Six points, that’s all that separates the Calgary Flames from a chance at the Stanley Cup and an early start to golf season.
Six points may not seem like much, but to Flames fans it’s a chasm that feels like it’s widening by the day.
A 5-2 loss to the Arizona Coyotes on Monday serving as rock bottom for the team, who have fallen out of the wildcard picture and have been given a 0.8 percent chance at making the post-season.
Ten days ago, the Dallas Stars set out on a six-game road trip. They had a four-point cushion on the Flames. After losing all six games, they return home with a four-point cushion on the Flames.
Opportunity was right there for Calgary and they absolutely face-planted.
— Darren Haynes (@DarrenWHaynes) March 21, 2018
It’s almost a certainty that the Flames will be missing the playoffs, and that could mean some big changes coming in the off-season.
While I don’t expect general manager Brad Treliving to pour gasoline on the roster and set it ablaze, here are five things for Flames fans to watch this off-season.
1. Coaching staff changes
This is something that many vocal, if not disgruntled, Flames fans online are calling for as we enter the final few weeks of the regular season.
Head coach Glen Gulutzan’s tenure in Calgary has seen plenty of ups and downs, most notably highlighted by the team’s many hot and cold streaks over the past two seasons.
This included a seven-game win streak in early January that vaulted the team to second place in the Pacific Division, which was followed up by a six-game losing skid out of their bye week.
Heading into their five day break in January, Calgary had won seven straight games.
Since then, they’ve gone 10-13-6. Not much else to say. #Flames
— Pat Steinberg (@Fan960Steinberg) March 20, 2018
Coaches are usually the first to be thrown to the wolves in these situations, though I’m not convinced Gulutzan will end up on the chopping block.
If Calgary were to make a coaching change, Dave Cameron might be the name to head out the door if the Flames’ 17 percent power play record doesn’t improve.
2. Sam Bennett
Flames fans keep waiting for a breakout season from Sam Bennett, but for the third straight year he hasn’t been able to live up to expectations.
With eight games to go before the end of the season, Bennett has scored a career-low 11 goals and only has 26 points in 74 games.
While he’s been better since starting the season pointless through 16 games, he still hasn’t found the offensive rhythm he teased Flames fans with during the 2015 playoffs.
Bennett is starting to move into the purgatory that’s between NHL young gun still finding his footing and a known commodity.
He’s still shown flashes of offensive creativity and could be a trading chip looking for some new scenery.
3. T.J. Brodie
If the Flames are looking to clear their logjam of defencemen, moving T.J. Brodie in the off-season could bring some much needed draft picks back to the organization.
After rising up the depth chart as a formidable partner to Mark Giordano, Brodie has since taken a backseat to Dougie Hamilton and has struggled to find his footing with Travis Hamonic.
Many nights it seems like Brodie is trying to do too much with the puck and has been a magnet for giveaways turning over the puck 68 times, the most of any Flames defencemen.
Of Calgary’s top-four blueliners, Brodie is the most likely to be moved with Hamilton leading the NHL in goals for defencemen, Giordano serving as captain, and the team giving up a boatload of picks to acquire Hamonic.
Moving the 27-year-old could prove to be difficult with a modified no-trade clause, but his $4.65 million contract over the next two years might be enough for a team to bite.
4. Acquiring draft picks
Treliving is likely hoping this year’s NHL Draft proves to be a bust, as the Flames are hurting in terms of draft picks.
Calgary traded their 2018 first, 2018 second, and 2019 second round picks to the New York Islanders last June to acquire Hamonic in a blockbuster swap.
The Flames are 19th overall. That's exactly where the Flyers finished last season. Philadelphia ended up with the No. 2 pick as a result of the draft lottery. Calgary's first round pick belongs to the New York Islanders.
Have a great sleep.
— Darren Haynes (@DarrenWHaynes) March 20, 2018
Along with a fifth rounder traded away in the Michael Stone deal with Arizona, Calgary currently only has five picks at their disposal over the last five rounds of the draft.
While Treliving has been more apt to trading away high picks over the last few years (Hamilton, Hamonic, Lazar), he has acquired picks that turned into current prospects Rasmus Andersson, Tyler Parsons, and Dillon Dube.
Calgary may need to do that again ahead of the upcoming NHL Draft, it just depends on what the team is willing to give up to restock their cupboards with draft picks.
5. Free agent splash?
Let’s try to lighten things up with this final off-season possibility, as the Flames have some cap room to work with in free agency this year.
With 16 roster players inked through the 2018-19 season, Calgary has around $11.7 million in cap space to utilize.
After the Flames signed a six-year contract extension with Mikael Backlund, the team has very few pending free agents that need new deals.
Matt Stajan, Tanner Glass, and Matt Bartkowski are unlikely to return to the team next season, while Kris Versteeg and Chris Stewart are question marks deeper down the chart.
Mark Jankowski, Garnet Hathaway, and Brett Kulak are all pending restricted free agents, but none of them should command hefty contracts.
There’s plenty of players Calgary could spend that money on including James Neal, David Perron, and James Van Riemsdyk.