Believe it or not, the last time the Calgary Flames played a full 82-game NHL season, they finished first in the Western Conference.
Their 50 wins and 107 points in 2018-19 tied them for second with the Boston Bruins. Only the Tampa Bay Lightning looked down from a loftier perch, 19 points ahead in a league of their own.
The Bolts and Flames both left with a whimper, losing in the first round of the NHL playoffs. And while the Lightning rebounded with back-to-back Stanley Cups, the Flames have yet to qualify for the post-season.
You may mark both the Tampa titles and the Flames failures with asterisks given the impact of COVID-19. The challenge for the Flames is to find a way to get back to their pre-pandemic form with the nucleus of that 2019 team mostly intact (minus former captain Mark Giordano, which is no small subtraction).
Still in Calgary up front are notable scoring forwards Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm, Matthew Tkachuk, Sean Monahan, and Mikael Backlund. They have top-four defencemen Noah Hanifin and Rasmus Andersson, and young skaters Andrew Mangiapane, Dillon Dube, Juuso Valimaki and Oliver Kylington. Turnover since then has primarily been on the blueline and the bottom-six forward ranks.
Last year, they added Sweden’s Jakob Markstrom, their most dependable No. 1 goalie since Miikka Kiprusoff. The team filled another need in free agency this summer by bringing in a top-six right winger in Blake Coleman. The Giordano loss stings, though, with only Nikita Zadorov and Eric Gudbranson joining the team as big-bodied veterans.
So, with a relatively insignificant turnover on the top forward lines and a gaping hole on the back end, how can the Calgary Flames expect to get a different result?
Start by blocking out the chatter, according to Markstrom.