The Calgary Flames had a great season in 2021-22 finishing sixth in the NHL in points and winning the Pacific Division. They advanced to the second round of the playoffs but lost to a hot Edmonton Oilers team. This season, the Flames are looking to repeat the regular season success and push further into the playoffs with a revamped squad.
Their top line may have gotten a little worse, but overall, the Flames look even better and are legitimate contenders for the Stanley Cup in 2022-23. Let’s look at some key reasons as to why that is.
Flames’ Goaltending is Top Notch
Last season Jacob Markstrom bounced back in the best way for the Flames. He improved his save percentage (SV%) by .018, lowered his goals against average (GAA) by 0.44, and recorded six more shutouts than 2020-21. Not only that, but he also recorded 15 more wins and four fewer losses while elevating his goals saved above expected from minus-4 to 26.1.
Markstrom finished last season with a .922 SV% and 2.22 GAA, both ranking third in the NHL while leading the league in shutouts (nine) by two. He is a very good goalie, regardless of what coaching or defence is in front of him. The two seasons before he signed with Calgary, he finished fourth and 10th in Vezina Trophy voting with the Vancouver Canucks. Last season he finished second in Vezina Trophy voting to only Igor Shesterkin who had a season for the ages. With Darryl Sutter at the helm and the defence only getting stronger since last season, there’s no reason to think that he won’t have another very good season for the Flames.
Defence Core of the Flames is the Best in the NHL
When you look around the league and see the top-six defencemen on a team, no other team compares to the Flames. Last season’s group was very good and it has only gotten better with the addition of MacKenzie Weegar. The one knock is that there isn’t a real number one defenceman. But the way the Flames play, it doesn’t appear that they desperately need one.
The top pairing last season, Noah Hanifin and Rasmus Andersson, both recorded a lot of points (48 and 50). Each of those point totals is good enough to be considered a number one defenceman on many teams. As a tandem making under $9.5 million and performing at both ends of the ice, there are no complaints. Now add Weegar to the mix on the second pairing. Last season he was forced, for a second consecutive season, into the role of number one defenceman on the Florida Panthers. A job he handled very well. He ended the season with 44 points, a plus-40, and can provide the Flames with consistent play and lots of key minutes.
Now the third pairing this coming season was essentially the second pairing last season, that’s how much better the Flames have gotten at their strongest position. Christopher Tanev and Oliver Kylington should move down and each have a little less responsibility. Neither of them will likely repeat last season’s performance with their ice times and roles projected to drop, as Kylington broke out last season and Tanev was a strong shutdown option.
Flames Have Better Forward Depth
The key or notable departures from the forward group this offseason included Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, Calle Jarnkork, and Ryan Carpenter. Coming in to replace that will be Jonathan Huberdeau, Nazem Kadri, Kevin Rooney and some potential rookies. The Flames will feel the effects, at least right away, of the loss of two out of the three top-line players. Chemistry will need to be worked on between the newcomers and the rest of the team, but it shouldn’t be a problem that will derail the start of the season.
Huberdeau can replace any offence that was lost by Gaudreau, and even provide more on the power play. Kadri, though his expectations are lower than that of Tkachuk, will provide the Flames with the centre depth they lacked in 2021-22 as down the middle this season should be Elias Lindholm, Kadri, Mikael Backlund, and Rooney/Adam Ruzicka.
Related: Flames’ 2022-23 Line Predictions
With Backlund moving down to the third line, it makes the Flames’ forward depth look a lot better. He is great defensively and provides points equal to that of what should be expected of a third-line player, not a second. Kadri comes in and can easily play top-six minutes in what was Backlund’s spot last season.
Rookie Jakob Pelletier should almost be a lock to make the team this season after an incredible rookie season in the American Hockey League (AHL). As for Ruzicka, another prospect who got a sniff last season with the Flames, could very well earn a fourth-line spot on the team to begin the season over someone like Trevor Lewis.
Darryl Sutter Knows How to Get the Most Out of His Team
It was a big culture shift once Sutter took over as head coach of the Flames in 2020-21. Their season took a turn for the better as his tenure started with four wins in the first five games. There were rough patches and little time to implement his system mid-way through the campaign, but the team ended with four wins in their final five games as well.
It wasn’t until Sutter had time to be with his team in training camp and get a lot of practices in that he helped transform the Flames from a squad that went 26-27-3 and missed the playoffs to one that won their division and finished top six in points, goals for, and goals against in the NHL. The team looked very similar to that of the 2020-21 team as well, so a lot of credit has to be given to Sutter and his methods. He liked the progress of many players last season and thinks the team is much more mature than 2021-22.
Special Teams Are a Driving Force
Special teams are so important, especially when referees crack down on different penalties each season. One power play or penalty kill can turn the momentum of a game in such a short time. So it helps to be an effective team in both areas. Last season the Flames finished 10th in the NHL in power-play percentage, but their finishing ability was great nonetheless. They had a 22.9 power-play percentage and should only get stronger with the additions of Huberdeau and Kadri who finished with 38 and 29 points respectively with the man advantage.
As for the Flames’ percentage and rank on the penalty kill, they were even better than that at 83.2 percent, nearly four percent better than the league average. The team still has a number of great two-way forwards and solid defensive players including Backlund, Blake Coleman, Lindholm, Tanev, Andersson, Hanifin, and Lewis. The only major penalty killer the team lost was Erik Gudbranson, but Weegar averaged nearly as much time shorthanded as Gudbranson did last season.
The Flames have some work to do to win their second Stanley Cup in franchise history but have all the pieces to not only be one of the best teams in the league but a force in the playoffs as well.