Calgary Flames

Flames Sunday Census: Renewed 2021 expectations with Darryl Sutter as head coach

The Calgary Flames played 24 games in 2021 with Geoff Ward as their head coach. With a mediocre 11-11-2 record, they were fifth in the North Division and outside of the playoffs. Now, the Flames are amidst the renewal of the Darryl Sutter era as their head coach, who’ll be joining the team after he completes COVID protocol. Sutter will have just over half a season to work with Calgary. What should be expected of the Flames now?

How will the Flames finish 2021?

Sutter comes aboard the coaching staff with justifiably high expectations. Deciding to fire Ward in the middle of the season was a move the Flames made out of necessity, and Sutter brings with him a reputation that many have already said is exactly what this Flames roster needs.

Before Sutter will officially take the reigns, Ryan Huska will step in for two games, yesterday versus the Edmonton Oilers and tonight versus the Ottawa Senators. That gives Sutter 30 games to do what he can with this team to bring them back into the playoffs picture. While the top two seeds in the North look to be more and more locked up by the Toronto Maple Leafs and Winnipeg Jets, the other two seeds are still fairly open.

Is there enough time for Sutter to deploy his tactics and can he right the ship before it’s too late? We wanted to know what the expectations are of this Flames team now.

An overwhelming 80.8% of the votes have the Flames making the playoffs in 2021, with a handful of skeptics expecting a close miss, while even fewer are calling for an embarrassing finish out of playoff contention entirely.

Only two series for the Flames have surpassed the halfway mark, the first is 6 out of 10 games against the Vancouver Canucks, where the Flames hold a 4-2-0 to a 2-3-1 edge; the second is 5 out of 9 games against Winnipeg, where the Flames trail 2-2-1 to the Jets’ 3-1-1. All other series can still very much go any direction.

It’s abundantly clear that Sutter taking this team under his wing has led to every Flames fan and their neighbour all foreseeing the Flames turning their season around. There’s certainly a renewed sense of hope that wasn’t quite there in the first half of the year. However, there’s almost a 50/50 split on how the Flames might fare if they do indeed make the postseason.

Half the voters are calling for a deep playoffs run. Assuming they do make it, it’s realistic that the Flames would do so as the third or fourth seed, so they’d meet either the Leafs or the Jets in the first round (that can of course change). The Flames are currently 1-2-1 versus Toronto and as aforementioned 2-2-1 versus the Jets. While both are records are weak, the Flames haven’t exactly dropped the ball against either team.

At this point, any playoff series in the North Division really could any way. The differences between favourites and underdogs are smaller than ever in the division. Every team entering a best of seven series would already be quite familiar with their opponent. There’s a completely different set of expectations heading into playoffs this year.

With Rounds One and Two of the 2021 NHL Playoffs being interdivisional, there’s no telling what can happen between the four North teams that make it into the postseason. However, the Flames have a lot of work in the meantime before they can even start worrying about the postseason format. They have over half a season left, but the clock is ticking.

A new era

Looking beyond this season, Brad Treliving has made some clear cut choices regarding the Flames’ future, starting with the previous offseason. The contract for Jacob Markstrom removed any doubt of who the Flames number one goaltender would be for the next few years. And now, the multi-year coaching contract for Sutter similarly does the same about who’s behind the bench.

As much as the onus falls on the general manager to make a team competitive, there are clearer signals now more than ever that there’s a bigger onus on the players. We’ll see what Calgary is able to do in the second half of this season, but make no mistake, the expectations that fall upon the Flames now are reignited to the same highs that were there heading into the 2021 season.

Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images

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