December 2nd, 2002


Season Tanking Slump?

Horrendous November Threatens to Cripple Entire Season

AP Photo

Say It Aint So Saint Nick!: Losing skid threatens entire season.
D'Arcy McGrath

A season kaput with 22 shopping days remaining until Christmas? With Christmas lights only freshly on the house? With brisk sales still occurring at the local Canadian Tire Christmas tree lot?

If there is a Santa Clause surely this frightening and sobering statement can't be true but this is indeed the predicament Calgary's hockey team is facing if you look at the numbers.

To a man, each and every Calgary Flame hockey player should be asking for a time machine come Christmas morning, because only a trip back to early November can save a season that has literally turned to a lump of coal at the bottom of a torn, and not particularly attractive Christmas stocking.

It's bad really, really bad.

For the most part, trends in any facet of life seem to have a short and long-term perspective. A huge deviation from the long-term pattern in a short-term time frame can alter the trends over a greater time period.

The Flames were a .500 hockey team in October, exiting the month with 10 points in 10 hockey games.

When the calendar flipped to November the team needed roughly 80 points in their remaining 72 games (roughly .556 in terms of winning percentage). Given the club's tough schedule to start the season, they were in pretty good shape to take a run at things this season.

Then it happened.

The collapse.

Actually that's putting it much too mildly the self-inflicted complete and utter disembowelment.

November happened.

The Flames took a reasonable start and turned it into the quickest derailment in any of the past six non-playoff seasons by securing only eight points out of a possible 28 in a month that has rewritten the franchise's record book for futility.

So? Is that it? Call it a year, deal the best players, and aim for the top spot in the draft?

Yes and no.

Yes it's near impossible, but no you can't realistically write off a season with 70% of its games still to come. There are too many variables to close the book. Yet.

As it stands the Flames will need to fire on all cylinders to get back into it. They can't return to their October form and get by, no sir, not by a long shot. Over their final 57 games the club will need to win at a .632 clip to get back to those 90 points that they will likely need to secure a playoff spot.

Their best chance of doing just that is to ignore the above paragraph altogether in fact ignore the standings, ignore the newspapers, ignore the hot stove lounge radio and television shows, and stay as far away from office coolers as possible.

A lot can change in 70% of a hockey season.

Right now the 8th and 9th place clubs have 27 points in 25 games, which puts them on pace for 89 points, pretty close to the target of 90, as discussed.

Potentially, some of these clubs could slow up, moving the target from 90 points, down to a more workable 87 or so.

Three points doesn't sound like a whole lot, but those three points change the Flames needed winning percentage from .632 down to .602, a significant change of .030.

The team's best chance however, lies in a positive short-term streak to help right a lousy long term out look.

Take the Flames surprising start from last season, for example.

Should the Flames reel off a 12-2-2 run over the remainder of December they'd hit the midway point of the season three games over .500, altering their needed finish to a .561 pace (90 point target; .524 for 87 points).

The tough part is conjuring up a winning streak from a point four shovels full deeper than the bottom of the barrel.

In the meantime the key is to find a cliché and ride it out.

"Take it one game at a time."

"Take it one shift at a time."

"Day by day."

They may be over used, they may be frustrating to the average hockey fan, but sadly they may never be more apt than the current Flame situation.

The team needs to turn seven games under .500 into six games under .500 before they can move to five games under. 500.

Baby steps resulting in a record approaching .500 by the New Year may give the team a chance to make it close as the season winds to a close.

Any more losses and the term playing out the string may refer to the longest string ever seen in these parts.

Surely Santa can't hate Calgary fans that much.



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