NHL Preview – Can the Flames blaze a trail?

After an unimpressive fourth place in the Pacific Division last season, Calgary Flames fans are hoping for a better year as the delayed 2020-21 NHL season finally gets started. With fresh signings and a new structure to the NHL, there’s a lot of optimism, with CBS Sports describing Calgary as the ‘dark horse’ of the new all-Canadian Northern Division.

Can Calgary Flames lift the Stanley Cup for the second time?

History shows that ice hockey is deeply appreciated among Calgary residents, but what are the chances of Calgary Flames’ success in the modern game? Could this be the year they reach the Stanley Cup final for the first time since 2004? Could they even lift the enormous trophy which they won for the first and only time in 1989?

A new structure

One factor which throws many predictions into chaos is the new divisional structure. The league has been completely redrawn, creating an all-Canadian Northern Division for the first time since 1923.

This will only make the on-ice rivalries more intense and make the season so much more interesting for Canadian hockey fans. Of course, with so many teams paired up on the ice for the first time in years, it is difficult for even the experts to predict the outcome.

This season also has fewer games, with just 56 regular season encounters instead of the usual 82. It began on 13th January and the regular season is scheduled to end on May 8th. Playoffs start on May 11th, and the seventh and final game of the Stanley Cup (if needed) will start on July 9th.

What are Calgary’s chances?

With new players adding to a blend of maturing youngsters and experienced veterans, some experts predict that this could be the Flames’ year. The Matchsticks and Gasoline fansite even describes this as Calgary Flames’ ‘ultimate boom or bust season’, predicting widespread changes in players and management should they fail again. CBS Sports agrees with this assessment, reminding us that despite their name, the Flames can be really hot or really cold, and you can never be sure which to expect.

The bookmakers would appear to agree, placing Calgary Flames midway down the NHL sports betting predictions. 18th out of the 31 teams overall, they are fourth out of seven in the new North Division behind Toronto, Montreal and Edmonton, but above Vancouver, Winnipeg and Ottawa.

Could Markstrom make the difference?

Perhaps the biggest boost to Calgary during the off-season was the signing of goaltender, Jacob Markstrom. Picked up as a free agent and signed for a new six-year contract, he could make all the difference to the Flames’ approach.

Ranked fourth in the NHL last year for save percentage, he certainly made an impact in his first game. Playing against his former club, Vancouver Canucks, he made no less than 32 saves on his way to his sixth career shutout, helping the Flames to a 3-0 win to start their season.

The Matchsticks and Gasoline site thinks this could be the game-changer for Calgary, predicting that ‘if Markstrom provides elite net-minding, the Flames should have no problem winning this division’. Even with a shortened season, there is still a long way to go, but it is a promising start. Could this be the Flames’ year?

Will they stay hot or turn cold? Only time will tell, but one thing is for sure; 2021 will be an NHL season like nothing we have ever seen before.