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The Flames Have Turned Heartbreak Into a Shot at Contention

With the signing of Nazem Kadri, the Calgary Flames took what looked to be a devastating offseason and turned it into a chance to become a contender.
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Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk are no longer Calgary Flames, with each player voluntarily choosing to leave the organization that drafted and developed them mere months after a division-winning season. 

Those events should have been crippling. Watching a franchise lose its two central pillars within weeks of each other -- one leaving roughly $16 million on the table to sign in Columbus of all places while the other publicly renounced his commitment to the organization on the whole -- would typically act as a blow from which few could ever recover. 

Not the Calgary Flames, though. And not Brad Treliving. 

No one would have blamed Treliving if he licked his wounds and ran. It's what most GMs in the NHL, as conservative a league as you'll ever find, would have done in his shoes. Frankly, if the Flames simply spent the rest of the summer selling every established asset they had to the highest bidder in order to kickstart a rebuild, everyone would have understood. 

But that clearly didn't sit right with Treliving. 

Instead of retreating, the Flames turned their heartbreak into a fresh start, pulling leverage out of thin air in the Tkachuk trade by somehow prying both Jonathan Huberdeau and Mackenzie Weegar from the Panthers' grasp in addition to a first-round pick and prospect, all before signing the former to a massive eight-year extension. 

After the two most important players in the franchise's modern era turned their noses up at Calgary as a long-term destination nearly in tandem, Treliving managed to convince one of the NHL's best players to dedicate his entire remaining prime to the Flames before even playing a game in red and yellow. 

That on its own would have been impressive enough, but Treliving had one more blockbuster up his sleeve, with today's signing of Nazem Kadri to a seven-year, $49 million contract serving as the crown jewel of Calgary's remarkable offseason. 

Acquiring stars via trade is one thing -- the Flames were among a select few teams at the time with enough cap space to bring Huberdeau and Weegar on board all at once, and still had to convince Huberdeau to extend with them after getting him in the building. Neither player had any say on the matter. Landing the big fish in free agency, however, is a whole different ballgame. And Kadri is undoubtedly the big fish, make no mistake. This is the best player available -- a Stanley Cup champion in the middle of his prime coming off the best season of his career with the entire hockey world at his fingertips. 

Kadri could have signed anywhere he wanted. He chose Calgary, pinpointing the Flames as the organization with which he intends to spend the next seven years of his career, which could very well end up being his last in the NHL. 

From an optics standpoint alone, this is a home run. From an on-ice perspective, Kadri cements the Flames as a legitimate contender in the Western Conference, providing the club with enviable depth at all position groups while also adding a two-way element to the top-six that, frankly, Huberdeau can't. 

There are risks with a deal of this length, of course. Kadri will turn 32 before the regular season kicks off and just scored well above his career average while being surrounded by the deepest roster in hockey. He'll be weeks away from his 39th birthday when this deal expires and could have used an outlier campaign to sign a contract he isn't worth. Worse players have done the same. 

The numbers, however, don't project it that way. 

No matter where you look, it appears as if Kadri simply played some extremely good hockey in 2021-22 which naturally resulted in better production. 

Kadri's shooting percentage was almost exactly aligned with his career average last season, while his 53.88 percent expected goal share and 55.29 percent share of the available scoring chances at even-strength project the image of a player who tilts the ice overwhelmingly in his own team's favor during the game's most challenging moments. 

Not to mention, Kadri did not, in fact, spend the bulk of his time with the Avalanche's superstars last season, either. His most common linemates in 2021-22 were Valeri Nichushkin and Andre Burakovsky, two very talented players in their own right but not nearly on the level of Nathan MacKinnon or Mikko Rantanen. 

So, to recap, Kadri didn't experience an unexpected bump in shooting luck, positively impacted the play at even-strength across the board, and did so while not being propped up by superstar linemates. 

It's entirely possible that Kadri just had a good year on his own volition. And if that's the case, the Flames have the means to put him in what will arguably be an even better position to succeed next season, lining Kadri up between any of Huberdeau, Elias Lindholm, Tyler Toffoli, Andrew Mangiapane, or Blake Coleman. 

For a team that looked ready to fold back in early July, the Flames have miraculously rebuilt themselves into a contender for the immediate future, rebuilding their image as a destination for elite talent. 

What a summer for Brad Treliving. 

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