The Calgary Flames made a huge splash last week by executing one of the biggest trades the NHL has seen in quite some time. Shipping Matthew Tkachuk to the Florida Panthers, the Flames managed to recoup an absolute haul of assets including superstars Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar, prospect Cole Schwindt, and a first-round pick in 2025.
This team is going to look a lot different next season. Here’s how the new look Flames could line up on opening night.
Huberdeau – Lindholm – Toffoli
Mangiapane – Backlund – Coleman
Pelletier/Phillips – Monahan – Dube
Lucic – Rooney/Ruzicka – Lewis
Obviously the biggest losses up front are the two American superstars that flanked Elias Lindholm on the best top-line in the NHL. Gaudreau and Tkachuk were massive parts of the team last season and will be especially hard to replace. Fortunately, the addition of Huberdeau replaces Gaudreau point for point, and brings in the exact same style of play in a bigger frame. He is an easy replacement for Gaudreau
The replacement for Tkachuk, however, isn’t going to happen. His grit, skill, and two-way acumen will be impossible to replicate with a one-for-one addition, simply because Tkachuk is such a unique player. The team will have to replace him by committee.
The top line is guaranteed to have a pair of Lindholm and Huberdeau. Huberdeau was dynamite for many years in Florida alongside Selke winner Aleksander Barkov. Lining up next to Lindholm in Calgary will be an easy transition for him, and instantly create another bona fide top line. Toffoli as the second trigger man on that line is likely the best option to give Huberdeau two top tier finishers to pass to.
The right side of the top line may fluctuate as the season goes on but I would expect Toffoli to get the first crack at it.
The second line of Andrew Mangiapane, Mikael Backlund, and Blake Coleman was incredible for the team down the stretch and into the playoffs. They are an absolute nightmare to play against and will form one of the best two-way lines in the NHL. Backlund is always a target for fans saying he can’t hack it as a 2C anymore, and every season he proves that he is more than capable of filling that role. He’ll play there until there is absolutely no doubt that he can’t.
The third line is where things get interesting. Assuming Sean Monahan and Dillon Dube are still members of the Flames on opening night, it’s all but guaranteed that they will link up on the third line. The other wing however, is vacant. This opens up a prime opportunity for one of Calgary’s AHL stars to push for a roster spot, whether that’s newly signed Matthew Phillips or Jakob Pelletier.
Knowing Darryl Sutter, they will have to beat out a veteran to earn that spot. Brett Ritchie may return, Walker Duehr is still around, and these youngsters will have to be better than them to start in the NHL. Still, this is as clear of an opportunity to earn an NHL gig as they’re going to get.
The fourth line will return with some familiar faces. Milan Lucic and Trevor Lewis are going to return, and newly signed Rooney will likely start as the 4C. However, with the age and miles on these players, I wouldn’t be surprised if they rotate in and out of the lineup with a player like Adam Ruzicka.
Last season, Ruzicka proved he was simply too good for the AHL. This season will be huge for his career; he needs to come into training camp and blow the doors off in order to start in the NHL. He can do it, it’s just up to him.
I think Ruzicka slots better on a middle-six line, and he could potentially push Monahan for the 3C role. If Monahan isn’t healthy enough to line up on opening night, expect Ruzicka to be the 3C.
Weegar – Andersson
Hanifin – Tanev
Zadorov – Kylington
This might be a bit out of the box, but Weegar is a top defenceman in the league and should play top pairing minutes for the Flames. He has extremely similar defensive impacts to Chris Tanev, so pairing him with a player like Rasmus Andersson will open up a world of possibilities on both ends of the ice. Allowing Andersson to build on a career offensive season in 2021–22 with a defensive dynamo in Weegar gives the Flames a formidable top pairing.
As a result, the second pairing would return to Noah Hanifin and Tanev, one of the best pairings for the Flames a couple years ago. This is basically another top pair with a nice balance of offence and defence, which gives the Flames an incredible one-two punch on the back end. This top-four puts the Flames defence corps among the best in the NHL, and able to shut down any opposing offence, even if there are superstars on two different lines (we see you, Edmonton).
The third pairing will lose quite a bit of size with the departure of Gudbranson, but Nikita Zadorov came a long way last season and can provide the defensive and physical ability that pairing requires. He probably lines up next to Oliver Kylington, but Meloche, Juuso Valimaki, and Connor Mackey will all be pushing for NHL minutes next season.
There will be a dog fight for the 6/7 slot on defense in training camp. With four players vying for those two spots, expect an intense competition and for several callups throughout the year to give all of them a look.
There won’t be much of a change in net this season. Markstrom and Vladar will be back as the NHL tandem and will look to replicate their efforts from last season that saw Markstrom finish second in Vezina Trophy voting, and the team finish third in the William M. Jennings race.
In the AHL, Wolf will look to build on his historic rookie season, while Dansk will slide in as his backup as a replacement for Werner.
Are the Flames better or worse?
With so many changes, it’s hard to assess whether the Flames are going to be better or worse next season. How do you like the new line combinations? Would you do anything differently? Let us know in the comments or on social media.