Flames pause all contract talks as slide threatens season

Jeff Marek and Matt Marchese play a clip from the latest 32 Thoughts episode with Elliotte Friedman, and open up a conversation on whether the Calgary Flames mediocre stretch has hit pause on all their significant RFA negotiations.

CALGARY — Don’t expect to see the Calgary Flames ink Noah Hanifin to that extension anytime soon.

Ditto for Elias Lindholm.

Sportsnet has learned all contract talks are now on hold for an organization that may be on the precipice of having to take a radical new approach.

Not a tear-it-down rebuild as most are clamouring for, but a significant re-tooling that would almost certainly involve trading the aforementioned Flames pillars.

A 2-6-1 start has the Flames second-last in the league standings, thanks to a pop-gun offence that has shown no signs of developing chemistry through a five-game losing skid that threatens to change the organization’s tack.

Scoring just six goals over five games can do that, especially early in the year when you position yourself for an exhausting chase the rest of the winter.

Like the Vancouver Canucks each of the last two seasons, the Flames may be on the verge of having their season end before it really even started.

Twenty games in, this season could be a complete write-off.

Thus, a pause on contract talks.

No sense in continuing to lock up a core that hasn’t been able to get it done.

You can bet the feeling is mutual, as Lindholm and Hanifin must be second-guessing the mere thought of signing on long-term with a team that is spinning its wheels just like it did last year.

The frustration Lindholm showed last spring is back, as evidenced by his, “I would have booed too if I saw the way we played,” followed by, “We’ve played like s— three games in a row.”

Well, now it has been five in a row with the juggernaut Dallas Stars threatening to compound their woes Wednesday.

It’s Groundhog Day in Calgary, every day.

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Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman often cites the post-Halloween benchmark, pointing out teams that are four points or more out of a playoff spot on Nov. 1 miss the playoffs 88.7 per cent of the time, dating back to 2005-06.

Only seven of 81 teams since then have overcome such rough starts.

A win by the Nashville Predators Tuesday night would put the Flames five points back of a wild card spot.

But you don’t need history to tell you what sort of pickle this bunch is in.

Only one team has fewer than Calgary’s 19 goals, and only one club has a worse goal differential than the Flames’ minus-15 — the San Jose Sharks.

The Sharks are winless in nine, but no one is shocked given how openly they’ve been rebuilding.

The Flames entered the season believing their core could rebound from what they felt was an anomaly last season.

Not so.

Jonathan Huberdeau and Nazem Kadri have been abysmal, combining for three goals, four assists and minus-21.

Andrew Mangiapane leads the team offensively with three goals and three helpers in nine games.

The team has only scored 11 goals at 5-on-5 all year — fourth-worst in the NHL.

Head coach Ryan Huska can’t find any line combinations to spark production, and the power play is ranked 20th in the league at 15.6 per cent.

Starting goalie Jacob Markstrom may be the Flames’ best player this season and even his numbers aren’t great with a 1-5-1 record, 2.88 goals-against average and .901 save percentage.

This team doesn’t pass the eye test either, as the promise to let players be more creative offensively has not worked.

This team is tough to watch right now.

Thus, the booing.

Something has got to give, and if the next stretch is anywhere close to how bad they’ve been recently, the wheels will be set in motion for an overhaul.

That means sending Lindholm and Hanifin elsewhere for young players and draft picks, trading Dan Vladar to make room for Dustin Wolf and making tough decisions on the fate of pending UFAs Chris Tanev and Nikita Zadorov.

The later two are hugely popular, but where do they fit in moving forward?

Or will they even want to consider staying?

After that it gets harder — much harder — to see how to effect change, other than to call up top AHL prospects like Connor Zary, as they did Tuesday.

Indeed, things have gotten out of hand very quickly here, topped by an outdoor game loss that showed the nation how far the Flames are from respectability, out-chanced 19-4 in high-danger opportunities.

Friedman was bang-on (as usual) last week when he reported Hanifin and the team were getting close on a long-term extension.

However, what’s transpired since then has thrown management into an understandable holding pattern.

A significant pivot seems inevitable, and much sooner than anyone could have predicted.

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