The disappointments of last season can finally be put in the past when the Calgary Flames play host to the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday to kick off their NHL seasons.
While the Jets are still reeling from an inglorious elimination at the hands of the now-reigning Stanley Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights, the Flames are looking to make amends for falling short of the playoffs.
“Exciting to get going,” defenseman and newly named alternate captain Rasmus Andersson said. “Now we’re down to the team and … I can’t wait for Wednesday.”
The Flames have a litany of players looking for bounce-back seasons after a campaign that ended with both general manager Brad Treliving and coach Darryl Sutter leaving the organization, replaced by GM Craig Conroy and first-time NHL head coach Ryan Huska.
Huska spent five seasons as an assistant coach in Calgary. He takes over a club that is hoping a more positive atmosphere — compared to the mood under the often acerbic Sutter — and a switch in the game plan will make a difference.
The most notable change Huska intends to implement is more of a zone defensive style, albeit with a very active center, compared to the man-on-man format the Flames used in the past.
“There’s still a lot of reads they have to figure out, in regards to how to make them. There’s a lot of compete that comes along with it, that when you get something has to be killed down low or shut down, you have to make sure you’re ready to do that. We’re getting there, for sure,” Huska said.
The Flames are counting on players such as No. 1 goalie Jacob Markstrom and top-level forwards Jonathan Huberdeau, Elias Lindholm and Nazem Kadri to regain their form of previous seasons. Calgary will also integrate a couple of important newcomers in rookie Matt Coronato and Yegor Sharangovich, acquired from the New Jersey Devils in the summer.
As for the Jets, they boast a trio of new faces in forwards Gabriel Vilardi, Alex Iafallo and Rasmus Kupari, who were all acquired in the offseason trade that sent second-line center Pierre-Luc Dubois to the Los Angeles Kings.
An even bigger story was the news on Monday that top-line center Mark Scheifele and star goaltender Connor Hellebuyck both re-signed on long-term deals. Both could have become unrestricted free agents after the season but elected to sign seven-year extensions worth $8.5 million per season.
Now able to focus more on the season, the Jets will try to improve their squad by inserting third-year NHLer Cole Perfetti into the second-line center spot after mainly playing as a winger.
Perfetti, who collected eight goals and 30 points in 51 games last season, has one advantage while attempting to evolve his game: Scheifele has been tutoring him.
“In the season there’s going to be a lot more dialogue, a lot more bouncing ideas off each other,” Scheifele told the team’s website. “We sit beside each other in the room, so, I’m sure there will be lots of conversations like that.”
While the Jets found common ground with their big-name pending UFAs, the Flames have a few players in that category in Lindholm and defensemen Noah Hanifin, Chris Tanev and Nikita Zadorov. Until those players are re-signed to new contracts or traded away, their status will be an ongoing story.