Friday, January 22, 2021

Calgary Flames enter shortened season with lofty expectations

Calgary Flames enter shortened season with lofty expectations

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The Oilers have the best player in the world and the reigning Hart Trophy winner — and it’s not the same guy. While there are questions (as usual) about their defence and goaltending, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl might be able to outscore some mistakes.

The Jets are backstopped by Vezina Trophy winner Connor Hellebuyck and, like the Flames, in tick-tock territory with their current core.

The Toronto Maple Leafs have a ton of offensive firepower, led by Auston Matthews, and signed former Flames smoothie TJ Brodie to bolster their back end. Then again, wouldn’t it be very Leafs-like to underperform when they’re being billed as the best team in the North Division?

The Ottawa Senators are the obvious doormat, but their youthful exuberance could be an asset during a condensed schedule, while the Montreal Canadiens made some major off-season moves. They’re counting on the new guys but also need goaltender Carey Price to look more like his old self.

“It’s going to be a grind, a 56-game grind,” said Flames alternate captain Mikael Backlund, the longest-serving forward at the Saddledome. “I’m excited for it. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun and I think we have a good team, a really good team, that should finish in the top. I’m definitely going to put that pressure on us. I know we’re good enough to do that.”

Added forward Derek Ryan, who is currently on the taxi squad for salary-cap savings: “I feel like guys have that sense that this is possibly a championship team. I think we have that kind of calibre of players in the dressing room.”

That seems to be the consensus, that the 2021 Flames have playoff promise.

Now, they need regular-season success so they get a chance to show it.

“We have to be looked at as one of those teams that is a contender each and every season,” Tkachuk stressed. “We have to start proving that this year.”

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