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Flames talk: Calgary very much in NHL playoff hunt with West wide open

‘I expect pretty much every Flames player to be playing at that desperate level the rest of the way and I think they were doing that this week.’



Craig Ellingson: What in the Kristian Huselius are we going to talk about today?

Steve Macfarlane: Good question. So many topics.

CE: It's the day after the trading deadline. Some people are being hard on Treliving and, well, you wrote it in your column: He's a lame duck GM because he doesn't know his future, so he probably doesn't have carte blanche to go make big changes even if he wanted to and considering where the team is in the standings. 

SM: Yeah, between where the team's at in the standings — he said, over and over yesterday that he thinks that they are a better team than they've played and all that, which are the things you have to say because you put the team together — I don't think he's actually wrong. 

I think they're way better than they've played this season. But then again, you're only as good as you're actually playing. So they have more in them, I'm sure, but they haven't put it together for three-quarters of the season.

Maybe there's a miracle run for the last 20. I won't say there's no chance, but the odds are stacked against them, so you're definitely not spending picks and prospects to bring anyone in so they just did the shuffling and brought in people that maybe had a little bit more experience or a bit better of a chance to play. 

Brett Ritchie was never getting back into the lineup. Nick Ritchie may get into the lineup, but I think they need to see him practice a little bit first and figure out where he fits. Maybe he gets a chance in that top six because Jakob Pelletier needs a rest. 

Whatever Sutter does, it'll probably be bashed on the Twitterverse as as the wrong move, but I think with a lot of games in a short amount of time now they're probably going to mix and match a little bit unless they get on a big roll right. 

If they get hot then it creates a little bit of competition. Nick Ritchie creates a little bit more competition. He could take out Lucic, he could take out Lewis, whatever it looks like.

Flames GM Brad Treliving

Treliving couldn't do much at trade deadline

But in the end, Treliving's hands were tied of doing anything more than that, because although we briefly touched on the potential to be sellers, I can't imagine that there is any appetite from ownership to bail on the likes of Elias Lindholm or Tyler Toffoli, who's not that old. 

I think any big moves like that will have to come in the offseason or next year's trade deadline. If the team is again playing worse than expected, and who knows who's the person that's going to make those moves? I don't know if Treliving even wants to come back. And I don't know if he's wanted back. 

I really don't know what that looks like next year. Lots of talk about Sutter may be taking over. I also remember what that was like when he was GM and coach last time.

CE: He hasn't been a GM since Calgary the first time out. He was never the GM in L.A. 

Whether or not Treliving's future was up in the air, it is a tricky position for him to be in, regardless because they're close enough that they're in the playoff hunt. 

It's not like they're 10 points back. That would be different. 

The players just have to look ahead to the schedule. The next three games are against Western Conference opponents in playoff positions, teams they're trying to catch. Those are the teams the Flames need to beat if they want to be in the playoffs.

Minnesota Wild goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.

Staying the course always the path

SM: Maybe Minnesota is out of reach in terms of a team you can catch, but that has to be the goal, try to catch Minnesota

In the end, it likely goes through Winnipeg as the team that they're most likely to catch. And that's where I think we're sort of missing a little bit of that hope in the Calgary fan base. 

Everyone says: sell, sell, sell; give up, this year is over, which is fair, and maybe the Flames missed an opportunity there because of their GM situation and because of ownership's desire to stay the course a little bit, not blow everything up and do a scorched earth approach. 

It's just not Murray Edwards' style. It's not the Flames' ownership style, it never has been, regardless of who the main face of the ownership group has been. 

So regardless of whether or not they missed an opportunity to get something for a couple of pieces that they could have moved and still kept most of that core intact for next year, there is still a chance this year. It's mathematically not out of the question. It's a little bit sad that the fan base feels so hopeless right now.

Flames forward Jonathan Huberdeau

Huberdeau's success key to rest of season

CE: It's understandable why the fans feel that way because of what the Flames did last year and in 2019. The core lineup for those teams included Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk, though. They of course are no longer Flames. 

Treliving did bring in their replacements, of course. Whether or not that's working out … this is what it looks like, right? 

So whether or not Jonathan Huberdeau returns to form is probably the biggest question and when that's going to happen. 

Is that going to happen this year? Is that question next year territory already? Like you said, we're three quarters of the way through the season.

SM: Huberdeau's definitely had some spurts where I felt like he was capable of being a point-per-game player. Maybe a little better, but he just hasn't been able to keep it together. 

I think for him, he puts a lot of pressure on himself. I think it's a very mental thing for him in terms of forcing things, trying to do too much. being frustrated. 

I think with some of the plays that … I think in his words, he said he used to be able to make that pass or a nice little saucer pass — that one landed right on the stick the other night, I can't remember who broke up the play — but he's just he's not connecting on a lot of the fancier passes he's made and maybe that's partially his adjustment to Sutter. 

Maybe it's the adjustment to the West because it is a bit of a different makeup in terms of the competition and the style of play. All the above, like just the changes in his personal life and his day-to-day after being in Florida, which was already like a second home to him and then leaving everything that was familiar. I think it's been a really hard season for him and I think they get gets lost a little bit because of how statistically disappointing his season has been. 

But he could be a really important player down the stretch. I think we're going to find out in these next 20 games. To me, it's like it's not only trying to push for the playoffs, but it's auditioning for next year. 

It's trying to convince Treliving — or ownership or Sutter or whoever is going to be running this team in terms of personnel next year — that you're part of the solution and not part of the problem. 

I expect pretty much every Flames player to be playing at that desperate level the rest of the way and I think they were doing that this week. The Boston game at home this week was probably the Flames' best of the entire season as a team, but they're playing the best team in the league in that one and the best goalie in the league, and they came away with one point which was an important piece. 

Then against Toronto, again, really good team. And I think the Flames got a little down and just kind of came up with a really bad third period. But their first 40 minutes was pretty good. 

They're still just inconsistent. It looks like they have everything there when everything's going well, but they just have a bit of this fragility where they just can't keep that focus for 60 minutes, and in certain situations and certain games. 

We'll see now if they're able to maintain that sort of high pace for 20 games of desperation. Every game is basically a must-win. They probably have to win 15 of them just to get to the point range that they need to take a wildcard spot.

Winnipeg Jets forward Pierre Luc-Dubois (Photo-via Winnipeg Jets Twitter)

Winnipeg Jets forward Pierre Luc-Dubois (Photo-via Winnipeg Jets Twitter)

West playoff race a real dogfight

CE: Obviously, over the last quarter of the season, they're playing the teams they need to beat and they're still relatively close. 

The West is wide open. The Flames are five points back heading into tonight's game. 

When there's only like eight points separating the eight teams in a playoff position in the West, that says something. This is something about the teams themselves. It's not like we have Boston or Carolina in the West. That's not the situation. 

The Boston game, a good game by the Flames. And you're right, for the first two-thirds of the game against Toronto, they played the way they needed to play. I think I told you on that night that once the Leafs got that go-ahead goal, I thought that seemed to take the air out of the Flames' tires a bit. But that's hockey. It happens to every team. And that can happen to Vegas, it can happen to Dallas, it can happen to Winnipeg, it could happen to anybody in the West.

SM: It's really funny because I understand the thinking that the Flames have gone on a three-game win streak twice and not since mid-November. 

What are the chances they're going to start winning consecutive games and piling them up now? The odds against only being able to win two or three games in a row for an entire season are also low, so you can look at it both ways. 

Is it likely? No. Is it possible? Yes. And is Winnipeg playing really bad hockey right now at the best time for the Flames to try to make up ground? Absolutely. 

I think the Flames gained a point even while playing this horrible sort of winless-in-four stretch for whatever, but they've gained a point on Winnipeg because Winnipeg is not getting any of the single points. They've just been so bad lately, so if they're looking to motivate themselves, they're saying 'listen, there's a team that's not playing their best. If we can play our best, we can catch them.' 

And who knows what happens to the rest of the teams, like you said. There's no Boston. The best teams in the West are capable of having really bad games and really bad stretches. 

Even the position of goaltending. Vegas has been really fortunate that they've had strong performances from some goalies that you wouldn't expect to be playing as well. And it's different guys on different nights. Aidan Hill had a huge night the other night but he's also capable of having a bad night and the team's capable of playing poorly.

For the Kings, there's been a lot of change there and Jonathan Quick may have been a guy who wasn't helping them win on the ice as much as he used to but was a very popular member of that team and a highly competitive member of that team. 

And what does that do to the group you know, losing him in a trade that that maybe was a little bit of a sour taste for him and maybe for some of his good friends on the team. 

You just never know what's going to happen. It's why they play the games, which is the most cliche thing I could have said right there but so very true.

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