The Calgary Flames are 4–1–0 to start the 2022–23 season, having beaten the Colorado Avalanche, Edmonton Oilers, Vegas Golden Knights, and Carolina Hurricanes. They have won different ways, some as dominant wins while others were gritty find-a-way wins, but eight points through five games is a very good start to the season.
While the Flames only added four new faces to their core this season, three of the four (sorry Kevin Rooney) were incredibly impactful additions in two top-six forwards and a top-four defenceman. Currently, they look no worse for wear.
Let’s take a look at how each of the four new additions has done so far in their tenure with the team.
The biggest addition this summer by some distance, the Flames added Jonathan Huberdeau as the prime piece coming back in the Matthew Tkachuk trade. Coming off of a 115-point season, the expectation was that Huberdeau would be the team’s superstar this season.
To this point, Huberdeau has been generally quite fine for this team. He sits fifth on the team with four assists in five games, three of which came on the power play. The line of him, Elias Lindholm, and Tyler Toffoli has struggled to build chemistry so far, with the team having a 46.4 CF% in 37 minutes of 5v5 ice time (all stats from NaturalStatTrick.com).
One reason for the lack of production to this point is he hasn’t really been shooting the puck this season. Huberdeau has just nine shot attempts this season in all situations. The only players below him are Brett Ritchie tied with him at nine, Milan Lucic with eight, Kevin Rooney at four, and Connor Mackey with one in one game. All four have substantially less ice time than Huberdeau.
The 3.7 shots per 60 minutes of icetime is the lowest in his career, with his average being closer to 7.5.
The good news is that this is bound to change as the season wears on. Huberdeau has talked about the challenges adapting to a new team and a new system, noting that the defensive man-to-man structure that the Flames play is different from the Panthers’ zone defence. He also talked about how different it is playing with two right-handed shots this season, and having to adjust for that on the fly.
Huberdeau is an elite player and while he has been off to a slow start, this is bound to change. Expect that once he starts shooting the puck more often and builds that chemistry with his linemates, the puck is just going to start going in.
Nazem Kadri has been one of the best Flames to start this season. Signed as a free agent after winning the Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche, he is tied for the team lead in points with six in five games. He leads the team in shot attempts with 33, scoring chances for with 20, and high-danger chances with 11. Very impressive start for the London Ontario product.
On top of that, his line with Andrew Mangiapane and Dillon Dube has been among the best in the league. Together, the line has been above 50% in all statistical categories, and have been by far the Flames’ best line this season. The line has combined for 12 points this season, and have played solidly at both ends of the ice.
What has perhaps been most impressive about Kadri has been his ability to elevate both of his linemates’ game this season. Mangiapane looked very good last year but somehow looks even better this year. Dube was good last season, but has looked just exceptional this season. Kadri has been the Flames’ best acquisition so far, and shows no signs of slowing down.
Look, I think we all groaned when we saw Rooney was signed by the Flames on the first day of free agency. The groans got even louder when it was a two-year deal valued at $1.3M per season for a guy who was expected to be a fourth line player.
However, in five games this season, Rooney has been actually quite decent for the Flames so far. The bottom line has been doing exactly what they were expected to do: crash and bang their opponents and hopefully get a scoring chance or two here and there.
And while Rooney only has one assist in a team low 47 minutes of icetime, he has been just barely below being a positive possession player this season. On top of that, he was on the line that helped the Flames come back to beat the Vegas Golden Knights earlier this season. Not bad for a depth player to help the team win a game after being down by a couple goals in the third.
Rooney is not expected to have the same impact that Kadri or Huberdeau have, and that’s completely fine. He has a job to do, and so far, he has actually done that quite well.
Another piece of the Matthew Tkachuk trade, MacKenzie Weegar has slotted in to the team’s top-four and has been quite good through five games. He has three assists so far this season, all of them coming at 5v5, and although he has no power play points at this point, he has been a regular fixture on the team’s second group.
He has also been a fixture on the team’s penalty kill, mostly playing on the second unit. What is most impressive has been that when he has been on the ice, the opposing team has only had one high-danger chance against. This is a testament to his ability to lock things down in front of the Flames’ net so far this season.
If you were expecting Weegar to be the Flames’ top power play and top penalty kill guy, putting up points at one end of the ice and locking things down at the other, you would probably be frustrated with his performance so far. However, I think that’s a bit of a lofty expectation. He was always going to be a very good top-four blueliner for this team who was likely going to take a few games to really settle into a rhythm.
The good news with Weegar is that the underlying metrics point to him only getting better than his already impressive three points in five games stat line would show. He may not quarterback the Flames’ top power play nor knock Chris Tanev or Nikita Zadorov off the team’s top penalty kill, but if he can continue to be a steady two-way blueliner for the team all season long, the Flames have an absolute winner in him.
Early signs are positive
It’s definitely too early to be calling a true winner in the Calgary/Florida superstar swap, or imagining Kadri’s jersey up in the rafters next to Jarome Iginla‘s, but the early signs on the Flames’ four new players are generally very positive.
The underlying numbers on Weegar and Kadri poing to this being a very good season for the two of them already, and the talent and track record of Huberdeau point to him being able to turn things around this season. Rooney has done exactly what could have been asked of him to this point, and he and his linemates have been quite decent for the team thus far.
While there is always room for improvement, going 4–1–0 through the first five games is a very good sign for this team, and hopefully the Flames can keep building and improving with their roster en route to the playoffs.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire