CALGARY — Anyone who believes bringing up Mikael Backlund is just the spark the Calgary Flames need to snap their offence out of its funk is deluding themselves.
Right now, the kid isn’t even the best player with the Abbotsford Heat.
Desperate for something to give their Flames a spark, fans will cling to hope Tuesday’s recall bringing the potential-filled Swede to Dallas for Wednesday’s game against the Stars will boost a roster struggling to score goals amid a monumental seven-game losing streak.
The 20-year-old’s 10 goals and 22 points in 47 games are respectable, but he has yet to prove he can make an impact at the NHL level.
Best case scenario: His youthful enthusiasm injects a little breath into a team that looks like it’s on life-support.
Worst case scenario: He’s been brought up by GM Darryl Sutter in a marketing ploy as potential trade bait.
A pair of Philadelphia Flyers scouts at Monday’s loss to the Blues will only add gas to the flaming trade rumours Sutter scuttled on the weekend.
This is how bad things have become in Flames Nation.
All those pre-lockout seasons without spring hockey. Countless campaigns littered with losing. Yet only two skids since the Flames franchise moved to Calgary have been worse than the team’s current losing streak.
No wonder head coach Brent Sutter opted to skip practice Tuesday in favour of heading straight to Dallas for the first of back-to-back road games against the Stars and Phoenix Coyotes.
“I won’t stand here and be negative,” Brent said in his post-game availability following Monday night’s 2-0 loss to the St. Louis Blues. “Because everyone else in the world is about our hockey team.”
Sorry, coach, but there’s not much to be positive about aside from the fact two previous versions of the Flames have had longer losing skids.
That would be the 1998-99 Flames who lost eight straight between Dec. 22 and Jan. 5 by a combined score of 35-13, and the 1985-86 crew that dropped a whopping eleven in a row from Dec. 14-Jan. 7 with a 59-35 spread.
Their current slump has seen them score just nine times while giving up 26. The seven-game stretch equals in length their drought from November of 2002 when they scored just three and allowed 17 against.
Backlund would rank seventh on the Flames if he could bring his AHL statistics with him.
It’s a little sad those hoping the team can turn things around in an increasingly more difficult drive to the playoffs will now focus on the newcomer rather than the stars — Robyn Regehr, Dion Phaneuf and Jay Bouwmeester are making a combined US$17 million this season on the back end, and Jarome Iginla, Olli Jokinen, and Daymond Langkow rake in $16.75M up front — who’ve already been outplayed by the likes of Mark Giordano and Rene Bourque.
The gap between the Flames and those behind them still with playoff hopes is now closer (four teams within four or fewer points) than the Flames are to the division lead (eight points as of Tuesday morning).
Suggesting recently teams will need between 93 and 96 points at the end of the 82-game schedule, Darryl Sutter’s Flames need at least 35 more from 30 remaining games to hit that lower mark — and even then, there are no guarantees.
Losing even a third of those contests in regulation would mean no fewer than 15 wins would allow them to reach 93 points.
Finishing with five games in April every second night against some of the toughest teams in the conference — the Colorado Avalanche, Chicago Blackhawks, San Jose Sharks, Minnesota Wild and Vancouver Canucks — should inspire them to get as many points as early as possible.
But inspiration has been tough to come by for these Flames.
“We have a lot of leaders in this room,” Brandon Prust suggested post-game Monday night.
“We’re always talking and trying to stay positive. That’s about all you can do, stay positive.”
It’s time the leaders guide by example on the ice rather than wait for support from the farm to attempt to make a difference.
Otherwise, the black hole of negativity they flew away from Tuesday could be even deeper when the Flames return home.
And their climb to the playoffs even steeper.
SLUMPS TO FORGET
Longest losing streaks in Calgary Flames history
2009-10 (Seven games)
Jan. 11 — vs. Colorado, 3-2 (OT)
Jan. 13 — vs. Pittsburgh, 3-1
Jan. 15 — vs. Nashville, 1-0
Jan. 17 — at Anaheim, 5-4
Jan. 18 — at San Jose, 9-1
Jan. 21 — vs. Chicago, 3-1
Jan. 25 — vs. St. Louis, 2-0
2002-03 (Seven games)
Nov. 7 — at NY Rangers, 1-0 (OT)
Nov. 8 — at Florida, 3-0
Nov. 11 — at Atlanta, 2-1
Nov. 14 — vs. NY Rangers, 2-1
Nov. 16 — vs. St. Louis, 1-0
Nov. 19 — vs. Detroit, 5-0
Nov. 21 — vs. Edmonton, 3-1
1998-99 (Eight games)
Dec. 22 — vs. Vancouver, 5-3
Dec. 23 — at Vancouver, 5-2
Dec. 27 — vs. Colorado, 2-1
Dec. 29 — vs. Philadelphia, 4-3 (OT)
Dec. 31 — vs. Montreal, 2-1
Jan. 2 — at Buffalo, 7-1
Jan. 4 — at Boston, 5-1
Jan. 5 — at Pittsburgh, 5-1
1985-86 (Eleven games)
Dec. 14 — at Vancouver, 4-3
Dec. 17 — at Pittsburgh, 4-3
Dec. 18 — at Hartford, 4-3
Dec. 20 — at St. Louis, 5-2
Dec. 22 — at Chicago, 5-4 (OT)
Dec. 28 — vs. Philadelphia, 6-5
Dec. 31 — at Minnesota, 6-3
Jan. 2 — vs. Edmonton, 4-3
Jan. 4 — vs. Montreal, 6-5
Jan. 5 — at Edmonton, 6-3
Jan. 7 — vs. Hartford, 9-1