The first puck drop to kick of the 2022–23 NHL regular season is mere weeks away. The Calgary Flames are set to debut their new era of players, aiming to be strong contenders for the Stanley Cup. To gain contender status, the team should expect some of their players to earn votes come NHL award season.
It’s early in the year, but who’s most likely to earn the most nods? We asked, you answered.
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The Flames’ favourites for NHL awards
In 2021–22, several Flames were recognised during NHL awards, with head coach Darryl Sutter taking home hardware with his Jack Adams Award. The Flames had some highly-nominated players as finalists or near-finalists too, most notably with Elias Lindholm coming in second for the Selke Trophy and Jacob Markstrom matching the second place nod for the Vezina Trophy.
With the team so close to capturing more trophies, are they bound to repeat, or could a newcomer in Jonathan Huberdeau get recognition for the Hart Trophy?
Outside of these players and Sutter, additional poll replies suggested MacKenzie Weegar could be due for Norris Trophy votes, and Brad Treliving should be recognised for the Jim Gregory GM of the Year. It’s quite easy to be bullish on the Flames across the board, but it’ll be up to the team to see if they can match the sky-high expectations.
Selke in sight
The lone member of the 2021–21’s best first line in the NHL to remain a Flame, Lindholm finds himself without Johnny Gaudreau nor Matthew Tkachuk and won’t get the opportunity to defend that unofficial title. The trio truly was one of the most dominant 5v5 first lines in the league and it was a sight to behold last season.
However, Lindholm gets to try again with new linemates instead, which arguably can be more motivating. There are several reasons to believe that Lindholm could be in line for the Selke Trophy this upcoming season.
Lindholm has demonstrably proven that he can play strong, two-way hockey. Despite benefitting from playing alongside Tkachuk as another elite two-way forward, Lindholm has been up to the task in when it comes to carrying out all the responsibilities of a premier centreman.
On top of that, the competition for the Selke has an aging Patrice Bergeron coming in to defend his landslide win. Should the age curve catch up to Bergeron, Lindholm is naturally next in line. If he elevates the defensive play of new linemate Jonathan Huberdeau and the second winger, he can break loose of the previous connection and credits to Tkachuk and establish himself as capable of driving play.
Realistically, Lindholm’s path to the Selke is the most uncertain given the changeover in linemates, but the votes indicate that he’s the favourite to possibly win the Selke Trophy for the first time in franchise history.
Markstrom looks to build upon a strong season where he led the league with nine shutouts. After a shaky 2020–21 season, Markstrom was a strong and steady goaltender that provided tons of stability for the Flames in 2021–22. The emphasis on checking and defence by Darryl Sutter allowed Markstrom to thrive as a goaltender who had an ideal work environment.
The defensive system in front of him limited high-danger scoring chances, and Markstrom was up to the task when they did get to him. It was a relationship of mutual benefits as the Flames never had to rely on their goaltender to keep them in games, and the Flames’ goalie never had the pressure to perform at that level.
Unfortunately for Markstrom, he crumbled in the second round of the playoffs, making for a quick exit in the Battle of Alberta. He’ll look to use this as fuel for 2022–23, and once again rebound from disappointment.
For Markstrom, his goaltending prowess doesn’t come from making the flashiest of saves, nor does it come from goaltending at elite, franchise-goalie levels—those honours are reserved for the likes of Connor Hellebuyck and Igor Shesterkin. However, Markstrom is a highly reliable goaltender who can match up against the goaltender on the other side of the ice on any given game.
If he ends up playing the bulk of the Flames’ games—and with Sutter as head coach, that’s a near-certainty—and he can play at the same level he did last season, he very well can earn some more nods in his bid to win the Vezina.
Anticipating the Adams
The Flames were successful in capturing hardware last season, and it went to Sutter and the first Jack Adams award of his coaching career. The nonchalant coach was able to right the ship and took a roster that had major question marks on it entering the 2021–22 season and turned it into an elite checking team.
It’s notoriously difficult to win back-to-back Adams awards, as the last coach to do so was Jacques Demers who won it in 1986–87 and 1987–88 with the Detroit Red Wings. Nowadays, the award goes to a coach who exceeds expectations—and the Flames don’t have the benefit of having much room above their expectations this season.
The team is set to be contenders this season, and the room to outperform that bar is exceptionally low. Of course, the Adams is a regular season award, but realistically the Flames should be cruising to a playoff position anyway. Otherwise something is direly wrong.
Sutter is without a doubt a great coach and is exactly what the Flames need right now, but he’ll be hard pressed to win the Adams again given that it’ll likely go to another coach who takes a team with low expectations into the playoffs.
A hard push for the Hart
Huberdeau is the newcomer on the team and he will undoubtedly be a key player. However, it’s yet. tobe seen if he’ll perform at a Hart-winning level for the Flames. As a new player, it’s not clear if he’ll be the Flames’ most valuable player, and the competition for the Hart remains stiff.
While it’s a guarantee that the Flames’ success will be heavily impacted by Huberdeau, the team isn’t built to have one player do all the heavy lifting—and that’s a good thing.
Multiple players will play key roles on the Flames, and that unfortunately takes away from any single player’s ability to garner more attention for the Hart. However, not winning the Hart is moot if the exchange is a deep playoff run.
The pressure shouldn’t and won’t be on Huberdeau to “replace” the impact of another player (read: Gaudreau). This new iteration of the Flames will have to take control of the narrative and show that their contender status is by committee. Call it an unpopular opinion, but the Flames will be served much better to have fewer Hart votes this coming season.
Let’s get down to business
The Flames are set to embark on a season-long journey to show that they can contend for the Cup with their new roster. Whether it includes winning some hardware along the way remains to be known, but the only trophy that matter is of course Lord Stanley’s.
How are you feeling about possible awards for the Flames in 2022–23—do you think anyone could win? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter @wincolumnCGY.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire