The potential impact of youth and mood on the 2023/24 Calgary Flames

CALGARY, CANADA - APRIL 12: Dustin Wolf #32 of the Calgary Flames celebrates with Jakob Pelletier #49 of the Calgary Flames and other teammates after their win against the San Jose Sharks at the Scotiabank Saddledome on April 12, 2023, in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Leah Hennel/Getty Images)
CALGARY, CANADA - APRIL 12: Dustin Wolf #32 of the Calgary Flames celebrates with Jakob Pelletier #49 of the Calgary Flames and other teammates after their win against the San Jose Sharks at the Scotiabank Saddledome on April 12, 2023, in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Leah Hennel/Getty Images) /

This article is focused on key attributes of the 2023/24 Calgary Flames – youth, mood, and energy – as part of the Calgary Flames 2023/24 Season Preview.

As documented in our recent long-form article, The Darryl Sutter effect: Assessing the aftermath on the Calgary Flames, the Flames’ most recent former head coach deserves praise for his contributions to the organization during both of his stints as the club’s bench boss, but he was also the primary catalyst for a lack of youth in the Calgary Flames lineup, a dark cloud that handcuffed his players, and a resulting glaringly visible absence of energy – especially in critical moments of games.

This piece will take a look at why the current iteration of the Calgary Flames has the toolkit to produce better results with the following formula: youth x mood = energy. As is the theme with the season preview series, this formula is one component that could contribute to a Stanley Cup Playoffs berth for the Flames come springtime.

If the Flames are able to inject younger players into the roster and pair that with an elevated mood among staff and players at practices, games, and on the road, the result will be higher energy output on the ice when the points matter, and therefore, a better shot at making the playoffs. Of course, this is a simplified formula; youth can impact mood and vice versa.

Why the youth movement can and will be better

Even before training camp began, GM Craig Conroy made it clear that players from within the Flames organization would be prioritized over players brought in on PTOs for opportunities to fill vacancies in the lineup left behind by veterans like Tyler Toffoli, Milan Lucic, and Trevor Lewis.

Conroy and head coach Ryan Huska have proven their commitment to that action plan. Eight players have skated in five preseason games (the most of any Flames players). Four of those players are young prospects looking to earn roster spots on opening night: Cole Schwindt (22 years old), Adam Ruzicka (24), Ilya Solovyov (23), and Matthew Coronato (20). Additionally, Adam Klapka (23), Samuel Honzek (18), Connor Zary (22), Walker Duehr (25), and Martin Pospisil (23) were given ample time to impress the Flames’ roster decision-makers, each playing in four preseason games.

Of those players, Ruzicka, Duehr, and Coronato have likely solidified their roster spots, while camp has come to end for Honzek, Zary, and Pospisil. Remaining with the Flames (at least for now) are also Schwindt, Solovyov, Hunt, and Klapka.

Regardless of who fills the final forward spot, the Flames will be replacing Toffoli (31 years old), Lucic (35), and Lewis (36) with significantly younger players. And when Jakob Pelletier returns from injury, the 22-year-old will likely be given the opportunity to jump into the Flames’ lineup.

Youth has the ability to inject a professional sports team’s locker room with excitement, passion, and joy for the game — all elements that were vacuumed from the Calgary Flames last season.

The presence of youth will give veteran players opportunities to mentor and set positive examples for. Sometimes, motivation is best found when you’re doing something for someone else and not for yourself.

Knowing there’s a stable of younger players ready to come into the lineup, who the GM may call up and the coach may actually insert into the lineup is extra motivation as well.

It’s clear we’ll see a younger Flames team this season; there’s no questioning the youth movement in Calgary.

Note: Mention of Flames’ goaltending prospect Dustin Wolf was intentionally omitted from this article. The young goalie’s situation will be discussed in the goaltending component of the Calgary Flames 2023/24 Season Preview.

Why the mood can and will be better

Ask anyone around the Flames organization and they’ll tell you something feels different in the Saddledome this year. We’ve heard it from Frank Saravalli, Pat Steinberg, and others in the media, as well as from management, coaches, and players. There’s a buzz, there’s an underdog mentality, and there’s fun being had.

With Darryl Sutter out and Ryan Huska in, a heap of negativity has been replaced with a refreshing sense of contemporary optimism. The drive to be better every day hasn’t disappeared, but the pathway to achieving it seems to look a little different.

Huska has emphasized that following poor game performances, he won’t shy away from sharing critical feedback in key learning moments with his players, but at the same time, Calgary’s new head coach won’t drag those moments out for days and weeks. The coaching philosophy is not to suffocate players to the point they despise coming to the rink but to learn from mistakes and recognize positive impacts players have on the game.

Beyond anecdotal records of a refreshed “buzz” around the group, we can point to tangible actions the club has taken to improve the mood:

  • The players asked for a captain. Management and coaching staff gave them a captain.
  • Mikael Backlund, in addition to being named said captain, signed a contract extension – something that seemed highly unlikely following his exit interview last spring.
  • Minor improvements were made to the locker room and facility.
  • Creative offence is a key component of Savard’s power play and forward tactics, a surefire way to satisfy players who aren’t strictly “lunch pail and work boots” guys.

So, what might the output of this elevated mood and younger roster mean for the Flames?

The result of improved youth and mood: energy

While it’s great that kids are getting chances and everyone is smiling, it doesn’t mean a thing – especially to us as fans – unless we see a difference on the ice and in the standings.

If the output is higher energy hockey than we’ve seen of late, how will that be characterized this season?

Expect more skating speed in key areas, notably in transition through the neutral zone, and on the forechecks and backcheck. We’ll also see amplified puck movement speed – in the offensive zone and on the power play.

We’ll see more tenacity in puck battles – in the corners, around the goalmouth, and along the wall. Too often, players gave up in those moments last season; the hope is that better energy means more desire to come out of the muck with puck possession.

Players will shoot the puck with greater intention to score. Last season was about volume, volume, volume. I expect this season to be about finding the back of the net. That might sound ridiculous, but the mental aspect of shooting is massive – you can clap a puck towards the net or you can shoot to score.

Overall, in order to make the playoffs, the Flames will need to be better on the power play, improve their shooting percentage, win more one-goal/overtime/shootout games, find consistent scoring from top offensive players, and get the saves they need from their goalies when they need them (like on the first shot).

If improved youth and mood produce energy, all of those areas should benefit. It might just be the difference between a wildcard spot and another disappointing season in Calgary.

Next. Calgary Flames 2023/24 Season Preview. dark