Flames vs. Oilers: How They Stack Up Heading Into 2022-23

What a season it was for both the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames. After long stretches of at least one and often both franchises struggling to rack up wins, they both did so on what felt like a nightly basis this past season. Due to both of their strong 2021-22 campaigns, they are being regarded by the NHL community as serious Stanley Cup contenders.

Related: They Wore It Once: Flames Players and Their Unique Numbers

Having both teams be this good at the same time is great for hockey, as the two have arguably the most compelling rivalry in the game. The players on the ice don’t like each other, and neither do the fan bases, who you can find arguing day and night on Twitter as to who the better team is.

As far as the better team goes, the Oilers head into the 2022-23 campaign with bragging rights. Despite finishing second behind the Flames in the Pacific Division standings, they were able to eliminate them in just five games of the Western Conference Semi-Final. That said, the Flames have completely revamped their roster as they hope to exact revenge. With that said, let’s take a look at how the two sides stack up against one another.

Forwards

The Flames’ forward group is a much different one, as their two top scorers in Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk are gone. For most teams, that would spell utter disaster, but general manager (GM) Brad Treliving was able to pull off some remarkable work and essentially replace them with Jonathan Huberdeau and Nazem Kadri. There weren’t any other significant moves up front for them in terms of transactions, though one other player to keep an eye on is Jakob Pelletier if he is able to crack the opening night roster.

Connor McDavid Edmonton Oilers Jacob Markstrom Calgary Flames
Jacob Markstrom of the Calgary Flames makes a save against Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images)

As for the Oilers, everyone is well aware of how dangerous they are offensively. They have arguably the two best players on the planet in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, who are in the midst of their primes right now and don’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon. They are coming off of a playoff run in which they put up a combined 65 points in just 32 games and should dominate right from the get-go in 2022-23.

Aside from their two-headed monster, they were also able to re-sign Evander Kane at a team-friendly discount. He meshed great alongside McDavid this past season and should be able to crack the 40-goal mark if he stays healthy.

While the Flames do deserve a ton of credit for revamping their forward group, it isn’t as strong as what the Oilers have heading into this season. While Elias Lindholm, Andrew Mangiapane, and Tyler Toffoli are all fantastic players who have yet to be brought up, the Oilers have several other solid ones of their own in Zach Hyman, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Kailer Yamamoto. With those mentioned, paired with McDavid and Draisaitl, the Oilers come out on top in this category.

Edge: Oilers

Defencemen

While Flames fans may not have liked what was said about the forward category, they can exhale knowing this one will go their way. Their blue line was surprisingly solid last season even in the absence of Mark Giordano and has only further improved with the acquisition of Mackenzie Weegar.

Despite not having any household names, their blue line is one of the best in the league. Rasmus Andersson quietly put together a 50-point season last year, while Noah Hanifin at age 25 is still continuing to improve. They also have a ton of depth at their disposal right now as they currently have 10 defencemen on one-year deals, though something is likely to change on that front in the coming weeks.

Rasmus Andersson Calgary Flames
Rasmus Andersson, Calgary Flames (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

While the Flames’ blue line is entering the 2022-23 season looking very strong, the Oilers have a number of question marks. First, it is important to note that their back end has improved in a big way from what it was during their decade of darkness. Darnell Nurse, while overpaid, is much better than he gets credit for around the league, and Cody Ceci turned out to be an excellent signing by Oilers GM Ken Holland. Rookie Evan Bouchard, despite some questionable defensive plays, put up 43 points in 91 games last season and should see even higher totals this year.

After those three, things get a little messy. Brett Kulak was solid after being acquired from the Montreal Canadiens, though it came in a relatively short stint. Tyson Barrie has the ability to produce offense, but like Bouchard leaves plenty to be desired in terms of his defensive work. Their sixth defenceman remains a bit of a question mark as well, as Philip Broberg is expected to be given an opportunity to prove he belongs, but remains very inexperienced. As added depth, they recently signed Ryan Murray to a one-year deal, though he has had serious issues staying healthy throughout his career.

Let me first start out by saying the Oilers’ blue line is better than many give it credit for. In fact, there is a chance it could be quite good. That said, there are plenty of question marks surrounding it, far more than there are for the Flames. Perhaps a midseason trade from Holland could change things here, but at this point, the Flames have the clear upper hand.

Edge: Flames

Goaltending

The goaltending for each of these teams will be the key factor in how much success they are able to have in not only the regular season but more importantly the playoffs. Of course, that is generally the case for all teams, but it is even more so when it comes to both the Oilers and Flames.

Often times over the past few seasons, the Oilers would see great efforts from their top stars go to waste due to untimely goals allowed by both Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen. That shouldn’t be as much of an issue in 2022-23, as they were able to sign Jack Campbell to a five-year deal. Behind Campbell is Stuart Skinner, who was arguably the Oilers’ best goalie last season despite only appearing in 13 games (from ‘Bruce McCurdy: Did Edmonton Oilers just send their best goaltender to the AHL?’, Edmonton Journal, 2/16/22).

While Campbell does improve the Oilers in the goaltending position, he is far from a sure thing. A lack of inexperience paired with inconsistency could at times cause frustration for the Edmonton fanbase, though when at the top of his game he has shown how skilled he can be.

As for the Flames, they have one of the league’s best in Jacob Markstrom. That is, of course, aside from when he is matched up against the Oilers. Much was made of his struggles against his team’s provincial rival not only throughout the 2021-22 regular season but his career as a whole. Those points turned out to be well justified, as he was horrendous in the second round of the playoffs, failing to record a save percentage higher than .882 in the five games.

Jacob Markstrom Calgary Flames
Jacob Markstrom, Calgary Flames (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The question now with Markstrom is how he is able to recover from those struggles. One would imagine he gets back to his 2021-22 regular season self right away, but it is possible the Oilers did a real number on his confidence. There may be somewhat of a question mark beside him, but at this point in time, it would be foolish to suggest he doesn’t give the Flames an edge in the goaltending department.

Edge: Flames

Battle of Alberta Back in Full Force

As mentioned previously, there was a long time in which these teams struggled to have a lot of success, making for some rather dull Battles of Alberta. That is no longer the case, as the rivalry is now at an all-time high after the two met for the postseason this past spring for the first time in three decades. Both are expected to continue to be great in 2022-23, and may very well meet up in the playoffs again. If that does indeed turn out to be the case, expect a very hard-fought series that could go the distance.


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