Better luck next year: The Calgary Flames had a strong plan B until it went up in smoke
The weirdest team in the NHL this season.
Welcome to Better Luck Next Season. As each NHL team gets eliminated from Stanley Cup Playoff contention, and then the Stanley Cup Playoffs, we will take a look at what went wrong, what went right, and what sits ahead for them. The Calgary Flames are the 15th team on our list and nothing went according to plan here.
Of all the disappointing performances across the NHL this season the Calgary Flames have to be at the top of the list, and it has been a ROLLER COASTER over the past year-and-a-half.
The 2021-22 team won 50 games, was the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference, won a playoff series, and one of the best top-lines in the NHL with Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk dominating all year.
They had some depth concerns, but the Tyler Toffoli addition at the deadline helped fix that. Along with a strong defense, a Stanley Cup winning coach and a top-tier goalie they looked like a legit Stanley Cup contender.
Then the offseason happened.
Gaudreau left in free agency to sign a long-term deal in Columbus, and after being unable to work out a contract with Tkachuk as an RFA they traded him to the Florida Panthers for Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar.
Those were big changes, but as far as trades go they seemed to do extremely well in the Tkachuk trade by getting another bonafide star in Huberdeau and an outstanding top-four defenseman to add to an already strong blue line. They even managed to get Huberdeau signed to a massive long-term contract extension.
Add in the free agent signing of Nazem Kadri and this roster still looked very good on paper.
It is never easy replacing two superstars in one offseason, but the Flames at least seemed to make it happen. The roster was different, but it still looked outstanding. Certainly still a playoff team. Maybe even a Stanley Cup contender in a wide open Western Conference.
As it turns out, replacing two superstars in one offseason is hard for a reason. You never know how new faces and new players are going to fit.
What went wrong for the Flames
When asking this question you have to start with the most obvious elephant in the room.
Huberdeau, the focal point of their offseason and now the face of their franchise due to his contract, had a devastatingly brutal season offensively.
At least based on recent performance and expectations.
Prior to joining the Flames, Huberdeau was legitimately one of the top point producers in the NHL. Between 2018-19 and 2021-22 the only players in the league that tallied more points than him were Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Patrick Kane.
He was coming off of a 115-point season in 2021-22 that placed him second in the league’s scoring race. Nobody had more assists than him.
Truly outstanding offensive player, and the Flames paid him like one giving him an eight-year, $80 million contract extension that does not start until this upcoming season.
The Flames were counting on him to provide a significant chunk of the offense that they lost when Gaudreau and Tkachuk left.
He did not even come close to doing that, finishing with just 55 points and only 15 goals over 80 games. It was statistically one of the worst offensive seasons of his career. What made it even more damaging for the Flames is that Huberdeau is the type of player that has to score to bring maximum value to his team. If Tkachuk is not scoring (and he generally is), he is still a fantastic two-way player, possession driver, and cage rattler that will cause all sorts of chaos and havoc on the ice.
Huberdeau is not going to do any of that. His game is offense, offense, and more offense. When the offense is not there, it is a problem.
It was not there in 2022-23, and it was a problem for the Flames.
Kadri also saw a significant regression in his scoring, which should not have been a major shock. Not only was his 2021-22 season a career-year, but he was also going from one of the most skilled and high octane offensive teams in the league to a defensive-minded team coached by one of the most defensive-minded coaches in the league. Add in his age and the Flames never should have expected him to duplicate what he did in Colorado. But should they have expected more than 56 points? In the first year of a seven-year, $49 million contract, probably.
In total, the Flames lost 33 goals as a team this season and went from sixth in the league in goals scored all the way down to 19th. That is tough to overcome.
Especially when one of the other key players on your team — your starting goalie — also has a very down year.
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