Calgary Flames: Are We "Elite" Yet?

Tim SteinContributor IJanuary 29, 2009

I cannot believe how desperate Calgary Flames fans seem to be. Not desperate for their team to make the playoffs...they've done that consecutively since 2004.
No, they're collectively desperate to be able to recognize their team as "elite".
Despite the horrendous start to the season, the Calgary Flames sit comfortably in the third seed in the Western Conference, at the time of this writing, only seven points back of the Detroit Red Wings. This finds them first in the Northwest Division, eleven points up on their nearest challengers: Minnesota, Edmonton, and Vancouver, all tied at fifty-one points.
This, one would expect, would keep the fans of the Flames happy and indeed elated with the way the season has turned out to this point. Yet it seems that they just aren't satisfied enough.
Everywhere in the city, when talk turns to the Flames, invariably the latest argument comes up: Not who should start, who should be traded who should be fired, but is the team now elite or not, after beating the league-leading Sharks two games in a row. The answer seems to be split 50-50. The definitive answer is no. Not yet.
There are several criteria that the Flames need to achieve to attain the stratospheric status of "elite". One challenge has been met twice so far: They knocked off the Sharks, at home, decisively, then at the Shark Tank, after what can be considered a "lucky" goal. Another challenge met is the almost-remarkably strong third periods they play. This team is learning how to win, not just learning to win, and is beginning to develop that necessary killer-instinct needed to win play-off games.
The one thing people apparently conveniently forget is the 6-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks right before the identical-score loss to San Jose that everyone loves to point to as Calgary's turning point. In fact, they have yet to beat Chicago, or Detroit for that matter; two teams you can expect to be in the final four in the Western Conference come the end of the first round of the play-offs. They'll likely join Calgary and San Jose for the onset of the second round.
If the Flames—who have been touted throughout the league by various scribes as a strong threat to go deep this spring—plan to do any kind of damage in the post-season past the first round, they'll have to prove they can convincingly beat the Wings and Hawks, and not just San Jose. Not only this, but they have to show dominance on the "inferior" teams, particularly Phoenix, Vancouver, Dallas, and Edmonton.
The acid test for the team began last night against Buffalo, and continues with a whole lot of games in a very short span of time leading to the play-offs. One thing they have to do is give up the thought of goalie Miikka Kiprusoff becoming the first NHL net-minder to win 50 games in a single season. He's going to be heavily relied on come April and May, and the team needs a fresh number one between the pipes. This means they will have to let his back-up, Curtis McElheny start more games and actually show up on the ice during games he starts.
Bottom line: Are the Flames "elite"? No. But they are teetering on the brink.