If there is one team that had the craziest off-season, it is the Calgary Flames. Every off-season is filled with fireworks, but nobody set them off entirely as the Flames did. The team said goodbye to a pair of superstars but managed to add high calibre talent to replace them. A team coming off a Pacific Division crown and a second-round defeat to their Alberta rival Edmonton Oilers, this team still has the tools to be a contender in the Western Conference. But at the end of the day, is the Calgary Flames’ future better or worse?
Calgary Flames Future Looking Bright
The Calgary Flames had a great season. Darryl Sutter took this team to new heights and brought joy to the fan base. They went on to win the Pacific Division and were a very good team on the ice. Calgary ranked sixth in goals for (196) and allowed the least amount of goals (140). They were the third best team in possession with a Corsi For % (55.58) and finished sixth in goals per game played (3.55) (via StatMuse). The team boasted the 10th best powerplay and the sixth best penalty kill. Overall they were one of the best teams in the league.
The Flames rode their success to the playoffs. However, they barely skated past the Dallas Stars thanks to the stellar goaltending performance by Jake Oettinger and suffered the dagger shot by none other than Connor McDavid. Once the season concluded, the rumours began to swirl and the off-season fireworks began.
As mentioned above, the Flames lost its two best players. One of them was Johnny Gaudreau, arguably the team’s best player. Gaudreau scored 40 goals, 75 assists, and 115 points and finished top three in scoring this season. His play-making ability is sensational, and 52 of his 75 assists were primary. He went on to average 4.53 points per 60 minutes. Gaudreau was magical for the Flames, and to lose a player of his calibre and in his prime is tough. As we all know now, he signed long-term with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The other player is star winger Matthew Tkachuk. Unlike Gaudreau, who was free to walk, Tkachuk was blunt in saying he was not staying long term. The first sign and trade in hockey history took place and Tkachuk was traded to the Florida Panthers. Tkachuk was also coming off a strong year. He went on to score 42 goals, 62 assists, and 104 points. His offensive ability is next to none and he is only getting started. He brings physicality to his game and is dynamic in all areas of the ice. Tkachuk is one of the best two-way wingers in the league. He is just as responsible defensively as he is offensively.
— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) July 23, 2022
The team also made a big trade with the Montreal Canadiens and parted ways with Sean Monahan. Injuries became too much for the centre and the team having to pay for his cap hit of $6.375 million was not ideal. He was once the number one centre but things took a turn for the worst. Defenceman Erik Gudbranson is also out the door. After all these departures, does this make the Calgary Flames better or worse?
The Teams’ Best Line
Just how good were Gaudreau and Tkachuk for the Flames? While Gaudreau and Tkachuk were world-class, their centre Elias Lindholm was also a rock. He finished third in points with 82 and helped form one of the best lines in hockey. The trio outscored their opponents 73-31 and had an expected goals perfected of 61.1%. The trio spent nearly 1000 minutes together and averaged 4.48 goals for per 60 minutes (via MoneyPuck). Success like this would be hard to replicate. But with the additions made, there is a lot to be excited about.
The New Kids On The Block
After saying goodbye to two players that hit the century point mark, you have to think the ship is sinking. In regards to that, it is not sinking at all, but the Calgary Flames do have a new future. In the Tkachuk trade to Florida, the return for the Flames outweighed the departure. The team got two high calibre players in Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar. Huberdeau had a great season himself. He finished second in the league in points with 115 and scored 30 goals and had 85 assists. 53 of his 85 assists were primary. He is one of the best playmakers in the league and it gives Lindholm an elite winger to keep playing with. Weegar is an elite two-way defenceman who has the ability to drive possession at both ends of the ice. He is a good player in transition. The team got an upgrade at both ends of the ice for one player.
MacKenzie Weegar, traded to CGY, is an elite two-way defenceman who drives play at both ends of the ice at a level that very very few can equal. One of the best transition D – offensively and defensively – in the NHL. Commits the odd inopportune penalty or giveaway. #Flames pic.twitter.com/xST2G2XD33
— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) July 23, 2022
The icing on the cake and the announcement the entire hockey world was waiting for was the signing of Nazem Kadri. Even though everyone had him pegged to go to the New York Islanders, Kadri signed a seven-year pact with the Flames. Calgary now has a very good 1-2 punch down the middle with him and Lindholm. He becomes the clear-cut second-line centre as an upgrade over Backlund. Kadri (87 points) outscored Backlund (39) by a wide margin. Balance in the top six and another offensive threat, this team is deep up front. Kadri is coming off a career year with the high-flying Colorado Avalanche. He is coming off an 87-point season with the team and also chipped in 15 points in 16 playoff games to help capture the Stanley Cup.
Now that the additions and subtractions are laid out, are the Calgary Flames better or worse going into next season?
The Verdict of the Calgary Flames’ Future
The Calgary Flames’ future is looking up. Going into this season, the Calgary Flames are a better team. To summarize, an already good team from last season got better and deeper. Despite losing two-star players that hit the century-point mark, they received a player in return who achieved the same thing. An already stout back end got reinforcements in Weegar. The Flames got deeper down the middle as well and that in itself is an upgrade from last season.
— NHL Network (@NHLNetwork) August 21, 2022
The core of this team is in place and boasts Vezina calibre goaltending in Jacob Markstrom and has complimentary pieces in Andrew Mangiapane, Tyler Toffoli, Blake Coleman, Chris Tanev, Noah Hanifin, Mikael Backlund, and Rasmus Andersson.
Why does this all matter? Remember when the Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup in 2014? Regarding that, Darryl Sutter was the head coach of that club, and they were deep and talented. They had three lines they could count on, stout defence, and a rock in net. That bodes well here as the Flames are now deeper than that team was, and Sutter will do well with a deep and talented team. The fourth line of Calgary may not be the best, but the first three are and that’s something that Sutter can count on.
Overall this is a Flames team that went from being dead in the water to remaining a playoff contender. The direction of the team was unclear to start, but thanks to Treivling it is headed for bright lights. Huberdeau is signed long-term and Weegar is interested in sticking around. Kadri rounds out the centre position and Mangiapane and Toffoli are capable of scoring 30 goals. The team can always address depth at the deadline, but this team is deep and will be at the top of the division. The biggest threat is the Edmonton Oilers, and with the Vegas Golden Knights losing Robin Lehner for the year, the Battle of Alberta is superior in the division.