point, looks like a legitimate top pairing defenceman.

Not just that, but look at how deep the Canadian team was. Look at how their defence played all tournament. Giordano just being in the conversation was amazing. Had Giordano actually been a part of that group; well, that would have been something else, wouldn’t it? A statement: the Flames have some real quality players.

The Flames didn’t showcase anybody these games.

The Future

Maybe they’ll get the chance in 2018?

A lot is going to change over the course of four years, so this is nothing but a course of maybes. It really can’t be anything more. We don’t know what the Flames will look like in 2018; we don’t know if the NHL will let players go to Pyeongchang.

Maybe the Flames will be a good team with a lot of good players. Maybe some outstanding trades or high draft picks will make an impact.

Maybe Mikael Backlund keeps playing as he has, and Sweden takes him.

Maybe Sven Baertschi becomes the player he’s capable of being, and the Swiss can’t say no.

Maybe Sean Monahan makes some impressive strides over four years to get himself on Team Canada.

Maybe Markus Granlund joins his brother in continuing the Finnish medal streak.

Maybe John Gaudreau proves to be a good spreadsheet player, and Team USA pays attention to the spreadsheets next time.

In 2010, we got the faces of the Flames’ franchise. Then the rebuild became increasingly inevitable. In 2014, there was next to nothing to work with. Hopefully, in 2018, there will be something.

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