Having high expectations means plenty of pressure, and we have seen that with this Calgary Flames team in the 2022-23 season. While they have shown some signs of turning things around in recent games, their 15-12-6 record is underwhelming, given that many viewed their roster as a Stanley Cup contender just a few months ago.
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The good news, however, is that the season is not even half over. Sitting just shy of a wild-card position in the Western Conference, there is plenty of time for the team to get back to the level they were playing at last season and cruise into the playoffs for the second straight year. That said, they could use some help, and if Santa is reading, here are a few suggestions.
A Scoring Winger
Since training camp began, Brad Treliving has been in the market for a top-nine winger who can provide some secondary scoring. Of course, that didn’t seem nearly as urgent months ago when everyone expected the team to score goals at will. That hasn’t happened; the Flames rank 18th in the league with an average of 3.12 goals per game.
The good news is that there are plenty of talented wingers rumored to be on the market. From more attainable players such as Brock Boeser, Conor Garland, and Josh Anderson to elite options like Patrick Kane and Vladimir Tarasenko, there is no shortage of offensively gifted players up for grabs.
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The issue for the Flames, of course, is the salary cap. That said, good general managers seem to find a way to navigate difficult cap situations, and Treliving needs to do everything in his power to add a scoring winger.
More Ice Time for Talented Youth
After watching both Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk break the 100-point mark a season ago, while also witnessing players like Elias Lindholm and Andrew Mangiapane have career years, more of the same was expected in 2022-23. However, Lindholm’s 31 points lead the team, while newcomer Jonathan Huberdeau has yet to get comfortable with just 22 points on the year. On top of that, both Mangiapane and Blake Coleman have struggled to provide much secondary scoring.
The good news is that the Flames have plenty of offensive talent in their system. Players like Jakob Pelletier and Connor Zary are having fantastic seasons in the American Hockey League, as was Matthew Phillips before being recalled recently.
What many Flames fans want to see is for some of these younger players to get an opportunity. Phillips was recalled but has been a healthy scratch more often than not, suiting up for just two games and failing to get much of an opportunity in very limited ice time.
While it seems very unlikely, given head coach Darryl Sutter’s old-school style, it would be incredible to see some of these young players get a real opportunity to show what they can do. Not only are they offensively gifted, but their youth could provide a spark to some of the veterans who aren’t playing their best right now. Perhaps the giving season will see the Flames’ bench boss give some of these young guys a shot moving forward.
Despite the Flames’ scoring issues, the team’s biggest problem so far may very well be their goaltending, and one no one would have imagined it given Jacob Markstrom’s outstanding play just a season ago.
After posting a 2.22 goals-against average (GAA) along with a .922 save percentage (SV%) in 63 appearances en route to his first-ever finish as a Vezina Trophy finalist, Markstrom has been an inconsistent mess in 2022-23. Through 23 games, he owns a disappointing 2.88 GAA, along with a .893 SV% and a 10-8-4 record.
Due to Markstrom’s struggles, Dan Vladar has been seeing more playing time than most expected. Unfortunately, he too hasn’t been all that great, with a pedestrian 2.81 GAA and a .905 SV% to go along with his 5-4-2 record. The team needs them both to be more consistent in the second half.
An Improved Power Play
This won’t come as a big surprise, but Calgary’s power play has been very disappointing as well. After finishing the 2021-22 season with a man advantage that ranked in the league’s top ten, they are 23rd with a success rate of 19.6 percent.
Sutter has several options to fix this, but one is giving some of the team’s youth an opportunity, perhaps allowing Phillips a chance for a few games to show what he can do. Another is to give a player who is on the second unit a chance on the top one, perhaps someone like Dillon Dube, who has been very good lately.
A final option worth considering is giving MacKenzie Weegar an opportunity in either group. The former Florida Panther, who has averaged less than a minute per game on the man advantage this season, has the offensive skill to be an asset on either unit.
Flames Praying Wish List Gets Answered
While we have to wait a bit to find out, the hope for both Flames players and fans is that the requests on this wish list are granted. If so, the team should be able to resemble the Stanley Cup contender many believed them to be, thanks to Treliving’s work this offseason.