Two years ago, the Calgary Flames lost a pair of the franchise’s centrepieces, forwards Matthew Tkachuk and Johnny Gaudreau. Gaudreau left during the offseason’s free agency period, signing with the Columbus Blue Jackets, while Tkachuk was traded in a blockbuster deal with the Florida Panthers that brought superstar Jonathan Huberdeau and defenceman MacKenzie Weegar into the fold.
Last season was a dramatic shakeup for the Flames and it was uncertain how they would perform. The burning question was, could they get back to being a number-one team in the NHL?
While the Flames did make the most of their Gaudreau-Tkachuk fiasco by replacing the dynamic pair with Huberdeau, Weegar and free-agent acquisition Nazem Kadri, it wasn’t enough. The Flames missed the playoffs by just two points.
As a response, the club made some dramatic changes to the organization, including the firing of head coach Darryl Sutter and shipping off leading goal-scorer, Tyler Toffoli, to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for forward, Yegor Sharangovich.
Led by a core of Elias Lindholm, Nazem Kadri, Matthew Coronato, Huberdeau, Weegar, Jacob Markstrom and new head coach, Ryan Huska, the new-look Flames team now head into the 2023-24 season looking for a huge bounceback.
They took a step in that direction Wednesday with their big win at the Saddledome. Both Huberdeau and Markstrom played well, which the team will need if they want continued success.
Hockey is a team sport, but those two players are the heartbeat of the Flames.
Radio talk-show host for QRCalgary, Jock Wilson, believes both players in particular must improve.
“Last year, Jonathan Huberdeau did not live up to expectations. Jacob Markstrom did not live up to expectations. It came down to the team needing more goals and Markstrom needing to be better,” said Wilson.
But, the radio host also thinks the Flames will make the playoffs this season.
But can they win the Stanley Cup?
“I don’t think they’re better than Vegas, I don’t think they’re better than Edmonton, I don’t think they’re better than Colorado, but they certainly should be in the mix for a playoff spot.”
The road to a berth in the Stanley Cup playoffs won’t be easy either, as the Flames play in a tough Pacific Division where they must battle the Cup favourites, the Edmonton Oilers and Vegas Golden Knights, along with the up-and-coming Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks, all season long.
The Flames play their next game Saturday night in Pittsburgh against the Penguins.