John Mayer’s song “Belief,” or track three on his 2006 studio album Continuum, was by all accounts not written about the Calgary Flames. But after Wednesday night’s humiliating 19-shot effort at home against an opponent not only competing for what the Red Mile hoped was its #8 seed, but also one being coached by the very man who took the Flames to within one booth review of the Stanley Cup eight years ago, many of Mayer’s realist, if not indicting, lines seem very relevant to the current state of the hockey franchise in Calgary.
Oh everyone believes
In how they think it ought to be,
Oh everyone believes
They’re not going easily.
Year after year, the Flames seem to get themselves in this position of needing to put a run together at the end of March to make a charge for one of the final playoff spots in the Western Conference. The rhetoric never changes: “Calgary is one of the hottest teams in the league right now (despite a pedestrian record);” “If the Flames find a way to get in, those division winners better watch out… after all, the playoffs are won by the hottest goalie, and Calgary’s got one with pedigree;” “None of the teams battling the Flames in the standings have the kind of heart and soul that Iginla & the boys do,” and so forth and so on.
Come the end of the year, every year, supporters of the Flames work themselves up enough to believe in how they think it ought to be — specifically, that the Flames are molded in the fashion of a good old underperforming-yet-peaking lower seed that can skate toe-to-toe with any squad that it may face in the playoffs. What’s more is the belief that despite habitually trailing multiple teams and spotting said teams a game in hand or two, Calgary seems to always believe that the old “win out” scenario is normal and achievable in the first place.
After all, everyone believes that they’re not going easily.
But after last season’s attempt at pole vaulting out of purgatory fell considerably short, and this season had many wondering why GM Jay Feaster a) would not consider trading Iginla before the deadline to rebuild this stagnant ship, or b) still has a job, the old end of the season desperation set in and everyone forgot all of the problems that still torture the Flames. Despite all of the negativity that comes with following a Canadian team in the NHL, everyone assumed that a home ice meeting with the L.A. Kings, who sat one point ahead of Calgary and without the tiebreaker over the Flames, would go just brilliantly. Because the Flames sure as hell aren’t going easily.
Then, the Flames went easily. By the time the puck was dropped, the lid to the candle was being slid over the Saddledome. Less than six minutes in, Kings’ defenseman Willie Mitchell scored the game winner. Less than twenty minutes later, Dustin Brown, the very much questioned, trade-dangled and under-appreciated captain of the Kings, fired home the insurance goal.
Calgary got outshot 30-19. They were outhit 17-14. Takeaways were 7-6 in favor of the Kings, and the Flames gave away a vomit inducing 15 pucks, compared to L.A.’s grand total of 2. Penalty minutes and faceoffs won were drawn, at 10 and 29 apiece respectively. Again, Calgary was at home.
From emptiness to everything,
And no one’s going quietly.
If “emptiness to everything” doesn’t sum up the way most of the hockey world views the Flames’ own self-image over the course of a hockey season, I’m not sure what does. Except maybe “Potential to everything to emptiness to everything to hell in a hand basket.” And yes, in that exact order.
We’re never gonna win the world
We’re never gonna stop the war
We’re never gonna beat this
If belief is what we’re fighting for.
Am I the only one who notices how much of Feaster’s plan seems to be PR-based? Granted, in an age when the public can chant its way to firings, promotions and trades, a lot of Feaster’s job has to be coaxing the public into believing in his plan. I just wonder at what point we realize that there are a lot of educated fans out there who have evaluated the situation and called for a rebuild. When is it alright to make the hard decision to go down the tougher road with the idea that in four or five years the franchise will be much better off?
Make no mistake about it, continually chasing the eighth seed and refusing to consider flipping the few assets one possesses is not choosing the harder route. Sure, there’s honor in the fight, but it’s fun to chase the playoffs. Fans forget this all the time — just look at the sentiment in Toronto right now — but the truth is that prior to the clinical depression that comes with a 9th, 10th or 11th place finish (or a first-round beatdown) is a euphoria of mild success mixed with grandiose hopes and expectations. That euphoric part is fun. A lot of fun. If it wasn’t, nobody would use drugs a second time. Nobody would gamble. Smart people wouldn’t secretly like pop music.
The hard decision would be to start over and gut the thing. The reason this would be hard is that there would be absolutely no foreseeable moments of euphoria for a few years. The team would suck and miss the playoffs. There would be no “we almost made it” salability. Truths would have to be faced. Everyone involved would have to go through rehab.
So instead of making the hard choices that should give the Flames a better chance of being a true Stanley Cup contender five years from now — or “winning the world,” in a hockey sense — the Flames will continue to fight for belief. Belief of the fans, the players, and themselves at the top. Flames’ brass will continue to do what it has to do in order to convince itself that the squad is just one or two pieces away; never mind that those hypothetical pieces would be much too big to fit through the doorway.
The real Cup contenders have built themselves into such. They know they are capable; the only question that remains is whether or not they will win their world, and (temporarily) stop their war. But a team like the Flames will never beat this if belief is what they’re fighting for.
Is there anyone
You can remember
Who ever surrendered
With their life on the line?
Yep. Again, sitting in 11th place and spotting a game in hand to all but Colorado, the Flames’ playoff lives were on the line last night. And I don’t know how a 19-shot performance at home can be called anything but a surrender. There was never a lead to protect. The penalties were even. Calgary simply put 19 pucks on net in a must-win home game.
For those who think the Flames are still in this thing, let’s go to the schedule, shall we? Calgary has four games left, which is one more than Colorado but one less than every other relevant team in the West. The Flames are at home against Colorado on Friday night before heading to Vancouver for an HNIC late game the very next night. After the four days off that follow, Calgary then hosts Vancouver before closing out at home against Anaheim on one of those patented lazy weekend afternoon games (Saturday at 2 p.m. local time).
Those who disagree with my pronouncement that the Flames are doused will cite the three home games coming in. How’d that home thing go last night? They will claim that Vancouver may be resting up for the playoffs. For starters, the Canucks would probably like to finish ahead of St. Louis for home ice throughout the conference playoffs (and probably SCF). On top of that, did anyone notice that 1-0 shutout that Cory Schneider pitched Wednesday night against the desperate-and-actually-playing-like-it Avalanche? Unlike Calgary, Colorado fired an impressive 43 shots on goal in a road game at a superior opponent. Schneider handled them all, and this came just two days after his buddy Roberto Luongo did the Kings in with his own 38-save 1-0 shutout. If Vancouver doesn’t care, somebody forgot to tell the team’s entire defensive system.
With no relevant games to this situation on Sunday, we will know the outlook for the Flames by the end of their HNIC game this weekend in Vancouver. Anything shy of four points between now and then should see the team eliminated by the time the Canucks make the return trip to Calgary. On top of that, there are a few Pacific Division games that could head to overtime and whittle that tragic number down even further.
Let’s see if the Flames play this thing out with true belief, or if 19 shots at home in a must win game was the surrender it seems to be.