Calgary Flames’ Biggest Storylines for 2022

2021 can only be described as a roller coaster for the Calgary Flames. Emotions ran the gamut in Cowtown starting early in the season last year, as the boys in red faltered out of the starting gates. Hope came in early March with Darryl Sutter riding into town as the team’s new bench boss. Yet by late April, despair set in across Flames Nation as it became clear that the team would not make the 2021 playoffs. 

Related: 3 Reasons the Flames Missed the 2021 Playoffs

Summer was bitter-sweet for the Cowtown boys as captain Mark Giordano left for Seattle and Blake Coleman was added to the roster. By December, Flames fans were reveling as their team’s sizzling start to the season propelled them to near the top of the NHL’s standings.

As 2022 is about to unfold, it’s time to take a look at some of the major storylines Flames Nation will be following this year.

Calgary Flames’ Stanley Cup Run

The Flames’ time for a Cup is now. Sutter knows that and it’s the only reason he left his ranch in Viking, Alberta to become bench boss in Calgary. He still chafes at losing in the 2004 Cup Final to the Tampa Bay Lightning and let it be known on his return last year that, “For me, it’s unfinished business. It’s still really clear in my mind losing in the Stanley Cup Final with the team and thinking about it on the flight home from Tampa, about the players and the owners and how much that resonated with me and how much it stayed in my mind. It’s like I have a debt to pay to (the Flames owners), and we’re going to win a Stanley Cup for them.”

Darryl Sutter-Calgary Flames' Biggest Storylines for 2022
Head coach Darryl Sutter (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

Flames general manager (GM) Brad Treliving must also know that 2022 is likely the last best chance his team will have to win a championship for a long-time to come. He knows that given the salary cap constraints he faces, it will be very difficult to re-sign Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, Oliver Kylington, Adam Ruzicka, and Andrew Mangiapane – all of whom enter free agency in the summer and each, a key piece of a winning core.

Odds are long that the Flames will see a Stanley Cup parade in Calgary this spring. now puts them at +1800 – well behind the Colorado Avalanche, Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Toronto Maple Leafs. 

Recently I wrote an article (see below) pointing out the flaws in the Flames’ game that are now starting to reveal themselves. They don’t score enough goals, they lack secondary scoring, goaltender Jacob Markstrom has fallen back to earth after his glitzy start to the season, and their D-Corps is prone to lapses. 

Related: Calgary Flames Losing Streak Exposes Flaws

Sutter pointed these things out after his team’s 6-2 throttling by the Cup favourite, Florida Panthers on Jan. 4, saying in the post-game presser, “That’s a different level of team. We’re not there yet. We had some guys that couldn’t take the size and couldn’t take the speed of the other team. We’ve seen it at other times this year against teams like that.” Ominously, he closed off his remarks saying, “There’s not a post-season if you play like you did tonight.” 

Sutter saw no reason to be any more optimistic two nights later in Tampa when his Cowtown boys were on the receiving end of a 4-1 shellacking at the hands of the back-to-back defending Stanley Cup champion, Tampa Bay Lightning. Explaining the loss, the coach said, “There’s nothing wrong with the way we played. We just played a better team.”

To be fair to the Flames, any team’s odds of hoisting Lord Stanley’s chalice in springtime triumph are long. Yet the losses in South Florida this week are sure to rattle fans back home in Calgary who must be questioning whether their team really has the right stuff for a long playoff run. 

Fans in the Stampede City will not forget that since their last trip to a Stanley Cup final 18 years ago, the Flames have won only one playoff series. If they are eliminated in the first or second round this year, look for a re-build to start next summer.

New Home for the Calgary Flames

A deal between the City of Calgary and Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation (CSEC) to replace the aging Saddledome blew up in late December, just a few weeks before shovels were scheduled to break ground on a replacement building – the Calgary Event Centre. 

Calgary Event Centre-Calgary Flames' Biggest Storylines for 2022
Calgary Event Centre (Calgary City Council)

The deal replaced one that met a similar fate four years earlier, leaving Calgary fans to wonder whether a new arena would ever grace Calgary’s skyline, and if not, what will become of the team in the Stampede City. 

The deal fell apart over a disagreement on sharing the costs of sidewalks, road rights-of-ways around the new building, and the price tag for solar panels on the roof. All told, the two sides were just $10 million apart on a project that tallied $634 million. That’s hardly a bridge too far, so expect to hear rumblings of an attempt to resurrect negotiations.

The fact is that both the Flames and the City of Calgary need the Calgary Event Centre badly. What’s more, the NHL doesn’t like its franchises moving anywhere.

Matthew Tkachuk Contract Renewal

The big winger currently anchoring the right side on Calgary’s top line becomes a restricted free agent (RFA) in July. If the Flames want to retain his rights as an RFA, they have to offer a one-year, $9 million qualifying offer (QO) under the leagues’ collective bargaining agreement (CBA). 

Negotiations will be tough because the Flames are dealing with a member of the notoriously hard-nosed Tkachuk family. His father Keith sat out after talks stalled with the Phoenix Coyotes in 1998 and his brother Brady missed the Ottawa Senators training camp last year as his negotiations on a new deal with the Senators dragged on. Some pundits speculate Matthew will press for a breathtaking $10 million per year.  

Matthew Tkachuk Calgary Flames-Calgary Flames' Biggest Storylines for 2022
Matthew Tkachuk, Calgary Flames (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Tkachuk holds all the cards in these negotiations. If he wanted, he could sign the QO next summer, play for a season and then walk out the door as an unrestricted free agent (UFA). The Flames will not want to negotiate with Tkachuk under a QO. 

Everything I have seen from Matthew and the Tkachuk clan tells me they are loyal people, but all business. Matthew’s negotiations with the Flames will be about extracting the most money possible with term perhaps also being a contentious issue. The Flames will want a long-term deal, while Matthew may prefer a shorter-term contract given expected increases in the salary cap.

As of writing, the Flames appear headed for a long post-season run and there’s pressure on Treliving to sign the supremely talented young hellion sooner rather than later. If they can win now, as management seems to believe, then they’ll need Tkachuk badly over the next few years. They will pay him the money he wants. 

Johnny Gaudreau Contract Renewal

The diminutive dynamo anchoring the left side on the Flames’ top line is a pending unrestricted free agent (UFA) this summer. The peanut gallery regularly demands that Treliving trade him for a bag of pucks and a few rolls of tape, especially when he struggles in the playoffs. Yet this year, he has bounced back, putting himself on the scoresheet so often that he’s among the leagues’ top-10 points-producers. Sutter said he is one of the best 200-foot players in the league.

Related: Flames’ Gaudreau in Good Position to Hit 100 Points in 2021-22

On re-signing in Calgary, Gaudreau said at the end of last season that, “I would love to do that. I love the city of Calgary. I love playing here. I don’t think I’ve ever once said I haven’t wanted to be here.” Despite that, there has been loads of speculation that he really wants out of Cowtown.

Sure, he could pull a John Tavares, protest he wants to stay, and then skulk out of the Stampede City for greener pastures back East, but I for one am going to take him at his word. Assuming Treliving meets his price, which I as I wrote in a piece last November, is likely in the range of $7.5 million per year for three years, Gaudreau will be staying. 

He is one of the biggest stars to ever play in the Stampede City and now has his mojo back. What’s more, if the Flames’ time to win is over the next few years, Gaudreau will be an indispensable part of the team.

Sean Monahan’s Future in Calgary

The Flames simply can’t afford to pay a fourth-line centre averaging a half-point per-game $6.37 million per year – not when they need to acquire more firepower in their top-six. Look for him to be packing his bags at the trade deadline. 

Sean Monahan Calgary Flames-Calgary Flames' Biggest Storylines for 2022
Sean Monahan, Calgary Flames (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

With his cap hit, he may be difficult to move and the Flames may have to eat some of his salary. What’s more, Monahan has a modified no-trade clause (MNTC) in his contract that limits the Flames’ trade options to 10 teams. This may force Treliving into a deal for him that’s heavy with picks and prospects. Given his performance now, it’s doubtful much would be coming back that could help the Flames mount a long post-season run. 

Still, good centres are in short supply in the NHL. At just 26 years old, some buyer out there may believe he could be a top centre again on the right team. 

Darryl Sutter for Jack Adams Award

On a recent episode of The Hockey Writers’ Flames Faceoff, panelists were bullish on Sutter’s prospects of being among the finalists for the coach of the year award, even going so far as to say he was a 90% lock to win it.

It may be too early to call it for Sutter in the race for the award. He faces a lot of competition and there’s still plenty that can happen to his Flames with almost two-thirds of the season still to be played. 

Related: Flames’ Sutter a Front Runner for Jack Adams Award

Yet, at this point, his name is being tossed around alongside the likes of the Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe, the New York Rangers bench boss Gerard Gallant, and the Minnesota Wild’s head coach Dean Evason as a sure bet for the award. 

Jacob Markstrom for Vezina Trophy

I hesitated before including Jacob Markstrom vying for the top goaltender award this year as one of 2022’s top storylines. Starting in December, he began falling back to earth after his stellar start. Sutter has pointed that out several times and after his loss in the Panthers game said dryly, “There’s nights where your goalie has to be better than the other team’s.” 

In his last five games, Markstrom allowed 17 goals on the 151 shots he faced for a dismal save percentage (SV%) of .887 and a goals-against average (GAA) of 3.4. He’ll need better stats than that to put himself in contention for the top goaltender title. 

Jacob Markstrom Calgary Flames-Calgary Flames' Biggest Storylines for 2022
Jacob Markstrom, Calgary Flames (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

As I write this, I can hear Flames fans protesting that I’m basing everything on a sample of five games and forgot that on the season, with a GAA of 2.15 and a SV% of .926, the big Swede is one of the finest crease-keepers in hockey. His GAA is good enough for fifth in the league and his SV% sixth. That’s all true, but my point is that these numbers are slanted by his performance in the early going.

Still, the Flames Faceoff panel pegs Markstrom’s odds of winning the Vezina between 50 and 60 percent and feels he’s the equal of other twine minders contending for the trophy, including the Maple Leafs’ Jack Campbell, Tristan Jarry of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and the Carolina Hurricanes’ Frederik Andersen.

Flames Look for More Secondary Scoring at Trade Deadline

Everybody knows the Flames have a hard time scoring. Sutter himself said exactly that after his team’s loss to the Boston Bruins on Dec. 11, explaining that, “if you’re a team that doesn’t have secondary scoring and you get average goaltending, then you’re up against it. So that’s adversity we’re facing.”

I wrote a piece (see below), making the case that his Cowtown Boys depend too much on their top line of Elias Lindholm, Gaudreau, and Tkachuk for goals and overall points. Add in Mangiapane’s goals and it’s just four players who score six of every 10 the team notches. 

Related: Flames Have Problems to Fix Despite Early Success

Outside of the top four goal-scorers, the rest of the forward corps combined accounts for just one-third of the Flames’ total goals and not quite 40% of the team’s total points. Take out Milan Lucic’s points production and it’s plain to see the Flames’ depth scoring is a wasteland.

Milan Lucic Calgary Flames-Calgary Flames' Biggest Storylines for 2022
Milan Lucic, Calgary Flames (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Taking into account games played to this point in the season, the Flames are just an average NHL team at 99 goals to their credit. That number on a per-game basis puts the boys from the Stampede City at just over three goals per game – trending down sharply from the almost four they were scoring in early November. Alongside other teams in the Western Conference, their goal production is middling at best.

It’s not like Treliving hasn’t tried to solve that problem. As he explained it in a presser one week before training camp opened, “I can’t click my heels and make things happen. You have to have a trade partner. Nobody is ever done in this business – you’re always looking for ways to improve. But it has got to make sense. It doesn’t make any sense for us to give a player away for 50 cents on the dollar. It’s great to say, ‘go get this guy.’ Problem is, this isn’t fantasy hockey. The idea that you can go pick ‘this player’ off the player tree … it doesn’t happen that way.”

As I wrote in a piece in November, the Flames should concentrate on shoring up their right wing, but that will be tough and can only be done through free agency this spring. Think Phil Kessel of the Arizona Coyotes, Filip Forsberg of the Nashville Predators, Claude Giroux of the Philadelphia Flyers, and David Perron of the St. Louis Blues. A trade could also work with the Vancouver Canucks’ Brock Boeser, the Bruin’s David Pastrnak, or the Montreal Canadiens’ Tyler Toffoli as possibilities.

All of this is to say that the trade deadline should be an exciting time in Calgary circles. Treliving has to add depth to his team’s scoring.

Calgary Flames Salary Cap Struggles

Mangiapane, Kylington, Gaudreau, and Tkakchuk have taken their performance up a notch or two since last season and become free agents this summer. Treliving will be under tremendous pressure to re-sign all four but he’ll probably gasp at the fearsome butcher’s bill their agents present to him as contract renewal talks kick-off. Therein lies the seeds of a major salary cap problem that could force Treliving into some hard decisions. 

Related: Flames Early Success Means Salary Cap Problems in 2022-23 Season

I wrote a piece (see above) outlining the dismal math he faces in re-signing the four. To sum up, leaving aside the four’s current contracts and barring personnel changes, the Flames can expect to be spending in the range of $63.6 million on salaries at the end of the season. Assuming the salary cap increases to $82.5 million, that leaves $18.6 million to secure new contracts with the four. With the Flames paying each of them in the range most hockey pundits expect Treliving must, the team will be well over the projected salary cap limit for 2022-23. 

Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving-Calgary Flames' Biggest Storylines for 2022
Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Larry MacDougal)

There are more than a few ways the Flames could deal with this, including select salary dumps (think an underperforming Sean Monahan) and for depth, bringing up low-cost players from Stockton instead of hiring more costly journeymen such as the underwhelming Nikita Zadorov, Erik Gudbranson, and Tyler Pitlick. 

Still, it will be difficult for Treliving to tuck all four under the cap next year. Adding additional high-end talent may be well-nigh impossible. 

Lots of Drama for the Calgary Flames in 2022

From the vantage point of the first week of the New Year, Flames fans should see plenty of drama in 2022. There will be as much of it on the ice as off.

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