Calgary Flames have had an off-season like no other, losing two of their biggest stars in Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk but still remain a Stanley Cup contender after adding Jonathan Huberdeau, Nazem Kadri and MacKenzie Weegar.
|What:||NHL Season 2022/23|
|Where:||USA and Canada|
|When:||October 7th 2022 - June 2023|
|How to watch:||ESPN+, Star+, NHL.TV & bet365's Sports Live Streaming|
|Odds:||COL Avalanche +425, TOR Maple Leafs +800, FLA Panthers +900, TB Lightning +1000, CAR Hurricanes +1100|
After winning the Pacific Division last season with an excellent 50-21-11 record, the Flames headed into the playoffs sensing they were genuine contenders for the Stanley Cup.
Their bid fell flat, however, losing in the second round to the Edmonton Oilers. Despite the disappointment, there was a sense of optimism as just a year earlier the Flames had missed the playoffs completely.
Under coach Darryl Suter the Flames appeared on an upward trajectory, but it was one which could have spiralled off track quickly.
With Gaudreau turning down a huge contract offer to remain in Calgary, instead opting to move closer to home with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Tkachuk stating just days later that he also wanted to move on, the Flames' off-season got off to the worst possible start.
General Manager Brad Treliving was faced with the prospect of having to replace two 40 goal-scorers and 100-point producers and his moves to do so have been widely applauded.
Tkachuk (104 points; 42 goals, 62 assists) was traded to the Florida Panthers in exchange for Huberdeau (115 points; 30 goals, 85 assists), plus top-four defenceman Weegar (44 points; eight goals, 36 assists) and later Stanley Cup Winner Nazem Kadri (87 points; 28 goals, 59 assists) from the Colorado Avalanche via free agency.
The 246 points tally of the trio betters the 242 of Gaudreau, Tkachuk, and Sean Monahan who was traded to Montreal Canadiens to make room for Kadri, each bringing other intangibles to the Flames roster as well.
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Calgary's attack was strong from the wings last season, but their centre position and depth scoring was somewhat lacking compared to other cup contenders.
The addition of Kadri solves that issue, and with Elias Lindholm, Kadri and Mikael Backlund down the middle, the Flames now appear stronger at centre than they have in decades.
Kadri can carry offence much more effectively than Backlund who will now be able to drop to a third line two-way role, much more suited to his strengths.
Huberdeau should replace Gaudreau relatively seamlessly as the Flames' top winger, and Andrew Mangiapane will have a chance to play a larger role in place of Tkachuk.
Mangiapane scored 35 goals last season despite spending most of his time on the Flames’ second and third forward lines.
Calgary allowed just 208 goals in 82 games last season, the third best in the NHL and they got even better with Weegar which is a scary though for their competitors heading into the new season.
Not only are the Flames strong defensively under coach Sutter but they also benefit from having one of the best netminders in the league.
32-year-old Markstrom went 37-15-9 in 63 games last season with an impressive .922 save-percentage and 2.22 goals-against average (GAA). He had nine shut-outs, was named a Vezina Trophy finalist and voted to the second All-Star team.
He will, however, have been dissatisfied with his playoff performance allowing 24 goals in the five-game defeat to the Oilers, a .852 save-percentage.
If the Flames get back to that point again, the Swede will need to be much better, but given the history of his work, there is every confidence that he will be.
The Flames also have Dan Vladar to call upon who performed well going 13-6-2 with a .906 save-percentage and 2.75 GAA in 23 games (19 starts).
Sutter replaced Geoff Ward as Flames head coach late in the 2020/21 season and his impact was immediate.
Although he wasn't quite able to turn the ship around that year, he certainly made his mark on the Flames last season, winning the Jack Adams coach of the year award.
Scoring the sixth-most goals in the league (293) and conceding the third-fewest, Sutter has deployed a system which strikes a healthy balance for the Flames to be successful, while also improving their physicality.
The 64-year-old is in a second stint as coach of Calgary, previously guiding them to the Stanley Cup Final in 2004 when they lost in seven games to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Sutter went on to win the Cup ten years later with the Los Angeles Kings, and will feel as though the direction he and Treliving are taking the Flames gives him opportunity to be crowned champion again.
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