Thursday on Sportsnet, Mark Spector had some honest thoughts for the Calgary Flames and their fans.
With the Flames struggling out of the gate and currently residing way short of the expectations everyone carried for them coming into this season, Spector suggested that the Flames their fans look at this season as part of a progression – a season where they can shuttle some of their more expensive, veteran players to different contenders with an eye towards being contenders the following year and beyond.
After last year’s unexpected playoff run – which came together in large part to unsustainable numbers than have fallen back to Earth this season – the Flames entered this year as dark horse contenders in the West, but the stars have failed to re-align and getting out from under a couple contracts and away from veterans eating up ice time at the expense of youngsters is a wise long-term decision.
As Spector says, chasing the final playoff spot is a fool’s errand that far too many teams make, believing that if they just get in, everything will come together at the right time and a miraculous run to the Stanley Cup will occur. More often than naught, those squads get bounced in the first round and pick a little further down in the draft than they would have if they’d abandoned their playoff pipe dreams and looked to the future instead.
Calgary should take the Sportsnet columnists advice and the Vancouver Canucks could benefit from following the same approach as well.
Vancouver sits 8th in the Western Conference at the quarter pole, a point up on Arizona, two clear of Winnipeg and a strong week away from climbing to fifth or maybe even fourth. But is this a team that is going to win the Stanley Cup? Make the Western Conference Finals?
Those should be the chief considerations this season for the Canucks brass, as the team is in the midst of an on-the-fly rebuild that has seen them jettison several veteran stalwarts over the last two seasons, replacing them with young talent and allowing those newcomers to build as the year progresses. Last season, it was Bo Horvat. This year, it’s Jared McCann, with a couple others sliding in and out of the lineup as opportunities arise and performance dictates.
Where Vancouver will really have to consider this approach is later in the season as the trade deadline draws closer.
While they have already moved on from Ryan Kesler and Kevin Bieksa, they still have a few veteran hands that might be appetizing to legitimate playoff contenders down the stretch and the Canucks should seriously consider getting what they can for them now in order to continue – and potentially accelerate – their rebuild.
Radim Vrbata is in the final year of a two-year deal and although he’s been extremely productive, he’ll be 35 in June and chances are he’s not coming back in 2016-17.
Alex Burrows still has two more years on a deal that comes with a $4.5M cap hit. If someone wants him, the Canucks should be happy to oblige. The same goes for Chris Higgins, Brandon Prust and Ryan Miller, though chances are they’d end up being on the hook for a bunch of the remaining money on the goaltender’s deal and paying him to play for someone else isn’t ideal, especially when there isn’t a significantly better option behind him.
Vancouver faced a similar situation last year, when they ended up making the playoffs and getting bounced in the first round by the Flames. We’ll see if last season taught them anything in a couple of months.
Games of the Weekend
Chicago vs. Los Angeles: locked in a battle for positioning in the Western Conference, the two clubs that have won the last four Stanley Cups go head-to-head in L.A. on Saturday in what should be a quality showdown.