What the Calgary Flames have done to their fans the last two months is borderline theft.
Taking people’s hard-earned money to watch the home team lose 11 of their last 14 at home seems almost criminal given how much talent this team has on paper.
What puzzles investigators who are digging deep into the crime scene on Olympic Way is how these lads let a once-promising season turn into a tire fire down the stretch.
What is becoming increasingly clear is the cleanup required this off-season is going to be more significant than previously thought.
There needs to be a significant cultural shift aimed at infusing leadership and character, because this team showed little of either when it mattered most.
After all, the Flames aren’t going to miss the playoffs by just a little bit. They’ll miss them by double-digits.
They’re no longer in the same league as the playoff teams that have been rolling over the Flames of late.
In their last four “must-win” games, the Flames have not only lost every one but done so in a fashion that saw the team out-scored by three or four goals in every contest.
Not even close.
The way things are trending there’s a better chance the Flames will be caught by the Edmonton Oilers than there is they’ll catch the ninth-place St. Louis Blues.
Humiliating for a team that had a playoff spot on Feb. 25 before losing nine of their next 12 to sit where they are now: nowhere.
Compounding the frustration in Calgary is that no solace can be taken in every loss as it’s the New York Islanders who hold the Flames’ first-round pick (thanks to the Travis Hamonic trade) and stand to gain most in the ever-improving odds of the upcoming draft lottery.
With the chips down and the games mattering most, the Flames continued their trend of being unable to rise to the occasion. Head coach Glen Gulutzan worried about as much four months back when he pointed out the team’s “fear of failure.”
They’ve won 10 of their last 26 since the all-star break when goalie Mike Smith and everyone around him started falling apart.
In that time, Smith has posted a 4-8 record with an .879 save percentage and a 3.62 GAA while also missing a month of action during which the rookie backups struggled too.
The team’s strength the first half was its biggest problem down the stretch.
Even the recent nights when the team started games well, one bad goal always seemed to trigger another as this fragile group collapsed without fail.
Yes, the Flames have out-shot and out-chanced their opponents throughout their latest four-game face-plant, but what’s being overlooked are the glaring defensive lapses that make offence irrelevant.
When someone coughs up the puck or misses an assignment defensively, the drive to immediately make up for it isn’t always there.
Of late, this team has lacked focus.
Save for the efforts of captain Mark Giordano and just a few others, it lacks leadership.
Missing the last month has been the urgency and emotion required by the situation.
Man, do they miss Matthew Tkachuk, who is one of the few lads on the team who absolutely despises losing.
Not enough do.
One of the team’s character players is Matt Stajan, whose 1,000thNHL game was marred by Wednesday’s 4-0 loss.
You’d like to think the team would have rallied around the well-liked Stajan for the occasion, if not for the fans or themselves.
So now they’ll play out the string with the only thing on the line being evaluations by the GM determining who is part of the solution and who is part of the problem.
There are, clearly, lots of problems.
Think about what a train-wreck things have been in Edmonton this year and then look down in the standings to see just how quickly the Oilers are closing in on the Flames.
The Flames are minus-22 in goal-differential. The Oilers are minus-26.
Go ahead and suggest puck-luck has plenty to do with it, or that this year’s ‘bad breaks’ are payback for the fortuitous bounces the team always seemed to get in 2014-15.
But don’t let the Flames or their coaches off the hook for an epic collapse that will cost several people jobs and ensure several players are jettisoned.
After all, this is on them.