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Are the Calgary Flames in a Dangerous Situation?

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NHL: Calgary Flames at Edmonton Oilers Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Looking at the possibility of the Flames just missing the playoffs in 2016-17.

So far during the rebuild of the Calgary Flames, they have followed a stunningly similar pathway to that of the Colorado Avalanche, seeming to mimic however the Avalanche played the previous year.

Both teams acquired big pieces to their rebuild at the 2013 NHL Draft when the Avs selected Nathan Mckinnon 1st overall, while the Flames took Sean Monahan at 6th overall. While the Flames had just begun their rebuild, Mckinnon was seemingly one of the final pieces that was going to mold the Avalanche into a contending team.

That next season (2013-14) the Avalanche rode unsustainable and unusually high numbers to a Central Division title and finished only 5 points shy of the Presidents Trophy. Patrick Roy ended up winning the Jack Adams that season. Meanwhile the Flames stumbled to a 27th place finish and drafted Sam Bennett.

2014-15 had the Flames take the big step to become a playoff team while also riding unsustainable numbers while the Avalanche regressed into a team that finished 21st overall. Bob Hartley won the Jack Adams and Colorado drafted Mikko Rantanen.

While the Flames followed the Avalanche and regressed this past season, Colorado stayed in the playoff hunt for most of the season and therefore finished as the 9th place team in the West, 5 points shy of a playoff spot. This second straight poor season led to the resignation of Patrick Roy during the summer. However, the Flames weren’t as willing to give Hartley extra leash and he was fired after the end of the season.

This is where the situation may get dangerous for the Flames. If they once again follow the path of the Avalanche, Calgary could find themselves in a very difficult predicament.

Just missing on the playoffs can have a dangerous ramification on a franchise, especially that of a rebuilding one like Calgary. Aside from the obvious disappointment of missing the playoffs, it can leave the future of the team worse off since the team would likely draft around 12th-14th overall. While these draft picks still can turn into solid players, every draft pick down from 1st overall has lower odds of finding a good player. The cream of the crop is often close to gone by these picks except for some rare exceptions that often pan out years down the road. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still very good players left but the likelihood of getting them is much lower.

It was these near misses that resulted in the Flames getting the following draft picks:

  • 2009-2010: 10th in West, 13th overall pick (Traded to Arizona)
  • 2010-2011: 10th in West, 13th overall pick (Sven Baertschi)
  • 2011-2012: 9th in West, 14th overall pick (Traded down to 21st with Buffalo, drafted Mark Jankowski)

Couple these few near playoff misses with poor drafting in other rounds for prior years when the Flames were a playoff team, and the cupboards suddenly became very bare. From there the team slowly stated trending downhill with the lack of young talent in the system until the whole thing was torn down to start over.

Fast forward to today and the Flames have now formed a solid young core while also including the acquisition of a quality goaltender in Brian Elliott. The Flames seem very poised for a bounceback season in 2016-17 back into the field of playoff contention.

It gets dangerous though when you realize that the Western Conference is still stacked full of really good teams and that only eight of them can get playoff spots.

Even when you just look at the Pacific Division, there’s the 3 California teams which are almost always solid. In fact, out of those three teams, the team I’d most want the Flames to play are the Sharks and they just made the freaking Stanley Cup Final. While the Coyotes and Oilers have improved, they probably still need another year or two for true playoff contention. Thank goodness the Canucks are off doing their own thing and not creating a direction for their franchise.

When you consider that the 3 California teams are most likely all going to be very good again, it means the Flames might have to settle for a wild card spot and therefore battle a couple Central Division teams in order to have a shot.

The Central Division holds down powerhouses such as the Blackhawks, Blues, and Stars to name three. This meaning that other good teams such as the Wild, Predators, Avalanche, and Jets could all be in contention for a wildcard spot with the Flames.

Even with the Flames being much improved, they are still going to face a very difficult challenge in making the postseason in the stacked Western Conference. Barring anything completely unexpected, the Flames will be much better than last season, but will they be good enough to snag a playoff spot?

That’ll be the question asked throughout the season as a near miss could be very tough on a young rebuilding club. The Flames could very easily find themselves stuck between being a bottom feeder and a playoff club and it’ll painful to have them just miss the playoffs if they get close. After all, both the 17th and 30th place teams miss the playoffs, but the 30th place team will get the luxury of adding a star player to their roster while the 17th place team likely won’t.

Nevertheless, it’ll be a battle this season and as long as the Flames get even just average goaltending, they should very easily find themselves in the playoff hunt deep into the season. Playing important games was something that was sorely missed last season, and I will be looking forward to seeing them (hopefully) this year.