Struggling to live up to annually high expectations since the lockout, the odds are finally in favour of the Calgary Flames meeting or exceeding them.
That’s because people aren’t anticipating much.
The buzz on the first day of training camp Friday will have a much different feel than it did a year ago when the Flames were considered a Stanley Cup contender.
And maybe that’s just what this veteran team needs.
Motivation in the form of proving people wrong, rather than right.
Considered a division if not conference favourite the last five seasons, they’ve been less than stellar in four first-round knockouts before missing the playoffs altogether last spring.
So here we are heading into camp with a roster not entirely unlike the one that entered last fall as a favourite to edge the Vancouver Canucks for the Northwest Division title, but armed with expectations much lower than that.
Just make the playoffs again.
Some don’t don’t even give them that much credit.
Gambling on players like Alex Tanguay, Olli Jokinen and Ales Kotalik rebounding from substandard seasons, and others like Matt Stajan, Niklas Hagman, and Rene Bourque having career years, Flames GM Darryl Sutter has done what he believes he can to help the club rebound from a brutal offensive season.
It could work, but good luck finding someone who will bank on it.
Coming into camp a year ago with Las Vegas odds pegging them at 18/1
to win the Stanley Cup, the Flames have seen their numbers drop to 35/1.
They were considered a top-10 bet last fall.
They’ve fallen to the middle of the pack, sharing odds with teams like the Tampa Bay Lightning, Ottawa Senators and Anaheim Ducks and well behind teams like the Boston Bruins and Los Angeles Kings.
While there’s little doubt people inside the locker-room would love to drop some dough on themselves — if that kind of thing weren’t frowned upon in the world of pro sports — and take advantage of their longshot status, there’s even less question they’d be offended at the idea few are taking them seriously this season.
They still have stud goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff and winger Jarome Iginla, who should get at least a little more help in the goal-scoring department this year.
Jay Bouwmeester and Robyn Regehr are anchoring the defence, and Mark Giordano has sufficiently replaced Dion Phaneuf as the young up-and-comer. There’s plenty of experience behind them.
Or is that age?
It all depends on how much last year’s fall has affected your feelings toward the Flames, whether your glass is half full or half empty.
Another month from now when the first week of regular-season action is in the books, that perception could change.
So could the odds on them winning the Cup.
For now, though, they have to prove to their coaches in camp they can get the job done, and in the process, convince their fans that last year was an anomaly and not the new standard.
Their own expectations haven’t changed.
The players will take the same game-by-game approach to the playoffs.
Their motivation to make it there again, however, has deepened.
From individuals like Tanguay, Kotalik and Jokinen who feel the need to prove they can still produce at a high level, to the core that may have begun to take the playoffs for granted, competition is a word that should extend well beyond camp.