WILSON: Staring into the flames of a rebuild can be scary

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Spending to the max, building a competitive roster and never being bad on purpose: that’s how I would sum up the Calgary Flames’ operational modus operandi.

However, to truly understand Calgary’s organizational philosophy, it is helpful to recognize the underlying myths that support it.

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The character of the contemporary Flames franchise was forged by two pivotal events: the terrible Young Guns era and the Red Mile Stanley Cup run that ended it.

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Fans outside a certain age bracket won’t remember the Young Guns period, which spanned nearly a decade between 1995-96 and 2003-04. Calgary ranked no higher than 20th in the league between those two points and was roundly considered a pitiful rival throughout the NHL.

Marketed as an apparent rebuild, the reality was a team desperately reeling from growing market disparities within the league.

Faced with skyrocketing player salaries and a weak Canadian dollar, Calgary could not afford to retain its talent. Starting in 1991, they gradually shed almost an entire roster of superstars.

Doug Gilmour, Al MacInnis, Joe Nieuwendyk, Joey Mullen, Gary Roberts, Sergei Makarov, Robert Reichel and Gary Suter were either traded or fled to free agency.

Theoren Fleury was the last vestige of the 1989 championship team that left in 1999.

Attendance plummeted. Entire sections of the Saddledome were covered with tarps. In 2000, a subscription drive for “Save the Flames” was launched.

The futility and hopelessness of that era is hard to relate to those who weren’t living in Calgary or rooting for the team at the time. He left an indelible mark on the psyche of the organization.

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This also explains the jubilation generated by the club’s Cinderella Cup run in 2004. The story of a struggling underdog guided by a stalwart and historic coach recaptured the city and ignited the fan base.

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The Red Mile not only ended the darkest period in franchise history, but it also established the idea that anything is possible if you make the playoffs.

The Dueling Characters of “Young Guns” Vs. “The Red Mile” of hero and villain no doubt implicitly wage war in the hearts and minds of the Flames front office. They are the polarized embodiment of rebuilding versus competing, at each end a conditioned response of humiliation versus triumph.

The Young Gun years were a Sisyphean struggle, an eight-year nightmare in which the team seemed to endlessly claw and claw up a steep, muddy slope, only to immediately retreat without success.

Not surprisingly, the powers that be have little interest in intentionally conjuring up a similar challenge.

This is the emotional paradox facing both team decision-makers and fans as Calgary’s contention aspirations erode. The specter of being bad on purpose only to be trapped in the basement indefinitely naturally makes the Flames faithful retreat in revulsion.

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Looking thoughtfully into that kind of abyss, one can only think: “Win now, win now, we should always try to win now.”

Unfortunately, the debts of Brad Treliving’s regime are increasingly overdue. The cost of trying to compete in the short term will continue to rise, while the possibility of competing will increasingly decline in the future.

As it stands, Calgary ranks between 19th and 24th in the league by almost any metric you care to name: points, goal difference, points percentage, expected goals ratio, etc. Five other teams stand between them and a Western Conference wild card. place.

Even if a fourth-quarter miracle resulted in an unlikely postseason berth, the Flames are much more likely to be cannon fodder than an inspirational underdog.

The 2004 Cup run strengthened this franchise, but it came thanks to a generational talent (Jarome Iginla), one of the organization’s best goaltenders (Miikka Kiprusoff) and a hall of fame coach.

It was also a once-in-a-lifetime event in more than 40 years. An atypical case, a shooting star, lightning in a bottle. To be remembered, but not replicated.

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In fact, cup races and reconstructions are not necessarily antipodes, but rather necessary points in a balance that balances future and present victories.

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The seeds of Calgary’s resurgence were planted during the darkest of times, with the trade of Nieuwendyk to Dallas for Iginla. Robyn Regehr came from the Fleury trade.

If Doug Gilmour had been traded for Futures, instead of Gary Leeman, Calgary’s next decade might not have been so hopeless.

The trade deadline is approaching and, with it, the threat of losing Noah Hanifin, Elias Lindholm and Chris Tanev in free agency: three more stars from their small group.

The goal now is not to avoid a rebuild, which is inevitable, but to accept it and manage it to ensure it does not last a decade.

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