Bye, bye playoffs

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:33 AM ET

A quick glance at today's Western Conference standings tells you everything you need to know about this year's eight playoff teams.

While the order in which they finish will change, the teams won't.

The Calgary Flames aren't one of them.

Let it be said here first -- the Flames will miss the playoffs this season.

Such a prognosis is not a knee-jerk reaction to the team's 3-6-1 start or the fact the Flames have half the wins eighth-place Detroit has heading into their Motown matchup tonight.

Nor is it because of the one win in their last six outings came against Phoenix, or because the Flames were humbled by Nashville and Washington on home ice within a 48-hour span.

Fact is, in a league where divisional play makes or breaks every team, the Flames failed to keep up with the Joneses.

While every other team in the tough Northwest bolstered their skill in the off-season, the Flames' only notable addition was Alex Tanguay -- a player who has either been Flame-washed like Chris Drury/Steve Reinprecht/Marc Savard or he just rode the coattails of Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg and Milan Hejduk all these years.

The scariest part of the Flames' dreadful start is the club opened the season with one of the easiest schedules in the league. In response, half their losses came against Eastern Conference patsies such as Toronto, Boston and Washington.

The Flames have two more 'easy' games on this three-game road trip (Columbus and St. Louis) before the real fun begins against hockey's much tougher Western foes. That's when it could get really ugly.

Having split a two-game set with Edmonton, they've yet to play divisional rivals Minnesota, Vancouver or Colorado, which the Flames will play eight times apiece.

The Oilers are an offensive juggernaut with goaltending, Minnesota's newfound offence is for real, Vancouver rid itself of a cancer and landed a franchise goalie, and Colorado's youth movement is good enough to challenge for a playoff spot.

Last year, the Flames won the Northwest crown thanks to a 20-8-4 record in their division. This year they'd be lucky to be .500, costing them a top-eight finish.

None of that is to speak of the four games against powerful Anaheim, Dallas or three more against San Jose.

Last year, the Flames started with a 4-7-2 record due largely to Jarome Iginla's typically slow start. This year, Iginla is one of the only Flames starting out strongly while netminder Miikka Kiprusoff is showing rare flaws and signs of frustration. He needs a rest soon.

Replacing Darryl Sutter with Jim Playfair as coach was a risky move due to Sutter's ability to squeeze every ounce of effort from a team that had no business making it to the Cup final in 2004.

As popular, respected and well-schooled as Playfair is as a coach, to believe he could have the same influence as Sutter right out of the gate is unrealistic.

Sutter is convinced his team can score with the best of 'em, Playfair still believes his team can win 1-0 and 2-1 games and the players still believe the dump and chase can work. Opponents are proving them wrong.

Suggesting the Flames aren't good enough to play this spring has nothing to do with panicking.

It has to do with being realistic in a division that is leaving them behind.

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RECENT STARTS

Flames' records after 10 games since 1996-97.

Season Record Pts

06-07 3-6-1-0 7

Playoffs?

05-06 4-5-1-0 9

Made Playoffs

03-04 5-4-0-1 11

Made Playoffs

02-03 3-3-2-2 10

Missed Playoffs

01-02 7-2-0-1 15

Missed Playoffs

00-01 3-6-1-0 7

Missed Playoffs

99-00 2-6-2-0 6

Missed Playoffs

98-99 3-5-2 8

Missed Playoffs

97-98 1-7-2 4

Missed Playoffs

96-97 6-4-0 12

Missed Playoffs


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