Calgary Flames 2022-23 Season Preview

The Flames have to be the unanimous winner of the “Team of the Offseason” award. Faced with the impending doom of Johnny Gaudreau leaving in free agency and Matthew Tkachuk wanting out, Calgary was able to replace both of them. Nazem Kadri and Jonathan Huberdeau may not be as good as Gaudreau and Tkachuk, especially at their age, but they still make the Flames a contender. They also upgraded their defense, making their starting six one of the best in the game.

Offseason additions: F Jonathan Huberdeau, F Nazem Kadri, D MacKenzie Weegar, F Kevin Rooney.

Offseason subtractions: F Johnny Gaudreau, F Matthew Tkachuk, F Sean Monahan, D Erik Gudbranson, F Brett Ritchie, F Calle Jarnkrok, F Glenn Gawdin, F Ryan Carpenter.

Forwards

With both of his linemates gone, Elias Lindholm will need to be the star of the Flames. He has 261 points in 289 games since coming to Calgary, with his best season being 2021-22. Lindholm scored 42 goals with 82 points in 82 games, reaching the point per game mark for the first time. The Panthers surprisingly traded their all-time point leader in Huberdeau, who led the league with 85 assists last season. He added 30 goals, for 115 points in 80 games. Huberdeau has averaged over a point per game in four consecutive seasons. The big difference between him and his predecessors, besides age, is defense, as well as physicality compared to Tkachuk. Tyler Toffoli had a big shortened season for Montreal in 2020-21 and was one of their best players last year before the Flames traded for him. With Calgary, Toffoli scored 11 goals with 12 assists in 37 games, adding five points in 12 playoff games.

The Flames are not a bad team, but it will be hard to see Kadri match his 2021-22 numbers. The second-line center for the dynamic Avalanche, Kadri scored 28 goals with 87 points in 71 games. On the way to a Stanley Cup win, he scored seven goals with eight assists in 16 games. The team’s breakout star of last season was Andrew Mangiapane, who scored 35 goals with 20 assists. He was also the third-best forward on the team in xGA/60. Another young player who took a big step forward last season was Dillon Dube, scoring 18 goals in his age-23 season. That was all lost when he put up just one assist and no goals during the postseason.

The signing of Kadri will bump Mikael Backlund, the steady number two center in Calgary for years, down to line three. It will also separate him from one of his primary linemates in Mangiapane, and potentially Blake Coleman as well. While receiving Selke votes for the fifth time in his career, Backlund finished with 39 points in 82 games and was fourth among team forwards with a 59.7 xGF%. Only the entire top line had him beat in that category. After achieving third line fame in Tampa Bay, Coleman got nearly $5 million per season with the Flames. Despite playing on the second line, Coleman’s average time on ice was the lowest it had been since 2017-18. He scored 16 goals and 33 points, which were each two more than in 2020-21, but he played in 26 more games. After lighting up the QMJHL, Jakob Pelletier went to the AHL and had similar results. In 66 games, he scored 27 goals with 35 assists for 62 points. The 2019 first-round pick is now headed to the NHL to fill the hole left by rental Calle Jarnkrok.

The infamous contract of Milan Lucic is entering its final year. As this monumental season starts, Lucic has a role that fits him well as a physical fourth-liner. The foot speed is bad, like it always was, and Lucic doesn’t score anymore, with just 34 over the past four seasons. Of the ten forwards with at least 500 minutes of ice time for the Flames last year, only Lucic and Trevor Lewis had an xGF% under fifty. Lewis, a two-time champion who has spent his entire 14-year career in the Western Conference, had 16 points in 80 games last year. His 176 hits was his most since 2014-15. After a deep playoff run with the Rangers, Calgary signed center Kevin Rooney to a two-year deal. While the Rangers had success, their bottom-six was not a reason why. Rooney had a 39.75 xGF% with 12 points in 61 games. Luckily, Igor Shesterkin exists, and Rooney had an on-ice save percentage of .947 at five-on-five. On the plus side, he was one of New York’s most effective penalty killers. Slovakian center Adam Ruzicka scored five goals with five assists in 28 games last year. Thanks to a 103.8 PDO, Ruzicka had a 78.2 goals for percentage.

Defensemen

There are multiple defensive injuries on this Flames team, but none should cause anyone to miss significant time. Despite a major acquisition, the Flames will likely keep their top pair of Rasmus Andersson and Noah Hanifin together. Both players had an xGF% approaching fifty-seven percent and combined for 84 assists and 98 points. Hanifin’s 48 points were a career-high by 15, from his first season as a Flame. Andersson was one of the few defenders with 50 points last season.

Chris Tanev has been one of the few top-four, pure shutdown defenders for almost a decade. At age 32, he set a new career-high in points with 28. His 22 assists alone would’ve set his record. He also had the best xGA/60 on the team, at 2.09. That of course rubbed off on his main partner, Oliver Kylington, who was second at 2.19. Kylington is much more offensively-minded, scoring nine goals with 31 points while playing in a full season for the first time.

It is definitely weird to see MacKenzie Weegar in a third-pairing role, but he could be if Darryl Sutter sticks with his previous top-four. Weegar was arguably the best defender on the juggernaut that was the Florida Panthers last year before coming over with Huberdeau in the Tkachuk trade. While receiving Norris votes for the second consecutive season, Weegar scored 44 points with 156 blocked shots and 179 hits. He was also fifth in the league in xGF% (minimum 1000 TOI). Weegar could be partnered with Nikita Zadorov, who is arguably the ideal third-pairing defender. While he does not contribute offensively, Zadorov is big, physical, and effective in his own zone. Despite that, he was used the fifth most among Flame defenders on the penalty kill.

Former first-rounder Juuso Valimaki was consistently on the AHL shuttle last year, and only got into nine NHL games. He added 18 points in 35 games for the Stockton Heat. It looks like 2022-23 could be the year that Valimaki stays with the big club, albeit in a seventh-defender role. Nicolas Meloche is another option. He signed a two-way deal after playing in 50 games for the Sharks last season.

Goaltending

It was a tale of two seasons for Jacob Markstrom in 2021-22. He was one of the league’s best goalies in the regular season, with a 2.22 GAA and a .922 save percentage. He was also sixth in the league in goals saved above expected. But in the playoffs, Markstrom was not good, with a negative goals saved above expected, and a .901 save percentage. His backup, Dan Vladar, was a rookie and put up fine numbers. He had a .906 save percentage and a 2.75 GAA, with a GSAA near zero.

Projected Lines

Jonathan Huberdeau – Elias Lindholm – Tyler Toffoli

Dillon Dube – Nazem Kadri – Andrew Mangiapane

Jakob Pelletier – Mikael Backlund – Blake Coleman

Milan Lucic – Kevin Rooney – Trevor Lewis

Scratched: Adam Ruzicka

Noah Hanifin – Rasmus Andersson

Oliver Kylington – Chris Tanev

Nikita Zadorov – MacKenzie Weegar

Scratched: Juuso Valimaki, Nicolas Meloche

Jacob Markstrom

Dan Vladar

Published by carterhud

Carterhud.com. SI Kids Kid Reporter, Prime Time Sports Talk writer

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