I took to my Instagram the other day, which is built around and for NHL fans of all teams, and asked for people’s opinions on why they think the Calgary Flames will be good or bad this upcoming season and to declare whether they were a Flames fan or not. I received 40 or so responses from all sorts of fans giving some very good reasons as to why they believe the Flames will be good or bad this season. In this article, I will go over the reasons to be optimistic about the 2023-24 season based on the responses I received. Another article based on reasons to be concerned will follow in the near future.
The majority of responses I received were unsurprisingly from non-Flames fans, however, what was somewhat surprising was the fact that the majority of the responses were outlining reasons why they believed the Flames will do well this season. The 2022-23 season was not kind to Flames fans and the early portion of the 2023 offseason was not too kind either, leading to many non-Flames fans having fun at their expense. Due to this, I wondered if the responses from non-Flames fans would be largely negative, however, they were not. So without further ado, here are the main reasons to be optimistic about the 2023-24 Flames, as submitted by NHL fans.
Bounce Backs and Unsustainable Play
Bouncing back seems to be the main theme around the 2023-24 Flames as so many of their key players had down years in 2022-23 and the team as a whole failed to meet expectations and missed the playoffs. Most people, whether Flames fans or not seem to believe the majority of the roster will bounce back, at least to a certain extent, which will help elevate the team as a whole. It should be no surprise that the common names mentioned in responses when talking about bouncing back were; Nazem Kadri, Jonathan Huberdeau, Jacob Markstrom, and Elias Lindholm, while Andrew Mangiapane was also mentioned by a Flames fan. A lot of the sentiment in the responses seemed to be that the issues and bad play from last season were unsustainable and couldn’t possibly happen again.
It was pointed out in a response that last season Calgary almost made the playoffs (they finished two points behind the Winnipeg Jets who held the last playoff spot in the West) despite not playing to their potential. That means the top Flames players do not need to have career bests in 2023-24 in order to make the playoffs, instead, each player needs to just improve slightly on their 2022-23 season and they could find themselves in a playoff position in April.
Another response noted the league-worst shooting percentage that the Flames sported in 2022-23. They shot at an 8.8 percent rate in 2022-23, ranking 32nd in the league, after shooting at a 10 percent rate in 2021-22 which was good enough for 12th. The belief is this number was unsustainably bad and will naturally go back up, as shooting percentage can often be heavily influenced by luck due to all the moving factors in hockey.
As everyone knows, one of the glaring issues for the Flames in 2022-23 was the locker room management and coaching done by Darryl Sutter as multiple stories have come out about players hating playing under him. Since then, the Flames have both promoted Ryan Huska to head coach and hired Craig Conroy as general manager after Brad Treliving left the organization, which can serve as a needed refresh for the organization.
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Some responses directly outlined ways that they believe Huska will improve on Sutter’s tactics, such as playing Huberdeau on the right wing less, as he has been a left winger his whole career, and not demanding as much from him defensively, freeing him offensively. Another fan believed that the team’s overall defence will be better under Huska, while another believes that he will be less “stubborn” than Sutter and will be willing to make changes when things don’t work.
A consistent theme in the responses that mentioned the new coach and management was the fact that the change can help take away the rumoured toxicity in the locker room. There seemed to be a constant belief that the locker room chemistry will improve under Huska and players will feel more comfortable as a result. One fan also mentioned that there may be extra motivation for the players to perform well and prove that the 2022-23 season was not their fault.
I will caution fans to be sure about their beliefs when a new coach is hired as many of them get excited and automatically think that the new coach will think like them and fix all the issues from the previous regime. I do believe Huska is a good replacement and should be a better coach for Calgary, however, we have seen time and time again that a new coach doesn’t automatically mean all the issues that were once there will be gone. The best recent example I can think of was the Girard Gallant hire in New York. The issue of developing their young players was not fixed, despite many people believing it would be.
Inserting Youth into the Lineup
The prospect of inserting Jakob Pelletier, Matthew Coronato and Dustin Wolf into the Flames’ lineup is already exciting fans as they have the chance to add a lot of value to the roster. Multiple responses referenced the idea that this youth can add needed help to the stars and improve the team’s depth, while others cited the prospect that they can add speed and energy to the group.
A few responses touched on the goaltending situation in relation to Wolf. One noted that the trio of goalies that Calgary currently employs, which includes Jakob Markstrom, Dan Vladar, and Wolf, gives them a chance to consistently play who is hot, as all three have the potential to go on a run. Another response mentioned that Markstrom could bounce back, however, if he doesn’t, Wolf would have the chance to flourish and has the ability to seize the opportunity.
Less Prominent Reasons
The previously mentioned three reasons were all large themes that were talked about in many of the responses in various ways. However, there were some interesting, but less mentioned reasons to be optimistic, such as:
Players in contract years can have a tendency to have a productive year due to the extra motivation behind needing to prove their worth. With so many players in contract years, Calgary could see multiple players have a large increase in quality of play due to this.
Unlike going into the 2022-23 season, the Flames do not have many expectations around them. This can ultimately help as the weight of expectations can be a negative factor on performance. There is an expectation for the team to do better, however, they may feel like they are playing with “house money” if they do take a step forward this season.
The Western Conference is still the weaker conference, with teams such as the Anaheim Ducks and Chicago Blackhawks not exactly trying to win, which means that the Flames will have more of an opportunity to once again make the playoffs, and don’t necessarily need to be among the league’s best teams to do so.
There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the 2023-24 Flames as outlined by these fans, however, every NHL season is unpredictable to some extent and with so many questions around the team, we’ll have to wait and see how things transpire. A big thanks to everyone who provided responses for this article, I greatly appreciate it.