Well, the dawn of the Flames season is just around the corner (like less than 24 hours) and we’re wondering what to expect from this group in 2022-23? To get to that we need to look at what the Flames roster looks like now, what was added, what was jettisoned and in the end, ask ourselves are the Flames better now than 365 days ago? So, let’s get to it.
|Jonathan Huberdeau||Elias Lindholm|
|Mikael Backlund||Dillon Dube|
|Milan Lucic||Adam Ruzicka|
|Blake Coleman||Tyler Toffoli|
|Kevin Rooney||Andrew Mangiapane|
|Trevor Lewis||Nazem Kadri|
|Connor Mackey||Nicolas Meloche|
|Rasmus Andersson||Noah Hanifin|
|Chris Tanev||Oliver Kylington|
|Nikita Zadorov||Michael Stone|
Players Gained: Jonathan Huberdeau, MacKenzie Weegar, Nazem Kadri, Kevin Rooney, Nicolas Meloche
Players Lost: Johnny Gaudreau (Columbus), Matthew Tkachuk (Florida), Sean Monahan (Montreal), Erik Gudbranson (Columbus), Calle Jarnkrok (Toronto)
Now that you’ve had time to digest all that, let’s look at it a bit. On the surface it looks like what the Flames lost is very significant. Anytime a team loses players like Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk, you have to scratch your head for a bit and think that’s a lot of production going out the door. Add in what Sean Monahan used to be and on paper that’s big “L.” But is it really? Gaudreau and Tkachuk were each off the charts last season. Johnny Gaudreau had the season of his like collecting 115 points in 82 games. Matthew Tkachuk was similar, piling up a career high 104 points in 82 games as well. As for Monahan, he’s been a mess the last few seasons due to injuries and only played in 65 games in 2021-22 (23 points). Those three players were part of the nucleus that was supposed to take the Flames to the promise land. They were the “core.” Well, that core never took the Flames anywhere and last year was the bright light that shined on their post season failures. With all their regular season success, having the franchise goalie, the coach, everything, they went nowhere. Calgary barely survived the Dallas Stars and were made to look like fools in their five game series against Edmonton. In the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs Gaudreau and Tkachuk combined for 24 points in 12 games (Gaudreau had 14). That’s not terrible, but they weren’t enough to carry the Flames (which it’s their job to do). Monahan never played in the post season last year due to injury, so he’s someone you can’t fault.
What I’m getting at is the Flames milked all they could out of that group and even though they tried to hold on to them, in the end it was time to move on. You can only keep going to battle with the same players, expecting a different result and getting the same thing at the end of the day. And they weren’t the only one’s who were missing in the playoffs as well. Elias Lindholm, Blake Coleman and Tyler Toffoli weren’t at their best either. You’d have to wonder what that group would have done with more veteran leaders in the room like, oh I don’t know, Huberdeau and Kadri? Well you can wonder no more because they are now in the mix and bring leadership and playoff and championship (Kadri) experience.
As for the rest of the group that left it’s “meh.” Erik Gudbranson was a revelation last season, having a career year and he was going to get paid and the Flames didn’t have the budget for him. I applaud him for getting a good deal and hopefully he continues that upward trend, but I’d be shocked if he had another season like last year. Jarnkrok? See ya. He didn’t do anything in his time with the Flames so his departure can be filled with anyone who can do anything.
Now, for the additions. Sure, it’s hard to replace 219 points between two players, but Jonathan Huberdeau and Nazem Kadri are no slouches. Huberdeau had the same 115 points that Johnny Gaudreau had last season and Nazem Kadri had 87 points in 71 games in Colorado on his way to a Stanley Cup. As for MacKenzie Weegar, he had a career year with 44 points in 80 games, which would have been good for third best on the Flames amongst defencemen. As you can see, while the Flames lost some stats and players, they got solid parts to replace what left.
What, potentially, this new group maybe lack in glitz and glam, they make up for in experience where it counts: the playoffs. Time will tell if this new group can take the Flames further than the old guard, but there’s plenty of that time. All three of Calgary’s newest additions are locked up long term, along with some of the Flames best players (Lindholm, Markstrom, Hanifin, Mangiapane), so there’s a good window to see what this group can do. To add to this mix, Calgary just extended Darryl Sutter as well, so all the pieces are there, but it’s not an easy run for Calgary. The team up the road has the best player in the league in Connor McDavid and another of the best in Leon Draisiatl and don’t for a minute think they aren’t hungrier after dispatching the Flames rather easily in the playoffs. Vegas will now be getting full season of a (presumably) healthy Jack Eichel. And there’s always that buzzsaw that is the Stanley Cup Champion Colorado Avalanche.
The original question: are the Flames a better team now than they were 365 days ago? Gun to my head.....I say yes. There’s more of a veteran feel to this group and they are hungry and they want to be in Calgary. That’s the key. None of these players are looking to the horizon at impending free agency or looking for new digs. This is a group that is locked in and only has Calgary on their minds. You might laugh at that or scoff, but that’s a huge deal. Not looking ahead to off ice issues or having possible off ice issues will allow this group to just focus on the goal at hand: winning the Stanley Cup.
Not everything is puppy dogs and unicorns. The Flames bottom six needs some work and they could surely use another impact forward. Putting Milan Lucic, Kevin Rooney and Brett Ritchie on the ice isn’t going to strike fear into many teams, but if they can just do what is asked of them by Darryl Sutter it might not be as bad as many of you think. Everyone (expect me) did that last season with the Erik Gudbranson and Nikita Zadorov pairing. I told you it would be fine (remember that???) and it was. Just take a deep breath and know that every line or pairing can’t be filled with All Stars. That’s not how it works. The Flames have depth, so everything should be fine....roster wise.
It’s a long road to lifting the Stanley Cup over your head and that road begins tonight at the Saddledome. The Flames might not look as electrifying at times as they did last year. Maybe they don’t score as many goals as last season. Maybe there aren’t as many highlight reel goals (though I am happy not watch 200 between the legs shots for no reason this year). But what matters most is how far you play in the summer and this group will hopefully take the Flames further than the group before did. One step at a time, but I feel this Flames team will be better than last season and if they aren’t, I’ll come back here, quote this article and eat crow. But I’m not going to have to. The 2022-23 Calgary Flames are a better team than the 2021-22 Calgary Flames. There, I said it. Now go back it up Flames, I don’t want to be wrong.