A significant change in leadership under newish head coach Darryl Sutter make the Calgary Flames a team in transition heading into the 2021-22 season.
“Honest, hard-working” is the identity Sutter wants for a club that either missed the playoffs or exited in the first round all but one season since Sutter coached the Flames to the Stanley Cup final 17 years ago.
A second-round appearance in 2015 is Calgary’s deepest post-season run since losing the Cup final in seven games to the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004.
Sutter returned to Calgary’s bench 26 games into a 2020-21 season shortened by COVID-19. Geoff Ward was fired when the Flames were 11-11-2.
Calgary went 15-16-1 under Sutter to finish fifth in the North Division and four points out of a playoff spot. He’s the team’s third coach since 2019 following Ward and Bill Peters.
The Flames went 6-3 against the eventual Stanley Cup finalist Montreal Canadiens last season, but “we struggled against all the other teams,” goaltender Jacob Markstrom said.
Calgary opens this season Saturday in Edmonton against the Oilers before Monday’s home-opener with the Anaheim Ducks.
The Seattle Kraken plucking captain and top defenceman Mark Giordano in the summer’s expansion draft left a void in both leadership and quality back-end minutes.
For the first time in almost a quarter-century, the Flames opened training camp without a captain. Sutter wasn’t in a hurry to name Giordano’s replacement.
Mikael Backlund, now the longest-serving Flame, Matthew Tkachuk and Sean Monahan are potential candidates.
This edition of the Flames got a training camp in with the 63-year-old Sutter from Viking, Alta., who doesn’t filter his public comments when he’s displeased with a player or the team.
“As you guys know, he’s very black-and-white when it comes to what he wants out of you, which I think is great. It makes everything clear,” forward Milan Lucic said.
“If we just come together as a team and follow his lead and follow his message, that’s when we’ll have the most success.”
Sutter’s blunt assessment of the Flames to conclude last season was the team couldn’t execute at a pace the league demands.
A training camp of hard skates rectified that.
“Better-conditioned and a faster-paced team,” Sutter said.
Tkachuk, Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau and Elias Lindholm producing seasons of 70-plus points, as they all did when the Flames topped the Western Conference in 2018-19, would help return Calgary to the NHL’s top tier of teams.
A healthy Monahan, who was plagued by hip problems most of last season and underwent off-season surgery, bodes well for Calgary’s offensive depth.
“We’re a group that can rely on different guys in different moments,” Lucic said. “We’re not always relying on one or two guys to do everything for us.”
Giordano’s departure spreads more responsibility among returning defencemen Rasmus Andersson, who will quarterback the top power-play unit, Noah Hanifin, Chris Tanev, and Juuso Valimaki.