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What Your Team Is Thankful For: Calgary Flames

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What Your Team Is Thankful For: Calgary Flames


As Thanksgiving and the holiday season approaches, PHR will be taking a look at what teams are thankful for in 2022-23. There also might be a few things your team would like down the road. We’ll examine what’s gone well in the early going and what could improve as the season rolls on for the Calgary Flames. 

Who are the Flames thankful for?

Brad Treliving.

The Flames general manager is in his ninth season at the helm in Calgary, and before last season there were some who believed his seat was getting warm after a few difficult years.

Treliving’s choice to bring Darryl Sutter back to Alberta was a bold one, but it’s so far worked out extremely well as the bench boss recently won the Jack Adams Trophy. But the choice to hire Sutter isn’t why Flames fans are feeling thankful for Treliving this holiday season, it’s the moves he was able to make this past summer.

Early last summer, Treliving was put in an impossible situation. Two of his team’s most important players, Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk, had decided that they did not see a long-term future in Calgary. So despite the fact that he had a mandate to provide Sutter with a competitive roster, he now had to deal with the impending departures of his two most important wingers.

With Tkachuk, Treliving was able to pry a major trade package from the Florida Panthers, netting superstar winger Jonathan Huberdeau, quality all-around defenseman Mackenzie Weegar, a 2025 first-round pick, and prospect forward Cole Schwindt. Additionally, he was able to lock both Huberdeau and Weegar into long-term, market-rate contract extensions. Through the Tkachuk trade, Treliving had acquired two impact players who would be around long-term.USATSI_19428250-200x300.jpg

But he wasn’t done there. With the cap space saved through Gaudreau’s departure, Treliving signed center Nazem Kadri to a major contract.

While some worried that buying high on Kadri (who scored 87 points last season, far beyond his previous career-high of 61) would be a major miscalculation, Kadri has been worth his $7MM salary so far this season, as he has posted 15 points in 17 games.

Looking at the bigger picture beyond just the acquisitions of Kadri, Huberdeau, and Weegar, though, the Flames should be thankful for Treliving because of how he restored optimism to a beleaguered Calgary fanbase.

He was dealt an incredibly poor hand last summer and made the very most of it. While the Flames still have work to do this year to become a true Stanley Cup contender, Treliving is certainly someone for Calgary to be thankful for.

What are the Flames thankful for?

The Western Conference.

While the Flames haven’t gotten off to the best start, they remain just two points out from the Western Conference’s top Wild Card spot, with just one team (the St. Louis Blues) ahead of them on tiebreakers.

If the Flames were in the Eastern Conference, though, their 18 points would put three teams ahead of them in the chase for the second wild-card spot. If there’s one thing the Flames can be thankful for this season, it’s the fact that the West, at the moment, looks like the weaker of the NHL’s two conferences.

A lot of the difference between the Eastern Conference and Western Conference has to do with philosophy. There are quite a few teams in the West who fully expect to remain near the bottom of the standings for the duration of this season. The Arizona Coyotes, Chicago Blackhawks, and Anaheim Ducks are all more focused on their future than their present.

The Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks may have each intended on being a contender this season, but they have each begun their season quite poorly and will need to improve significantly to be competitive.

Even one of the teams currently occupying one of the Western Conference’s playoff spots, the Seattle Kraken, looks to be a Martin Jones injury or decline in form away from a drop in the standings.

If the Flames were in the Eastern Conference, their path to a playoff spot would likely look a lot more treacherous. The NHL is a league of parity and they’ll still need to improve in order to get there, of course, but at the moment their path to the postseason looks more comfortable than the daunting journey some Eastern Conference clubs are currently staring down. That’s definitely something for Calgary to be thankful for.

What would the Flames be even more thankful for?

Chemistry between Jonathan Huberdeau and the Flames’ other star forwards.

Jonathan Huberdeau hasn’t been bad so far this season, but his eight points of production in 14 games is a 47-point scoring pace, a far, far cry from the 115 points he scored last year. So far, Huberdeau has struggled to find a fit on a Flames line, and the first-line left-winger spot next to Elias Lindholm is currently being occupied by a red-hot Adam Ruzicka, rather than Huberdeau.

For Huberdeau to be able to reach the heights he hit as a Panther, he’ll need to find a way to gel with one of the Flames’ top two centers, Lindholm or Kadri.

He’s locked up until the summer of 2031, of course, so he has some time to find the right fit, but if the Flames want to really get going this season they’ll need to find the right landing spot for their superstar winger.

There’s no reason to be overly worried at this point, Huberdeau’s talent didn’t simply evaporate on the journey from Florida to Alberta. But if Huberdeau could find a way to click with Kadri or Lindholm and cement his place on one of the top two lines, that would give the Flames even more to be thankful for this holiday season.

What should be on the Flames’ holiday wish list?

Improved goaltending.

The Flames have given up 58 goals this season, which is around the NHL average at this point in the season. That’s not a major issue on its own, but for a Flames club that prides itself in defensive responsibility and being tough to score against, it’s a figure that needs to be improved.

Despite the absence of Oliver Kylington, a lack of defensive talent isn’t to blame for the goals they’ve let in. The Flames still have a top-four on defense that includes Weegar, Noah Hanifin, Rasmus Andersson, and Nikita Zadorov.

There are few teams that can boast a more talented set of top-four defensemen.

No, the main issue for the Flames has been their lackluster goaltending. Starting netminder Jacob Markstrom was a Vezina Trophy contender last season, as he posted a .922 save percentage in 63 games. This year, he has an .887 in 14 games.

Daniel Vladar, the team’s backup, is in a similar situation. After posting a .906 save percentage last year, Vladar has just a .881 this year, a significant decline.

While the fact that both goalies have seen their save percentages decline suggests there is more at play than simply lackluster performance in net, the reality is the Flames’ goalie tandem has to be better.

Sutter has the Flames play a specific style of hockey, and the success of his system relies on their goaltending often being the final nail in the opposing team’s coffin. There were nights last season when Markstrom looked unbeatable. This year, those nights have been few and far between.

The success of the Flames’ goalies is integral to their team identity, so getting improved performance from each netminder should be the top item on the Flames’ wish list this winter.

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