Flames Looking to Prove 2021-22 Was No Fluke

The Battle of Alberta officially kicked off on Oct. 22, 1980, when the Calgary Flames visited the Edmonton Oilers at Northlands Coliseum. The Oilers won the first game, 5-3, in what would become one of the league’s most intense rivalries, as the two teams represented the Campbell Conference (now the Western Conference) in the Stanley Cup Final from 1983-1990, winning six of the decade’s 10 titles.

This past season, the Flames won the Pacific Divison by seven points, edging their long-time rivals, who didn’t find their footing until after the halfway point of the season. In the playoffs, the roles were reversed, with the Oilers coming out on top when it mattered the most. It took 31 years for these two teams to meet face-to-face again, and after a convincing Game 1, the Flames were confident they could slow down their upstart opponents. Instead, the Oilers rallied with four straight victories to advance to the final four.

Related: 3 Reasons the Oilers Won the Battle of Alberta

When free agency started, both teams appeared to be going in different directions. In southern Alberta, fans were preparing for a rough 2022-23 season, which would see the Oilers reclaim the top spot in the division. However, general manager (GM) Brad Treliving changed the perspective of the rivalry by refusing to let departed players dictate his job or the future of the Flames organization.

Oilers’ Contention Window is Now

The Oilers already had a boatload of stars with Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkin in the ranks, yet the team didn’t click with former head coach Dave Tippett. After another sluggish start, management relieved Tippett of his duties and brought in Jay Woodcroft. In his first NHL job, he guided the Oilers to second place in the division and the Western Conference Final, losing to eventual champions, the Colorado Avalanche.

Woodcroft took over on Feb. 10, 2022, coaching for the final 38 games of the regular season and tacking on an additional 16 games in the postseason. When the puck drops on the new season, the team will have their coach for an entire 82-game campaign, expecting bigger and better things based on his first-year results. 

Jay Woodcroft Edmonton Oilers
Woodcroft is the current head coach of the Oilers. (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Right before the coaching change, the Oilers acquired free agent Evander Kane, who played in 43 games, scored 22 goals, and had 39 points. He was instrumental during the team’s drive to the final four, collecting another 13 goals and 17 points in the playoffs. He proved his worth not only during the regular season but in the playoffs too, where he had a significant impact on the Battle of Alberta. After being eliminated, everyone wondered if Kane would stay in Edmonton or sign with another team. It wasn’t long into the offseason that he signed a four-year deal, setting himself up to be a thorn in the Flames’ side for the foreseeable future. With Kane playing with McDavid and Draisaitl, the possibilities were endless, and his signing may signal a change in the guard atop of the Pacific Division. 

After Mike Smith’s heroics during the postseason, battling through injuries night in and night out, he opted to step away from the game, opening up a starting role with the team. GM Ken Holland surveyed the goalie landscape and had to find someone who could challenge Flames’ incumbent Jacob Markstrom as the best goalie in the division. He turned to free agent Jack Campbell, a recent All-Star with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The upgrade between the pipes rounds out the Oilers’ lineup, leaving many to wonder if they did enough to improve and advance past the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2006.

Treliving Retools Flames’ Roster

The Flames stumbled into the offseason. Their first order of business was signing Johnny Gaudreau to a new deal. Still, the star player opted for free agency, eventually inking a contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets. The hits kept coming when Matthew Tkachuk informed management he had no intention of re-signing with the team. However, Treliving stepped in and saved the day.

As everything around him crumbled, he took the broken pieces and put them back together, some say even better than before. He used one of his best assets, Tkachuk, and traded him to the Florida Panthers, acquiring their all-time leading scorer Jonathan Huberdeau. The trade also included defenseman MacKenzie Weegar, prospect Cole Schwindt and a lottery-protected first-round pick in 2025.

Shortly after meeting with Treliving over a steak dinner in Montreal (from ‘Here’s why we think you’re going to love it’: Treliving dishes on dinner with Huberdeau,’ Calgary Sun, Aug. 6, 2022), Huberdeau signed the largest deal in Flames history, inking an eight-year extension worth $84 million. Depending on your comparison, his offensive capabilities rival that of Gaudreau or Tkachuk, meaning Treliving was able to replace a missing piece without disrupting the entire project.

Jonathan Huberdeau Florida Panthers
Jonathan Huberdeau departs Florida as the club’s all-time leading scorer. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Meanwhile, Weegar’s acquisition shores up one of the best defensive corps in the league. Coming off a career year (44 points), he will seek a top-dollar extension that, according to various reports, is what Treliving is working on as we speak. Whether Weegar stays a season, half a season, or signs an extension, he makes playing against the Flames a little bit tougher than before.

When everyone went to bed on the Flames, believing their offseason was complete, Treliving shocked the hockey community on Thursday by acquiring one of the league’s top free agents, Nazem Kadri. The former star with the Toronto Maple Leafs returns to Canada after helping the Colorado Avalanche win the Stanley Cup this past June. He was instrumental in their championship victory by scoring timely goals and being the type of player others rally around to get them a ring.

Kadri already knows what life is like in a Canadian hockey market, spending the first 10 seasons of his career in Toronto, which some would argue is the world’s largest hockey market. He’s almost a point-per-game player against the Oilers in his career (15 points in 16 games), yet he was never a focal point of those contests. That all changed in the spring when he significantly impacted the outcome of the Western Conference Final without even playing. When Kane hit Kadri into the boards, leading to a suspension, it altered the course for both franchises. Oilers fans will never forget the incident, so when Kadri joined the enemy, it added another dynamic to the rivalry.

Treliving likes Kadri for what he brings to the team: skills and leadership but also knows how valuable he will be if and when the time comes for the Flames to meet the Oilers again in the playoffs.

The Battle of Alberta Continues in October

The experts can’t decide whether the Flames are better or worse than last year, as team chemistry is a few words they like to talk about online and on TV. No matter what happens, Treliving showed the world that the Flames are legit, and last year’s division win was no fluke. Nothing in the offseason fazed Treliving, who went looking for the best opportunities to give his team the competitive edge in the ongoing battle for supremacy in their division.

Related: Flames & Oilers Battle of Alberta Could Be Most Intense in Decades

The next chapter of the Battle of Alberta takes place in Edmonton on Oct. 15, 2022. The game will be filled with energy as the two teams meet for the first time since the spring. When you examine the roster Treliving put together for the 2022-23 season, everyone can see they are ready for a playoff rematch and won’t go away quickly next time.

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