Are The 2022-2023 Calgary Flames A Better Team?

Flames

May 26, 2022; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Calgary Flames goaltender Jacob Markstrom (25) and teammates react to the loss to the Edmonton Oilers in game five of the second round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

One of the most significant offseason changes in the NHL has occurred with the Calgary Flames. The core of Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, and Sean Monahan, who had been seen as the team’s core since their arrival in the league, has vanished. The Flames have brought in Jonathan Huberdeau, Mackenzie Weegar, and Nazem Kadri after appearing to be on the verge of a rebuild. The question remains – is this team better than it was in 2021-2022? Let’s go through the roster section by section to see if that’s the case.

Forwards

2021 – 2022                                                                     2022 – 2023

Gaudreau – Lindholm – Tkachuk                                Huberdeau – Lindholm – Mangiapane

Mangiapane – Backlund – Coleman                          Pelletier – Kadri – Toffoli

Dube – Jarnkrok – Toffoli                                              Coleman – Backlund – Dube

Lucic – Lewis – Ritchie                                                   Lucic – Rooney – Lewis

 

As a forward group, I believe it is critical to distinguish that the 2022 – 2023 roster is a much deeper, not a better, roster. Mangiapane should be given a chance on the top line, where he has the potential to shine alongside one of the game’s best passers, Jonathan Huberdeau. The top line will most likely be less dominant than in previous years, but it will still produce elite results. For the time being, Pelletier is on the second line because it has been widely reported that the Flames are actively seeking another top-6 right winger and have been linked to Evan Rodrigues as a possible fit.

Kadri will fit in nicely as a second-line centre, pushing Backlund into a third-line role with Coleman to maintain their two-way dominance. The fourth line will most likely be a dumpster fire, as it was last year. Overall, I believe the 22/23 roster can overcome last year’s depth issues – when the top line was quiet, no other line could fill the void. The offence this year is spread across three different lines. Any opponent will face difficulty effectively shutting down the Flames’ offence.

Defence

2021 – 2022                                                                2022 – 2023

Hanifin – Andersson                                                 Weegar – Andersson

Kylington – Tanev                                                       Hanifin – Tanev

Zadorov – Gudbranson                                             Kylington – Zadorov

What was already a strong blueline group got even stronger with the addition of Mackenzie Weegar in the Matthew Tkachuk trade. Weegar was an underappreciated part of the Florida Panthers’ success as a transition monster who ran their EV transition game. His ability as one of the best defensemen in the game at denying rush chances, which Calgary struggled against in the absence of Chris Tanev, is an important part of his game. This was evident in the Edmonton-Calgary playoff series, where Connor McDavid ran circles around the Calgary defence until Tanev returned (still injured), scoring only three points in the two games Tanev was back.

With Tanev unlikely to start the season with the team due to injuries, Weegar will be an important part of the team’s plans for both transition and defence. As of the time of writing, the Flames had ten defensemen on one-way contracts, including Valimaki, Mackey, Meloche, and Gilbert. One has to expect a trade of some kind, either for a top-6 RW or for draft picks.

Goaltending

Vladar – Markstrom

Calgary’s duo of Markstrom and Vladar returns for the 22-23 season. Markstrom is in the third year of his six-year, six-million-dollar contract and has proven his worth as a starting goalie capable of handling heavy workloads. He completely fell apart against Edmonton after a brilliant series against the Dallas Stars and is one of the main reasons why they lost that series in 5 games, among other factors. It will be interesting to see how he performs this year, especially with an even stronger D-core in front of him. Vladar performed admirably as a backup this year, and I’d like to see him get more starts than the 23 he received last year. At only 25 years old, he’s still in line for a backup role next season, but if he can improve his game, I think he’ll be with the Flames for a long time.

The Verdict

The answer is both yes and no. Losing Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk hurt, both professionally and personally. They were, without a doubt, the team’s two best players.  So the team’s success will now rely on Andrew Mangiapane filling Tkachuk’s shoes. However, as a whole, this team is not just better; it is significantly better. Talent has been effectively pushed down the lineup, resulting in the first truly formidable 1-2 punch down the middle in memory. Instead of just one or two lines, the Flames now have three lines, each with a scoring threat. Defensively, the same core returns, but with Weegar instead of Gudbranson, elevating the team from good to elite. They are the best in the league for a reason, according to TSN’s Travis Yost, and they will be a formidable force in front of an already excellent starting goalie in Jacob Markstrom. This team is poised for success, and I fully expect them to contend for a second consecutive division title.