Monday, January 18, 2010

An epic clusterfuck

A nine to one loss to the San Jose Sharks. A five-game losing streak. What now?

The motherfucking Blackhawks, that's what.

I don't know how to respond to this; really, it's surreal to me that a team, only four points out of first place in its division, could play so poorly against a team that they are supposed to be competing with for one of the top spots in the Western conference. How a team, mere pennies away from the cap ceiling and stacked to the gills with supposed top-tier talent, can concede nine goals in a game, allowing fourty-six shots on goal, while answering with only one? How any group of NHL-calibre players can finish a single game with a combined rating of -18?

After losing a close one last night in Anaheim, not one single player on this team showed up focused and ready to play. It showed, as the Sharks exploited the Flames' barely-there defence and went all Harlem Globetrotters on their asses within minutes of the opening faceoff. This seems to be an ongoing problem with this team, no matter the coach, no matter the assortment of players. I'm not going to make accusations of character flaws, complacency, lack of commitment to winning, or off-ice distractions. All of those things are certainly possible, but petty nonetheless.

Brent Sutter offered up the same old diatribe as he does after each and every unflattering loss; they're embarrassed, he's speechless, there are "issues" that need to be resolved. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that if these "issues" haven't been resolved by the 50-game mark, they're not damn well getting resolved. And that's not Brent's fault; regardless of the "systems" he is preaching, these players know what they have to do, how they have to play, not only to be successful, but to win on a consistent basis. These guys are NHL players. They know what it takes to win, at any level. The problem is, they're not willing to do it nearly often enough.

The Flames have been "embarrassed" far too often for a team contending for a division title and a playoff spot, in my opinion. They blew a five to nothing lead to Blackhawks in October. Lost seven to one on home ice to the very same team in November. Turned in a listless effort at home in a five to one loss to the Canucks just last month. Hell, I found getting shutout one to nothing at home against the Predators embarrassing. This is beyond embarrassment; this is an epic clusterfuck.

How many "wake-up calls" does this team need? At this point, it appears they've OD'd on sleeping pills and the front desk at the hotel is closed. It's up to the players, the leaders, and management to see if they can be revived or not.

It's frustrating because Brent Sutter is not a bad coach, Darryl Sutter is not a bad general manager, and these are not bad players. So how do you explain this team's nosedive into mediocrity, unless they were simply overachieving until now?

I commend Darryl Sutter and Flames management for their ongoing commitment to building the best team possible. He's done almost everything in his power to build a winning franchise, and hasn't gotten the desired results. It must be discouraging to watch the team you thought could compete with the league's best flounder. Cap management issues and failure to address the team's scoring needs aside, he has dragged this organization back to respectability, and it appears that he's done all he can do. I think it might be time for him to move on.

Is a trade really going to fix things, or just act as a band-aid solution? A hasty deal can't be done in order to appease impatient fans. If a trade is going to be made, it has to make sense for the team going forward, beyond the end of this season, and will likely occur at the deadline or the draft. Do we trust the management team's judgement after the way the Jokinen deal turned out? If this losing streak has taught us anything, it's that this team's problems aren't going to fix themselves, that the bounces maybe aren't going to even out over time like people were saying mere days ago, and that even consistent good play can't be counted on to produce results.

We are in a world of hurt here and don't have a glorified history to fall back on. In a small, Canadian market with a hockey-crazed fan base that wants a winning team, what is there to lose? The Flames built on the momentum of one successful season and dragged it on for as long as humanly possible. Clearly, that is no way to build a team that is going to be consistently competitive in the future.

Am I suggesting that the Flames hire a new general manager, scrap everything, and rebuild? No, there are some very good players on this team and others that they could probably do without, but when you're not getting results, changes have to be made, and not just to the coaching staff. Maybe tanking the remainder of the season in hopes for a shot at Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin isn't such a bad idea after all. Then again, the Flames would probably use their pick to draft some unheard-of centreman with hands of stone because of his "size."

I am envious of Oilers, Senators, and Leafs fans. You know what you're getting, straight up: a shitty team that probably isn't going to make the playoffs. What do we get? A team that parades around like a big tease, looking all shiny and promising and talented, only to prove year after year that it's nothing but a facade. False advertising. And every year we fall for it, buy into the hype, ignore the warning signs, only to have our hearts broken yet again. The Flames are the man-eaters of the NHL.

You'd think we'd know better by now, but alas, our vision is clouded by unconditional love for a franchise with little indication of long-term improvement and/or gratification. Such is the plight of a sports fan, I suppose.

I don't know what the solution to the Flames' problems are. I don't really know anything apart from the fact that, for some reason unbeknownst to me, I love this team and want them to do well. Any decision that somehow facilitates that is alright with me.

Somehow, this post has transitioned from unadulterated anger to quiet acceptance. Funny how that happens.

Chicago on Thursday.

Cheer when they're up, cheer harder when they're down. And boy, are they ever down.

Go Flames Go.

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