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Calgary Flames Struggle to Define “Unacceptable”



The word unacceptable has been haunting the Calgary dressing room in this current era of Flames hockey.  

A 5-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets to cap off four in a row?  

“It’s unacceptable, four straight losses at home when you’re trying to make the playoffs.” According to defenceman Chris Tanev following the game. 

A little over a year ago, Calgary lost 5-1 to the Chicago Blackhawks on January 26, 2023. “Obviously, it’s unacceptable.” Said Jonathan Huberdeau on the Flames’ execution.

The Flames lost 4-3 to the Blackhawks in their next meeting on April 4. Chicago snapped an eight game losing streak with the win.

With a Blue Jackets win on Thursday, fans and media alike have to be questioning what that word means to a team struggling to accept the reality of their current situation in 2023-2024.  

25th in points percentage in the NHL at .490. The team has a 21-22-5 record prior to tonight’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks – the league’s worst team according to points percentage and a group that just happened to, once again, beat the Calgary Flames 4-3 on Jan. 7.  

That early January game also featured a fire-starter of an interview with Calgary Flames president of hockey operations Don Maloney, who likely pegged that game as a good day on the schedule to give an update. After all, it was a Blackhawks team that had lost five straight and seven of their last eight. 

In hindsight, maybe that was a bad decision.  

The Flames had gone 0-2-1 against Chicago over the previous season. Each loss more demoralizing than the next. By the time Maloney spoke to Ryan Leslie about the state of the team, the Flames were down 3-2 after two periods. Expecting a layup, Don received a proverbial suicide pass from the boys in red.  

Don did his best, but no person alive could put a positive twist on that game. Maloney’s conclusion stood out as pertinent to today’s outlook. 

“We’re continuing to look at our team. We thought, okay, we’ll get through the All-Star break, see where we sit, see where we stand. Continue to talk to our own players and agents and yet, realistically, be in the marketplace and try and figure out how we can better this club. And that’s a daily act on our part.” 

Including the loss to Chicago, Calgary has gone 4-5-0 since that update. Does that mean the Flames are ready to start dealing out their pending UFAs? Would a win against 32nd-place Chicago change their outlook? A victory tonight would not only bring the team to .500 since Jan. 7; it would bring the team to .500 on the season. 22-22-5. 

The question: How far is a .500 points percentage from the notion of “acceptable” to the organization and its fanbase?  

Twenty-two teams went .500 or higher last season. The lowest was Vancouver, who finished 38-37-5 and picked 11th at the 2023 NHL Entry Draft.  

The lowest winning percentage team to make the playoffs last year was Florida at .561. Paul Maurice’s crew went 42-32-8 on the season ten wins over .500 secured a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.  

For the sake of brevity, we’re not going to touch on whether Calgary’s 38-27-17 record last season could be deemed “acceptable.”

After four straight losses, including three to non-playoff teams, you must imagine that the Flames management group is starting to come around. Even with a win tonight and a 22-22-5 record, that implies that this 2023-2024 group is projecting for a first round pick in the 7-13 range next June.  

That seems unacceptable for a team looking to contend for a playoff spot.  

General manager Craig Conroy shed some light in a Jan. 10 interview with Eric Duhatschek of the Athletic regarding how other general managers are approaching trade talks with the Flames.  

“Teams call. You talk. What are you doing? What are you thinking? My goal is, I’m open. I just want to make the team better. Obviously, with everything that’s in the media, they might call on something that they’ve read or heard, to see if it’s true or not, and then we’ll have private conversations. But a lot of guys touch base to see where you are. Now that they see where people are in the standings, it gives everybody a clearer picture of what they want to do. They give me the vision of their team, and I give them my vision of ours.” 

Well, they have done what Maloney outlined. We see where the Flames sit, and we see where the Flames stand by the All Star break.  

Conroy and the rest of the league’s general managers have a clearer picture of where the Flames are according to the standings. The Flames have a small youth movement carving out spots and a few key veterans showing them how to seize and maintain a career in the NHL, but the results in the standings aren’t quite there yet.

With Chris Tanev, Elias Lindholm, and Noah Hanifin, the organization also has three of the most desired pending UFAs in the NHL heading toward the trade deadline on March 8. Not to mention a top-tier number-one goalie rumored to be available on the market. The questions now fall to the fanbase.

From the perspective of a supporter of the team: What is acceptable? What would be considered unacceptable before the NHL trade deadline?