Calgary Flames Must Not Have a Strong Finish to the Season

Jim FlanneryAnalyst IMarch 13, 2014

Mikael Backlund parked on the doorstep in Calgary's 7-2 rout of Anaheim on Wednesday night.
Mikael Backlund parked on the doorstep in Calgary's 7-2 rout of Anaheim on Wednesday night.Derek Leung/Getty Images

The Calgary Flames absolutely manhandled the Anaheim Ducks Wednesday night, beating the second overall team in the NHL, 7-2. The win moved the Flames up in the league standings to 26th overall and is exactly the wrong thing for the Flames to be doing at this late stage of the season.

The simple reality this season is that the Flames are rebuilding after years of coming close but missing the playoffs. And while getting a top-15 pick every year is nice, it clearly isn't making this team any better.

The surest predictor of success in the NHL is goalscoring, and that's something Calgary does not have. The top seven teams in the NHL right now also happen to be the top seven teams in goals for. The Flames, meanwhile, are 28th in goals for (159), and their best scorer this year, Jiri Hudler, is 66th in the league in points (44).

I'm a fan of Hudler, but he's not going to be the guy to deliver the Flames to the promised land. What they need is a couple front-line scorers, and the longer you have to wait to make your first pick, the less likely you'll get one of those guys.

More than three-quarters of the way through the 2013-2014 season, six of the top 20 scorers in the NHL are former first overall draft picks: Sydney Crosby (88 PTS), Alex Ovechkin (67 PTS), Patrick Kane (67 PTS), John Tavares (66 PTS), Joe Thornton (64 PTS) and Taylor Hall (61 PTS).

Two more members of the top 20 are former second overall picks: Tyler Seguin (67 PTS) and Evgeni Malkin (66 PTS). And another two are third overall picks: Jonathan Toews (62 PTS) and Matt Duchene (62 PTS). So fully one half of the top 20 came from the first three picks of the draft.

While there is little chance anyone can catch the Buffalo Sabres for worst in the NHL and the driver's seat in the draft lottery, the next three spots are all up for grabs right now. A late-season hot streak from the Flames could cost them a shot at a top prospect.

The next generation of young guns for the Flames need a chance to prove themselves.
The next generation of young guns for the Flames need a chance to prove themselves.Gerry Thomas/Getty Images

TSN's Bob McKenzie's list of the top 50 prospects identifies four forwards in his top five that project out to elite scorers: Sam Reinhart, Sam Bennett, Michael Dal Colle and Leon Draisaitl. Calgary badly needs to lock down one of those players.

I've seen Reinhart and Draisaitl play this year, and both were very impressive. (Reinhart, for example, has picked up nine points in the three games I've seen him play this season for the Kootenay Ice.) Either one could step onto an NHL team next year and make an impact. 

But if the Flames stay hot for the remainder of the season, they could take themselves right out of contention for a blue-chip prospect of that caliber.

Don't get me wrong. Head coach Bob Hartley has done a great job of getting this team to give it their all on every shift. It's encouraging for the future of this franchise to see the team out-hustling their competition every game this yeareven if they don't have the talent to win consistently, and I'd like to see them continue this trend.

But now is the time to ensure call-ups from the Abbotsford Heat—whether it's Corban Knight, who scored his first career NHL goal last night, or Markus Granlund, Max Reinhart or Ben Street—are getting as much playing time as possible. Prioritize player development over victories. 

This season is already a write-off for the Flames. There's no sense in picking up a bunch of wins and wasting the opportunity to get better faster.


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