The Calgary Flames endured a difficult year last year. There is no questioning that, after having high hopes entering the season, the performance last year was unacceptable. The Flames entered the season with high odds as one of the major NHL favourites, and ended up watching the playoffs from home. Fans will be expecting a return to form.
So, after such a letdown of a year, why is it fair to get fans’ hopes up? The offseason has been quiet, and the vibes around the team aren’t positive. Despite this, there are several key causes for excitement going into next season; let’s look at what they are.
The Jonathan Huberdeau Bounceback
Jonathan Huberdeau was rated as one of the favourites on betting sites in Canada for the Hart Trophy last year but had a massively disappointing first season in Calgary. The key return in the Matthew Tkachuk trade had 55 points in 79 games a year after having 115. However, it is fair to expect a return to form for Huberdeau. He has had another year to settle into Calgary and build on his chemistry with the players around him. Throughout the past four years of his career, he has been a point-per-game guy, and fans should expect a return to that level.
Potential Arrival of Dustin Wolf
There are a lot of negative signals in the air pertaining to Calgary’s future, but fans should feel comfortable about one aspect of this future. The Canadians have the back-to-back AHL goalie of the year winner in Dustin Wolf. Wolf could be considered the top goalie prospect in the league right now, and he is still only 22. He is expected to push for a spot on the team this year, and he should have favourable Calder Trophy odds if he does so. Wolf will give fans some optimism, even if the year doesn’t go as competitively as they hope.
Potential Rebounds from Kadri and Weegar
Two big reasons last season didn’t go as well as fans hoped was the performance of new additions Nazem Kadri and Mackenzie Weegar. Kadri played 11 more games than the year prior and scored 31 fewer points. Weegar had 13 fewer points in one more game. Both players had massive steps back in performance. The change of scenery was likely a factor, not age or injury. Since this is the case, it isn’t unfair to say that there’s a good chance both will play better next season. Having two of their impact additions step up would be huge.
One of the things that doomed the Flames last season was horrific goaltending. Jacob Markstrom fell apart a year after being one of the league’s best goalies. He had a .892% save percentage, and backup Dan Vladar matched him. Throughout his career, Markstrom has often alternated between good seasons and bad ones. He will likely come back much more focused next season and bring a better performance. And if not, Wolf will be waiting in the wings. Fans can bank on the team having a higher save percentage than last year, as their second-worst-in-the-league performance would be hard to repeat.
A New Year, A New Opportunity
Ultimately, so much went wrong for the Flames last year. Almost every major offseason addition flopped spectacularly, the goaltending fell apart, and the overall atmosphere around the team was toxic. It was an entirely unpleasant year to be a fan of the Flames. A new year brings new opportunities. Many players who struggled last year will likely revert to their career averages. And with expectations low around the league, the Flames have the opportunity to surprise people and make a run to the playoffs.