The Calgary Flames elected to not name a captain heading into the 2021–22 season. It’d be the first season since 1990–91 that the team would be without a captain after losing their former captain Mark Giordano to the Seattle Kraken in the 2021 expansion draft.
Instead, the club rolled out four alternate captains with Sean Monahan, Matthew Tkachuk, Mikael Backlund and Chris Tanev taking on the “A” duties this past season, and at times Johnny Gaudreau as well. The Flames have been in Calgary since the 1980–81 season and within that timespan they’ve only ever gone without a captain twice.
The first as aforementioned in 1990-91 saw Lanny McDonald retiring after the Flames won the Cup, followed by Jim Peplinski retiring six games into the 1989–90 season. Brad McCrimmon succeeded the two Cup-winning leaders as the captain throughout the remainder of the 1989–90 season, but was traded to the Detroit Red Wings after publicly known disagreements with then head coach Terry Crisp. Thus, the Flames were captainless in 1990–91.
It took the franchise over 30 years before they’d be captainless again, making 2021–22 only the second time ever. Now, if the Flames do elect to name a captain heading into 2022–23, there are potentially a plethora of options the organization could choose from.
When you take a look at which individuals carry the duties of the “C” across most of the markets in the league, it’s safe to say that many franchises feel that their team’s all-star or even more so their most well-rounded player are either in the mix for captaincy consideration or already named captain at this stage.
Elias Lindholm is the Flames’ top-line centre and the club’s best pure goal scorer. He plays in all situations, taking charge on both the power play and penalty kill units, while providing an elite two-way game at even strength that head coach Darryl Sutter absolutely glorifies. Elias is practically the definition of “lead by example” and is the face of consistency and dependability.
On top of his high-end skill on both ends of the ice, he has an edge to him and can bring an element of physicality to his game. It’s also abundantly clear that Elias is heavily respected and liked by his teammates. He may be looked at and seen as sort of the quiet type when addressing the media, but with that being said, he’s always obtainable post-game no matter the outcome, win or loss.
Lindholm doesn’t deny or attempt to forego his responsibilities and he remains under contract for two more seasons at an extremely team-friendly contract at $4.85M per year until he hits unrestricted free agent (UFA) status in 2024.
Backlund is by far the longest-tenured player within the Calgary Flames organization. He was the Flames’ first-round pick in 2007, selected 24th overall and was notably drafted by none other than Darryl Sutter. He is now heading into his 16th year as a member of the club.
Backlund is the only remaining player to have played through multiple eras of Flames hockey, he’s battled through all of the organization’s ups and downs throughout over the decade and never downplays his effort. He has also established an important role inside the community and is probably now the most involved charitably within the organization.
It’s clear Backlund is extremely well-liked and respected by both his teammates and the media alike. Backlund has been a well-rounded player over the course of his time here and does a good job when given pure one-on-one shutdown matchups against the league’s top players. Although he is 33 years of age, Backlund remains under contract for two more seasons before he too hits UFA status in 2024.
Tanev is an absolute unit and the Flames’ most consistent defenceman. He is also regarded as one of the best defensive defensemen in the league albeit while still somehow remaining underrated league-wide. We all notably saw just how dearly missed he was this past spring when he sustained a dislocated shoulder and torn labrum in Game 6 versus the Dallas Stars.
Tanev immediately makes anyone who’s paired with him just that much better and at now 32 years of age he’s coming off of a career year which saw him score a career-high 28 points. Even while playing hurt Tanev managed to log 22:08 in ice time in Game 5 vs the Edmonton Oilers. I think that just tells you all you need to know.
Tanev is the staple of the Flames’ defensive corps and while being the veteran presence he is, it’s his elite on-ice contributions that makes him a super integral part to the overall success of this Calgary Flames club. He is a quiet leader on and off the ice and heavily respected in the room. Tanev also has two seasons remaining on his contract before he’s eligible to become a UFA in 2024.
Darkhorse: Blake Coleman
Although only landing in Calgary just this past season, I believe Blake Coleman is more than likely an internal organizational darkhorse candidate for the vacant captaincy. Firstly, Coleman is signed in Calgary until 2027 and he knows what it takes to win a Stanley Cup in today’s modern NHL after going back-to-back with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2020 and 2021 prior to signing his six-year deal in Calgary.
This past season Coleman was very upfront and vocal with the media and it seems evident that he is well respected by the organization and his teammates. I don’t think any hockey fan could forget just how good of a line he helped form alongside Barclay Goodrow and Yanni Gourde in Tampa Bay. That line was integral to the organization’s Cup winning success.
While in Calgary, he also helped form an absolutely dynamite and real impactful line when skating alongside Andrew Mangiapane and Backlund this past year. Coleman’s winning pedigree and attitude alongside his long-term contractual situation makes him a darkhorse candidate for the Flames’ vacant captaincy.
Other honourable mentions
In my view, Monahan would be taken more seriously as a candidate due to his tenure, but his overall fit with the Flames beyond this upcoming season is not certain. For instance, Monahan has worn the “A” since the 2015–16 season and for reference that’s three full seasons longer than Backlund. It’s clear he is seen as an organizational leader both by club executives and his teammates.
The attributing factors that hold up Monahan’s overall status for consideration at this moment result from a combination of his complicated injury history, his current overall fit on the team depth chart and his contractual uncertainty beyond next season. Simply put, he isn’t the same player he even was just three seasons ago and it’s a huge concern.
Another honourable mention would be newly acquired all-star Jonathan Huberdeau. Yes you may laugh at that idea given that he hasn’t even played a game in a Flames uniform yet. Although, if Jonathan Huberdeau’s enticement to be signed long-term in Calgary for the rest of his career relies on a factor of whether or not the club could offer him up the captaincy, I think at this stage you’d let him take it any day of the week and officially tell him, he’s the guy.
It would be an intriguing new direction for the organization to say the least. Commitment is a two-way street and he’d be an immediate no brainer option given his skill, prominence and league-wide stature. Not to mention he’s was an alternate captain with the Florida Panthers for the past four seasons.
There are clearly a number of quality options the Flames have at their disposal and it will be interesting to see if a captain will be named heading into next season, especially given the core retool and roster turnover that’s been undergone so far this summer.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire