The Calgary Flames had high hopes heading into the season after making big changes to their team. They’ve started out with a record of 5-4-1 through the first 10 games of the season and there have been some surprises, good and bad, from the players thus far. Let’s dive in to see why some players have outperformed expectations and why others have failed to.
The Flames’ best player early this season has been Nazem Kadri which is a good sign there hasn’t been any signs of regression from last season. That was a big concern when the team signed him, but he was the best available option to add to their forward group. After 87 points in 71 games for the Colorado Avalanche last season playing alongside some of the league’s best scorers, the 32-year-old centre has started the season with six goals and 11 points in 10 games.
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Kadri’s impact extends just beyond goals and points. He’s logged the second-most minutes among forwards and the most minutes on the man advantage on the entire team. He’s tied for the team lead in power-play goals and leads the team in power-play points as well. As for points contributed to the standings, his efforts have gotten him a 1.2 offensive point share and 1.4 total point share. Both rank first on the team. I don’t think many people even gave a second thought to the possibility that he would be a point-per-game player once again after having a career year. But he looks like a new player and hopes to continue to carry the team on his back.
Now let’s look at a player on the other side of things. There were high expectations for Elias Lindholm after scoring 42 goals and 82 points last season as part of the most dominant five-on-five line in the league. However, it has been difficult for him to find chemistry and get things going offensively, or even defensively so far this season. He was a point-per-game player for the first time in his career in 2021-22 and finished second in Selke Trophy voting, but his three goals, six points, and a minus-3 plus/minus don’t have him off to a good start in 2022-23.
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Lindholm began the season on the top line with Tyler Toffoli and newcomer Jonathan Huberdeau. Of the three, Toffoli has been the most productive. Lindholm started the season really slow, scoring just two goals in the first six games. Since then, he’s put up four points in four games and is now skating on the second line. Head coach Darryl Sutter thought switching up the lines would get some of their top players going. Lindholm has to turn things around if the team wants success to start coming more consistently.
The second biggest offensive surprise for the Flames has been fourth-line player Brett Ritchie. It was up in the air as to whether he would even be playing on a consistent basis in the lineup. After three goals and five points in 10 games averaging 10 minutes a game, he’s secured his spot for now.
Ritchie is tied for fifth on the team in points and third in goals. With the offensive talent on the Flames’ roster, that’s impressive, especially since everything has come at even strength. He had recorded three goals and five points in the team’s first eight games. The lines were put in a blender after nine games, so the new fourth line may not be as productive together. Time will tell on that front, but his production has been beneficial to the success the team has had considering he’s already recorded more points in 10 games this season than he did in 41 games last season.
I spoke of Ritchie being the second-biggest offensive surprise for the Flames this season. Michael Stone has to be the first. He didn’t even have a contract heading into training camp and battled his way to earning one by the end, as he outperformed the likes of Juuso Valimaki, Connor Mackey, and Nic Meloche. Due to Oliver Kylington’s status to start the season, it provided Stone with the opportunity to draw into the lineup, and he’s taken full advantage.
Under Sutter, Stone has shot the puck significantly more. It’s rewarded him thus far in 2022 as he has scored two goals and five points while dressing for every game the Flames have played this season. He ranks sixth on the team in shots despite playing just over 13 minutes per game as a sixth defenceman. What’s really impressive and why Stone is such a surprise is where he started a month ago to where he is right now. He will make lineup decisions tough when Kylington returns.
After an incredible 2021-22 season that saw Jonathan Huberdeau finish second in the league in points with 115 and first by a stretch in assists with 85, he was expected to be leading the charge offensively for the Flames. Instead, he is tied for fifth in points with Ritchie and Stone and has fewer goals than each of them. The kicker is that he plays much higher in the lineup and is seen as one of the most dominant offensive producers in the NHL.
Huberdeau is pointless in his last four games and nothing seemed to change in the first game with Kadri and Andrew Mangiapane on the first line. One thing that Huberdeau has brought with him and positively impacted the Flames so far is his skill on the power play. Four of his five points have come with the man advantage, and that was an area where the team wanted to improve from last season.
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Another player I have to mention is Noah Hanifin. He put up career numbers with 10 goals and 48 points last season but finally got his first point nine games into 2022-23. His defensive pairing hasn’t changed yet, so he’ll have to figure out his offensive game where he is right now.
More was expected from many of the Flames’ players this season, but some have played very well. The hope is that players like Kadri, Ritchie, and Stone can continue to play like they have while Lindholm and Huberdeau find their game.