This is the newest file in THN.com’s “Three Burning Questions” feature – an NHL-team-by-team analysis of big questions heading into the start of the 2022-23 regular season. In this file, we’re identifying Three Burning Questions for the Calgary Flames:
THREE BURNING QUESTIONS FOR THE FLAMES IN 2022-23:
1. Will Jonathan Huberdeau and Nazem Kadri Make Flames fans forget about the departures of Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk? It’s been a remarkable off-season for the Flames and their fans –a true roller-coaster ride, and a roster reshape that dramatically changes the face of the franchise. Chief among that change are the departures of former cornerstone forwards Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk via free agency and a trade to Florida respectively.
Most teams would be completely devastated by losing their top two forwards, but Flames GM Brad Treliving immediately moved to replace them: they signed former Avalanche/Leafs center Nazem Kadri, and traded Tkachuk to Florida in exchange for star winger Jonathan Huberdeau. On paper, Kadri replaces the edge Tkachuk brought to the game, and Huberdeau should generate as many, or more points than Gaudreau will for his new Columbus Blue Jackets team.
Flames fans who were embittered by Gaudreau choosing to leave Calgary and Tkachuk happily getting out of Alberta can be reassured by Treliving's moves this summer. The Pacific Division will be much improved, but the Flames can contend for the first place spot that they earned last year. If they do, and they go on a deep playoff run, Flames fans won’t give a tinker’s damn what Tkachuk and Gaudreau are doing.
2. Will the injury bug waylay the Flames’ best intentions? Last season, the Flames were one of the luckiest teams as far as injuries go. Ten Flames forwards played at least 71 games last year; eight of them played at least 80 games; and four of their top seven D-men played at least 80 games. That’s a relatively low injury absence rate, but the law of averages should frighten Flames fans.
Eventually, the injury bug chomps into every franchise – and it’s already began in Calgary: top-four defenseman Chris Tanev won’t be available to start the season, and could miss a couple more months as he recovers from a torn labrum. Fortunately for the Flames, Treliving addressed his defense by acquiring veteran MacKenzie Weegar in the Huberdeau/Tkachuk deal. Weegar averaged 23:22 per game last season - more than any current Flames D-man – and although he’s not a superstar, Weegar makes Calgary’s defense corps much better. But they’ll all be hoping the Flames’ injury tally is just as small this year as it was last year,
3. Which Jacob Markstrom are we going to see this season? In the beginning of his time in Calgary last season, Markstrom was superb: in three of his first six games, Markstrom shut out his opponents. He would eventually post nine shutouts in the season – the most of any NHL goalie – and he was a workhorse, appearing in 63 games with a 2.22 Goals-Against Average and ,922 Save Percentage. After a constant carousel of netminders over the years, Flames fans were absolutely elated by the play of Markstrom.
Unfortunately for them, the 32-year-old Markstrom ran out of gas in the second round of the playoffs last spring. In a series against Calgary’s arch-rivals in Edmonton, Markstrom fell apart: he failed to post a SP better than .882 in any of the five games, and he allowed a whopping 29 goals in that span.. In addition, in not one of the games against the Flames was Markstrom’s G.A.A. lower than 4.04. Simply unacceptable numbers.
It’s unfair to pin all of Calgary’s playoff disappointment last year on Markstrom, but it’s also not right to absolve him of his disastrous showing against the Oilers. Simply put, Markstrom must be better, or the Flames will have an early exit in the playoffs yet again.