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Calgary Flames Have Important Off-Season Questions Ahead

The Battle of Alberta didn't end as the Calgary Flames hoped. And now, with that bitter sting fresh in their system, the Flames have major decisions to make in the off-season.
Johhny Gaudreau

As the Calgary Flames examine what went wrong in their second-round playoff exit at the hands of their arch-rivals in Edmonton, one thing was abundantly clear: their defense let them down. 

Calgary was able to squeak by the offense-challenged Dallas Stars in the first round, but against the leviathan Connor McDavid and the high-octane Oilers, they were outmuscled and out-willed.

Some of that is on Flames goalie Jacob Markstrom, who allowed a whopping 25 goals to Edmonton in their five-game series victory. But it was just as much on the defense in front of Markstrom that was the issue. And it wasn’t as if defense was the problem for Calgary during the regular season. They were the NHL’s third-best defensive unit through 82 games, posting a goals-allowed average of only 2.51 in that span. Head coach Darryl Sutter gave his group discipline and structure, but that all fell apart once the post-season’s second round began.

Heck, the Flames looked good in their own zone against the Stars, surrendering just four goals in their four first-round wins over Dallas. But right from the beginning of the Battle of Alberta, something was off. Even in their Game One win over Edmonton, they gave up six goals. They looked nothing like the Calgary team that shut out their opponents 11 times this year – nearly 15 percent of the regular-season. And their offense could not bail them out as they did in Game 1.

And now, with that bitter sting fresh in their system, the Flames have major decisions to make in the off-season. As per CapFriendly.com, Calgary GM Brad Treliving has approximately $26.9 million in cap space, but they have only 12 players signed for the 2022-23 campaign, and star forwards Matthew Tkachuk and Andrew Mangiapane (both restricted free agents) and Johnny Gaudreau (an unrestricted free agent) need new contracts that will eat up a large chunk of that space. In addition, only four of their defensemen are signed through next year.

But even if all of their players were under contract, do the Flames really want to come back with a virtually-identical lineup? Yes, they won the Pacific Division rather handily, and it’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which they fail to make the playoffs again next spring. But it’s safe to assume Edmonton will be better than they were this year. It’s also safe to say the Vancouver Canucks will be a more consistently better team than they were this season. And the L.A. Kings, Anaheim Ducks and Vegas Golden Knights likely won’t be notably worse than they were this year. It’s going to be a tighter race in the Pacific, and there’s no assurance the Flames will be as dominant as they were before the second round started.

So, if you’re Treliving, what do you do? It would be a public relations nightmare to let Gaudreau leave via free agency. He also doesn’t want to get into a nasty contract negotiation with Tkachuk. But something has to change. They can’t go into next season trying to maintain the status quo.

That may well mean Treliving has to be active on the trade market. That may mean sacrificing some of Caglary’s offensive depth. But Flames fans expect at least as good a season as they had this year, and they’re going to be challenged to do that if they don’t make some alterations.

They don’t necessarily have to plan to be the team that can beat the Oilers next year – remember, Edmonton nearly got ousted by the Kings in the first round – but they do have to be better-prepared to be an improved defensive team than they showed themselves to be when the games truly counted.

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