The Calgary Flames enter the 2023–24 season renewed. Last year, the season started with the Flames being labelled as Stanley Cup contenders with a new crop of players. Everyone knows how they did that early-season label quickly turned into a curse. The team faltered and failed to even make the playoffs. Now with another offseason of change concluding, expectations are reset. They may not be Cup contenders, but they surely should be a playoff team. Lower expectations may take some of the pressure off, but this season still feels make or break.
Getting the season on track for Calgary truly begins in October. The team needs to set the tone for the season and having a good start will be as important as ever. With that said, how might the Flames fare in the calendar month? We asked, you answered.
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Make it or break it
The Flames didn’t exactly dominate the preseason aside from their 10–0 victory over the Canucks. Every other game there was plenty of room for improvement and the Flames used the preseason for figuring out new combinations in their lines and pairings, as well as getting a clearer picture of their goaltending. Now after losing their last two preseason games, they’re turning their attention to a crucial slate of games. They’ll play nine times in October with their first being on the October 11 and their last being the Heritage Classic on October 29. What can their record be come month’s end?
A tough slate of games
Starting with a season-opener at home, the Flames will face the Winnipeg Jets. After that game, they’ll fly to the East to play against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals, Buffalo Sabres, Columbus Blue Jackets, and the Detroit Red Wings. This five-game road trip includes a back-to-back set in the middle when facing the Sabres and Blue Jackets, but it still offers an opportunity to string together some wins.
Following the road trip, the Flames host the New York Rangers and the St. Louis Blues for a two-game home stand before they head up to Edmonton to play some outdoor hockey at the Commonwealth Stadium.
All in all, the nine games in October offer a mix of challenges but also some games that are considered must-win. Last season, must-win games turned into heartbreaking losses, so if the Flames can avoid that they should be in a better place. The Flames need to simply regress to the mean and they will be in good shape for the playoffs.
Setting expectations for Calgary
The poll has the Flames winning just three to five games as the most popular answer, taking over half of the votes. This result is a bit surprising in that most voters seem to have tempered expectations. A three-win October would spell disaster, a five-win October would sting but be acceptable. About a third of the votes have the Flames winning six to eight games. That’s a more reasonable expectation, and I suspect most people would slot in six wins as a realistic target. It puts the Flames well over .500, and earning at least 12 out of a possible 18 points should have the team more at ease than not.
Few votes expect a sweep of October, and few expect total trainwrecks of two wins or fewer. Naturally, the poll provided options for safer picks in the spread, but some people clearly have no expectations while others are extremely optimistic.
In all seriousness, October already represents a pivotal month for the Calgary Flames. They are trying to get rid of the reputation they earned last year, and really let a fresh start allow them to be their best. For a team that underwent as much change as they did, having a strong opening to the season is possibly more important than for other teams. October needs to build confidence and bring more fun back into the sport for the players.
To simplify it as much as possible, the Flames should at bare minimum be greater than a .500 team by month’s end. That’s just asking for 10 points rather than the 12 points mentioned above. It’s a low bar to clear but it comes as a necessity for the team. The Flames find themselves in a feedback loop where they need to see results in order to play their best, but they need to play their best before they see results. We know what this team is capable of. They just have to go out there and get the job done.
How do you think the Flames will do to open the season? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter @wincolumnCGY.