It seems to be harped on constantly when discussing the Calgary Flames, but no matter how you slice it, there is no denying that the 2020-21 season was an outright disaster. Despite a disappointing exit at the hands of the Dallas Stars in the 2020 Playoffs, it appeared they had taken a big step in the right direction, given that they were just seconds away from going up 3-1 in a series against a team that went on to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.
That turned out not to be the case, as the Flames were an inconsistent mess this season, which resulted in missing the playoffs entirely. There are many reasons for this, but there is no denying that a large chunk of the blame falls on the shoulders of Matthew Tkachuk. This is a player who many viewed as the future captain of this team but are now second-guessing themselves after the extremely underwhelming season he had.
Leadership in Question
From nearly the start of the season, many began to question Tkachuk’s leadership on this team as well as his relationship with his teammates. This stemmed from an incident that occurred just five games into the season when Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Jake Muzzin flipped a puck at the Flames forward right after the game had ended.
This made Tkachuk irate, and he was quick to stand up for himself, but many took note of the fact none of his teammates seemed very eager to come and help him out. To make matters even worse, when they finally did make their way back, no one went after Muzzin at all, despite the fact that Tkachuk was clearly furious with him.
Now, of course, none of us truly know what things are like inside the Flames’ dressing room. Perhaps this was absolutely nothing, and there are no issues. However, some sources with real credibility, including former NHL defenceman Rhett Warrener, were on record this season saying they believe there are some real issues inside the locker room. This situation against the Leafs certainly seems to help back that claim up.
As the team struggled throughout the season, many pointed back to this incident as to why. While it is impossible to know one way or another, it certainly is possible that after many incidents over the years, Tkachuk’s act has worn thin on his teammates.
Not only was Tkachuk’s season disappointing from a leadership standpoint, but he also struggled on a personal note as well. His 43 points in 56 games put him on pace for just under 63 points in a full 82-game schedule, which is a much lower points-per-game rate than he had managed in the previous two seasons. It is also worth noting that nine of those points came in the team’s final five games of the season, where the playoffs were a near impossibility. While it was nice to see him finish strong, it would have been a lot more important if he would have been able to do so when his team was still in the playoff hunt.
While most thought that the hiring of Darryl Sutter would be perfect for a player like Tkachuk, that never really turned out to be the case. In fact, when Sutter first joined the tea, it appeared he wasn’t a big fan, as Tkachuk’s ice time took a major hit for a period of time before getting back to normal later in the season. Though that has some questioning what he will provide next season, there is some reason to be optimistic for a bounce back.
Re-Energized Moving Forward
For the first time since becoming a Flame, Tkachuk is getting criticized by his own team’s fans. While some players may fold under the scrutiny, he seems like the type of player who will get motivated by it and will look to prove many wrong next season. He is certainly capable of doing so, as he has proven in past years just how good he can be when on his game, and he’s still just 23 years old.
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The one other reason I personally expect Tkachuk to bounce back next season is due to the fact fans will be back in the buildings. Though some American teams were able to have limited capacity for a portion of the regular season, the teams in the North Division played in empty arenas all season long. While they all said it was strange, it seemed to have a negative impact on some players more than others. For the most part, the players it really affected are ones who play a physical, agitating style of game that gets crowds going, whether it be cheers or boos.
Tkachuk is one of those players. He is one of the bigger pests in the entire league and isn’t afraid to throw a big hit or drop the gloves on occasion. Normally, both of those things get the crowd going, which helps provide the players with energy. That was non-existent this year and likely played a big part in why he struggled.
Year to Forget
For Tkachuk, the 2021 season was very forgettable, as it was for many throughout the entire world, given the situation we are all going through. His season was by far the most disappointing of his career to this point and played a major part in why the Flames were unable to make the playoffs. However, he should get a pass from fans, as well as management, given how strange the circumstances around this season were. As mentioned above, there is reason for optimism that he will revert back to the player he was in years past.
FINAL GRADE: C
Colton Pankiw is a former Jr. A hockey player who now provides his knowledge of the game through writing. He’s been a very active and reliable source for nearly two years at The Hockey Writers. He is a credentialed writer for the Calgary Flames but also does features on other teams throughout the league. Other writing contributions include: Oil On Whyte, NHLtradetalk.com, and Markerzone.com. Colton is also a co-host of both Oilers Overtime and Flames Faceoff podcasts. Any interview requests or content info can be made through him on Twitter. Take a look at his work here.