At long last, the Calgary Flames are back on the ice to start this season and are going to look very different from last year. The team has an entirely new core with the departures of Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, and Sean Monahan, and the arrivals of Jonathan Huberdeau, Nazem Kadri, MacKenzie Weegar and more.
The Flames hit the ice as a squad for the first time, and head coach Darryl Sutter had them all lined up together to see how they function as a unit. While there are some players missing due to on-ice and off-ice issues, here is how the first set of lines looked:
This is a big change from the lineup last year:
This begs the question, which lineup going into the season looks better? Let’s go line by line.
|Left Wing||Centre||Right Wing|
|Jonathan Huberdeau||Elias Lindholm||Tyler Toffoli|
|Matthew Tkachuk||Elias Lindholm||Blake Coleman|
For the second straight year, the Calgary Flames enter training camp with Selke Trophy finalist Elias Lindholm centring the team’s top line. This time, he starts with two wingers who were not at training camp last season in Huberdeau and Toffoli.
On the left side, Huberdeau finished last season with 115 points playing primarily with former Flame Sam Bennett and Anthony Duclair. Tkachuk meanwhile finished with 104 points with Lindholm and Johnny Gaudreau. At best this is a wash.
The difference comes down to the right side. Coleman has been a bottom-six forward in Tampa and found his greatest success as a two-way player for the Flames. Toffoli has always been a scorer and a finisher, and putting him in a position to use those skills is only beneficial for this team.
|Left wing||Centre||Right wing|
|Andrew Mangiapane||Nazem Kadri||Sonny Milano|
|Johnny Gaudreau||Sean Monahan||Andrew Mangiapane|
This one is very tough because we are evaluating potential production as opposed to what actually happened last season. Going into last season, this second line was expected to be an offensive dynamo with Gaudreau on the one wing and Mangiapane on the other. And while this line still has the latter and his impressive goal-scoring ability on it, the centre has changed to Stanley Cup winner Nazem Kadri and Sonny Milano, who is a hopeful to earn a contract this year.
Even if Monahan was healthy, the centre battle has to go to Kadri. The former Colorado Avalanche had 87 points in the regular season and was a big part of why the team was able to excel in the playoffs this past season. The expectations of Monahan going into last season were not for him to be a 100-point player by any stretch but just to be consistent and healthy.
The difference on this line is the gamebreaking talent of Gaudreau. Regardless of how we all feel about his departure, Milano does not bring that for this line the way that Gaudreau does at all. The difference between the centres does not make up for how much of an impact the diminutive left winger brought to this line.
|Left wing||Centre||Right wing|
|Dillon Dube||Mikael Backlund||Blake Coleman|
|Dillon Dube||Mikael Backlund||Tyler Pitlick|
This is the most similar of the four lines from last year to this, with the only change being on the right wing. Pitlick was a fine addition to this lineup, but being able to utilize Coleman on the third line in a shutdown role where he has excelled makes this team so much deeper and harder to play against.
The duo of Backlund and Coleman were a part of one of the best shutdown lines in the NHL last season (along with Mangiapane) and reuniting them immediately makes them a pain to play against.
Both of these lines are Lucic and two other replacement-level forwards. It’s hard to evaluate whether Rooney and Ritchie with Lewis as the 13th forward is much better than Richardson and Lewis with Ritchie as the 13th forward.
While Ritchie does have some very nice underlying numbers, I think you give it to last year simply because of Trevor Lewis and his penalty killing ability. Still, a bit of a yikes all around.
Absolutely no contest. The addition of Weegar makes the Flames’ top pairing this year absolutely lethal. Pairing the standout blueliner from Florida with probably the best shutdown blueliner in the league is going to make this the team’s top pair, but probably one of the best defence pairs in the entire league this year.
Absolutely no change here! However, we saw what this pairing can do and they had a full season to build chemistry and feed off each other’s on-ice habits. For that reason, they come into 2022–23 a much stronger pairing than they did last year.
This is a tough pairing to evaluate simply because of the number of unknowns. Last season, it looked like Valimaki was going to be on the Flames’ roster regularly, but instead ended up being not even the best defenceman in Stockton. He lost out to Kylington, who was one of the Flames’ best defencemen alongside Tanev last year.
This season, pairing Kylington with Zadorov may form a very good two-way pairing for the Flames, where the ceiling for Gudbranson and Valimaki last year was average. While Gudbranson turned out to be better than even the most optimistic folks could have imagined, Valimaki was the opposite. This season’s third pairing is good enough to play at least second pairing on most other teams in the league, and takes the cake here.
Once again the Flames will be riding the same two goalies in net! Markstrom comes into this season as. a Vezina finalist, and he’ll have high expectations of himself. After a rough outing in 2020–21, the goaltender rebounded to new heights and the bar has moved up higher.
Vladar, on the other hand, really used 2021–22 to establish himself as a solid backup goaltender and is much less of a question mark. He perfectly fits the backup goaltending role at this stage in his career, and the Flames would be much more confident with him starting a game this season than they were last season when his body of work was extremely limited.
Despite losing two 100-point players this season, the Flames are going into this season looking even better than last year. Their depth up and down the lineup rivals pretty well anyone in the entire league, and they have the best defence in the entire league save maybe Colorado with Norris Trophy winner Cale Makar.
With two capable netminders guarding the crease and Darryl Sutter behind the bench, the Flames are primed to compete for the Cup this season. Expectations are sky high in this city, and the Flames on paper look ready to meet them. Let’s see if they can when the puck hits the ice for game one of the regular season on October 13.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire