The Montreal Canadiens were undoubtedly the biggest shock of the 2020-21 season. After a red-hot start to the year, they cooled down immensely soon after, and as a result made a coaching change, replacing Claude Julien with Dominic Ducharme. They were just okay after the switch, but played well enough to lock down the fourth and final position in the North Division.
It was once the playoffs started that their season became magical. The Canadiens advanced all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, knocking off the Toronto Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets, and the Vegas Golden Knights in the process. They gained many supporters over this time, because, well, who doesn’t love an underdog story? Calgary Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk was not one of those people, however.
What Could Have Been for the Flames
While many, including myself, bring up how disappointing the Flames were last season, many fail to realize they finished just three points shy of the Canadiens in the standings. That clearly irked Tkachuk, who appeared on the 31 Thoughts Podcast and explained his emotions at the time of the Habs run.
“We finished the season three points behind Montreal, that’s what pissed me off the most and what made me the most upset,” Tkachuk said. “At the end of the day the team that beat us out by three points is playing in the Stanley Cup Final. I definitely didn’t have the greatest summer watching them.”
Perhaps even more frustrating for the 23-year-old was the fact that he and the Flames finished with two more wins than the Canadiens during the regular season. Unfortunately for them, the loser point, which has been criticized plenty over the years, worked against them, as Montreal was able to pick up 11 loser points while Tkachuk and his teammates had just three.
Plenty of Motivation for Tkachuk & Teammates
While the Flames have been no stranger to criticism in recent years, this offseason was undoubtedly the most this core has faced yet. Both fans and media alike have suggested it was time for Flames general manager Brad Treliving to make some big changes, but he ultimately chose to go with the same core while only making minor tweaks throughout the roster.
Clearly Treliving believes in this team, even if few others do. This will be the last chance he gets, as it is all but a guarantee that if they don’t have more success this season, he will be looking for a new job. That means his top players, very much so including Tkachuk, need to be much better than they were in 2020-21, something that isn’t lost on the Flames rugged forward.
“It’s been very average there the past however many years, I mean that’s no secret,” Tkachuk said. “I’ve said it this summer, it really is time. I mean, we don’t have forever to change this. We want to win in Calgary, we love it there, I love it there. I think it’s a year where something has to happen, we have to take that next step.”
Many of these Flames players are saying the right things early on through training camp, and while fans may not be buying it just yet, there is reason to believe they may be able to have a much better season. Not only will players like Tkachuk and Sean Monahan want to prove many wrong after facing criticism surrounding their play in 2020-21, but there are also new contracts to be signed in the near future.
The most talked about player who is on an expiring contract this season is Johnny Gaudreau, however, Tkachuk also has just one year remaining, while Monahan has two. Gaudreau and Tkachuk in particular will be looking to have huge years in hopes of cashing in big on their next deals. As for Monahan, he will look to bounce back after two off years and reclaim his status as one of the leagues most consistent goal scorers, which will go a long ways in helping him with a new deal after the 2022-23 season.
The other reason for optimism surrounding this team is that they will have a full training camp with head coach Darryl Sutter this season. They were forced to try and adjust to his schemes on the fly in 2020-21 after he took over from Geoff Ward, and things never came to fruition. They will have plenty of time now to better figure out his systems, and could reap the rewards moving forward.
Win and You’re In
There will be no more excuses for this team moving forward. Management knows that, the players know that, and fans more than anybody know that. There is no denying that last season had odd circumstances due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and while we certainly aren’t through it yet, things are slowly beginning to drift back to normalcy. As Tkachuk mentioned, he wants this team to be better this season. The solution? More wins. If they aren’t able to do that, there will be some big changes coming in Calgary.
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: Yahoo Sports, Las Vegas Chronicle, Oil On Whyte, 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.