Have the Calgary Flames improved their roster in the 2022 offseason? With their most recent additions, it’s easy to see and see that they’ve strengthened their roster all the way to the Stanley Cup. However, just over a month ago, this list lost Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk. Were the recent moves enough to improve the team, were they lateral changes or did the Flames actually get worse? We asked, you answered.
A new composition of the Flames
To say the Flames will enter the 2022-23 season looking different is a huge understatement. No other team in recent years has gone through as many top talent changes as the Flames in a single offseason. If we even go back to the previous season, the era of Marc Giordano because their captain feels like an eternity ago.
Now the Flames are introducing all-new stars to their club, headlining Jonathan Huberdeau. Of course there is also Nazem Kadri and MacKenzie Weegar. On top of that, there’s a greater likelihood of fresh AHL graduates entering the fray this season.
So, all things considered, how could the new-look Flames compare to last season’s Pacific Division winners?
The best the Flames have watched in years
Most people consider the Flames an even better team than they were last season. The general discussion of how it works is that adding Huberdeau and Kadri up front could be seen as slightly worse than Gaudreau and Tkachuk, while adding Weegar is a definite upgrade.
Options in attack
The entire Flames forward squad will be different, but it will definitely be improved if Mikael Backlund is the third line centre. While they can certainly still add to their forwards – read: a right-handed right winger – the fact is there is flexibility in their lineup that will really help them.
For instance, André Mangiapane is a bonafide top-six option – his days as a mid-six player are long gone. He’s going to have big minutes, and if the situation forces him to be on a closed line with Backlund and Blake Coleman, then he can play this role perfectly. Otherwise, he will be an attacking powerhouse, whether he plays alongside Lindholm or Kadri as a centre-back.
A new perspective in town
Also, chances are Jakob Pelletier will be in the roster and he brings a huge element of toughness to his line. Relying on a prospect with an upper limit in 2022-23 as a mid-six-at-best option won’t save a team’s roster. However, that’s not what the Flames need or want from Pelletier. The Flames already have a competitive roster. Graduating Pelletier in the NHL will only make them even better.
Huberdeau is the x factor
And of course, the biggest improvement is how Huberdeau compares to Gaudreau. Most viewed Huberdeau as a replacement for Gaudreau as the Flames might have been. While their playstyles are definitely different, they fulfill very similar roles as a go-to playmaker.
Huberdeau accumulates more assists while Gaudreau has a better scoring touch. However, Huberdeau may have a 40-goal scorer at Mangiapane and a true 40-goal scorer at Lindholm. Is it too optimistic to say that Mangiapane could score 40 goals this season? Of course, we can temper our expectations. But it’s pretty clear that Huberdeau has plenty of opportunities to pass to his scoring teammates.
Further on, there is also the size of Huberdeau. A frequent – and in my opinion, irrelevant – criticism of Gaudreau was his size and the fact that he is not built for the playoffs. Again, that’s not a fair criticism because it’s scapegoated when things go wrong, but rarely credited when things go right. However, the fact is that this criticism cannot exist for Huberdeau. He is listed at 6’1″ and 201 pounds, making him a non-issue.
The Flames haven’t done enough
The flip side of all this talk is that the Flames won’t be good enough to compete for the Cup. It’s not a team like the Colorado Avalanche or the Tampa Bay Lightning as annual Cup contenders. There’s always an ulterior motive that thinks the Flames might not be good enough to be in the same tier as the two teams above, but again, who are the other teams?
What it takes to be a competitor
Calgary was a heavy favorite for the Cup based on statistical patterns entering the playoffs last season, including MoneyPuck.com. They were one of the best 5v5 teams in terms of generating offense and defensively suppressing their opponents’ offense. While special teams definitely play an important role in the playoffs, the majority of a hockey game is played 5-on-5. The best 5-on-5 team will always be favorites to win a game – and the Flames were often the best team at 5 against 5.
The problem now is that they can replicate their 5v5 success from last season with their new players? Tkachuk was one of the best two-way forwards and Gaudreau was a Hart runner-up who was remarkably good in check under Darryl Sutter.
Huberdeau and Kadri do not replace Gaudreau and Tkachuk
Kadri isn’t a Tkachuk, but he has that pestilential side that the Flames will appreciate. So the x-factor here is whether Huberdeau’s lack of defense comes back to bite them. He is entirely an attacking type of player, which has its merits. The question then becomes whether he fits into the Sutter system. This topic will be a big thing to watch for this coming season.
Few expected Gaudreau to check as well as he did last season, and that was clearly the result of Sutter’s system. I would expect Huberdeau to not show quite the same improvement in defensive metrics as Gaudreau, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Huberdeau picks up some defensive skills in the coming season – Sutter will as well.
Give Calgary time to pull through
Either way, whether the Flames are better or worse, only time will tell. It may take some time for the Flames to gel with new teammates. After all, they have to work out their new combinations and line pairings. There will likely be a lot of experimentation that will carry over into the regular season.
The Flames had the advantage of seeing Gaudreau, Lindholm and Tkachuk play together during the end of the shortened 2020-21 season. Although they weren’t mathematically eliminated, those games didn’t matter and it was the first glimpse the Flames had of their former elite front line.
A new look team
As the new season approaches, they will only have one more training camp to tinker with, arguably, a lot more suits than last season. There’s simply no way the Flames can truly determine what lineup is optimal with so much turnover in their roster and so little time before games start to matter.
So if we take out line suits and defensive pairs and look at the list as a whole, it’s pretty clear how different things are. Prior to the start of training camp last season, the Flames seemed to be in worse shape. Expectations for the team were next to zero after their free agent acquisitions. Most had viewed the Flames as destined for another season as a bubble team with no certainty of making the playoffs.
This season, expectations are much higher, with Calgary being tagged as a contender. Now we’ll have to see if they can live up to it.
What do you think of the Flames roster? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter @wincolumnCGY.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire