Calgary Flames fans have seen a lot of change in their organization over a short span of time.
Just two seasons ago, the Flames shattered their preseason team over/under total of 90.5 points by 20 points, won a playoff series, had a multiple Stanley Cup winning coach, and multiple bona fide stars.
Then last season, Calgary narrowly missed the playoffs by just two points.
The Flames have their work cut out for them this season, but they are relying on a new core to lead them back to the postseason.
|What:||2023/24 NHL Season|
|Where:||US & Canada|
|When:||October 10, 2023 - June 2024|
|How to watch:||Sportsnet, TVA, RSN & NHL Centre Ice|
|Odds:||TOR Maple Leafs +800, COL Avalanche +850, EDM Oilers +900, NJ Devils +1000, CAR Hurricanes +1000, VGS Golden Knights +1100|
The Flames were in the playoff race for just about all season but ultimately missed out with their downfall being a 3-7-4 stretch from early February through early March that they just could not bounce back from.
The Flames ended the season with a 38-27-17 record that saw them register 93 points to finish fifth in the Pacific Division, but only two points behind the Winnipeg Jets in the last Wild Card position.
The season was not without a bit of off-ice drama as well.
As the season progressed, rumors gained steam in the media that head coach Darryl Sutter’s message had gone stale and his style was no longer resonating with the players in the locker room. Although it may not be the direct reason for their failure to make the playoffs, where there is smoke there is fire, and it cannot have helped.
The Flames' failures in overtime also created a "what if" sort of feeling, with no team suffering more overtime losses in the regular season than Calgary's tally of 17. Turning just two of those into wins would have made the ultimate difference to their bid for the playoffs.
Calgary had higher expectations in 2022/23 than results delivered by new arrivals Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar who both came over from Florida in the Matthew Tkachuk trade.
In 2021/22, Huberdeau had 115 points and Weegar had 44 points, both of which were career years on the then Presidents' Trophy-winning Panthers.
Although their failure to make the playoffs is not remotely the fault of two new players, Calgary will be in better shape this season if Huberdeau and Weegar can bounce back with production more reminiscent of their Panthers days.
Whether that is enough to at least make the next step and return to the playoffs remains open to question.
The Pacific division is a bit of a juggernaut. The Vegas Golden Knights bullied their way to a Stanley Cup Final win and their roster suggests there is no reason they cannot do it again.
The Edmonton Oilers have the best player on the planet and their team’s window to win is now, while the Los Angeles Kings re-tooled faster than expected and they appear back to being an elite team.
The Seattle Kraken are also on the ascent looking to validate and improve on last year’s playoff run so looking around the division, a realistic expectation for the Flames is a run at the wild card - anything more would be icing on the cake.
Calgary did not have a ton of flexibility in terms of salary cap room over the summer. Last year’s leading scorer Tyler Toffoli was traded in the offseason for Yegor Sherangovich.
Sherangovich is not expected to lead the team in points like Toffoli did, but he is a solid addition to an established forward group, while defenseman Jordan Oesterle is a low-risk addition who provides some stability and reliability on the back end.
New General Manager Craig Conroy did a good job acquiring pieces that can help right now considering the tough cap situation.
With respect to the other notable departures, Toffoli is the primary exit that is tougher to replace given last year’s team leading production of 73 points with a team-high 34 goals.
That should not cripple this year’s version of the Flames, though. They largely have the same team that came to within a single win of making the playoffs last year.
There are plenty of “if’s” that will determine Calgary’s success this year. None of them are remotely out of the question, though.
If Jonathan Huberdeau shows even a flash of his Hart Trophy candidate self, if Elias Lindholm, Nazem Kadri, and Michael Backlund sustain production and stability up the middle, if Jacob Markstrom can show elite form, and if new Head Coach Ryan Huska can maximize the talent on this roster, then the Flames will have a chance to return to the playoffs.
The Flames are not one of the frontrunners for Stanley Cup glory this season as they are priced at +3000 to go all the way, while they are +1300 to be the Western Conference's representatives in the Finals.
Calgary are listed at +650 to win the Pacific Division, behind Edmonton at +210, Vegas at +230 and Los Angeles at +380. The Flames are -150 to make the playoffs and +120 to miss out once again.
The Flames' regular season points mark has been set at a 94.5 over/under, while goaltender Jacob Markstrom is available at -115 to register over 29.5 wins.
Calgary open the season on home territory against the Winnipeg Jets on October 12th and will be looking for a positive start before they hit the road for six games.
The first Battle of Alberta takes place on October 29th at Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium in the Heritage Classic, with further games against the Oilers on January 20th, February 24th and April 6th.
Games against the Vancouver Canucks take place on November 17th, December 3rd, March 24th and, perhaps crucially, in the penultimate game of the regular season on April 17th.
The Flames' first game against divisional rivals and Stanley Cup champions, the Vegas Golden Knights, is on November 28th, before further meetings on December 13th, January 14th and March 15th.
Despite winning the Jack Adams Award for the first time as Calgary won the Pacific Division in 2021/22 with a 50-21-11 record, last season proved to be the end of Darryl Sutter's second spell at the helm after they missed out on the playoffs by two points.
He was fired in May earlier this year with the Flames promoting assistant Ryan Huska to the top job for his first head coaching role in the NHL.
Huska, who played his only NHL game for the Chicago Blackhawks against the Flames in the 1997/98 season, has had head coaching experience with the Kelowna Rockets in the WHL and Adirondack Flames and Stockton Heat in the AHL.
Jordan Oesterle (D) Detroit
Brady Lyle (D) St. Louis
Yegor Sharangovich (C) New Jersey
Tyler Toffoli (C) New Jersey
Milan Lucic (LW) Boston
Trevor Lewis (C) Los Angeles
Nick Ritchie (RW) UFA
Brett Ritchie (RW) UFA