We’re now officially entering the second-half of the 2022–23 season, and I think we can all say we’re thankful the first half is finally over for the Calgary Flames. With a heap of expectations coming into the season, the Flames started the year 5–1–0 only to then lose seven games in a row immediately after.
After a summer of turnover, some of the Flames’ newest acquisitions have struggled to play to the levels they had in previous seasons. In other words it’s been a complete mixed bag so far this season for most Flames. As we now enter into the second half with the Flames fighting for a playoff spot and far from a lock, the team needs someone to step up as their MVP and guide them to the playoffs. So who will that player be? We’ve turned to the fans to decide who will be the Flames second-half MVP.
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Plenty of options
With no one truly stepping up in the first half as an obvious MVP like last season with Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk, there are a plethora of options for second-half MVP. Based on results this season and expectations based on past results, we’ve identified four players most likely to be the MVP of the second half. Let’s see who you voted for.
One of the Flames’ biggest additions this offseason, Nazem Kadri kicked off the season on a tear with 10 points in his first eight games before posting only five in the next 15 games. He’s since turned it around and is back to producing at a near point-per-game rate. Going into the second half, he currently sits with 15 goals and 30 points in 40 games. His 15 goals are tied for first on the team while his 30 points are third.
Outside of his cold stretch in November, Kadri has been on of the Flames’ most consistent producers and routinely comes up big when the Flames need him most. There’s no doubt he’s got the clutch factor and has the most experience in big moments of any of the Flames top-six forwards. He was also recently named the Flames’ representative at the 2023 All-Star Game.
Kadri was brought in to help replace some of the snarl and drive that Tkachuk brought, which makes him one of the more likely candidates to drag the Flames into the playoffs and earn the crown of their second half MVP. Kadri is without question one of the team’s most important players and despite only having half a season under his belt in a Flames sweater, he’s come up big in plenty of moments already.
If you would’ve posed this question before the season started, I think Jonathan Huberdeau almost unanimously would’ve won the vote as the Flames MVP. The 29-year-old was coming off a career year with 115 points while finishing fifth in Hart trophy voting as the league’s MVP.
As everyone knows, Huberdeau’s Flames career has gotten off to a less than ideal start. After posting 115 points last year as mentioned and over a point per game for the past four seasons, Huberdeau is currently on pace for a measly 55 points in 79 games. That total would be the lowest point total Huberdeau has posted in an 82 games season since 2014–15.
Here’s the thing though. His defensive results have done a complete 180 compared to the rest of his career. He’s gone from a defensive liability to a legitimate two-way winger. It’s fair to assume that Huberdeau has given up plenty of offence in order to improve defensively under Darryl Sutter. He’s also been stuck playing with Milan Lucic or Trevor Lewis on his off-wing for over 120 minutes at even strength this season. It doesn’t matter who you are, that’s gonna hurt your offensive production.
I don’t think anyone would question Huberdeau as the most talented skater on the Flames roster when he’s at his best. Even if he hasn’t been at his best very often this season, he’s still just 40 games into his Flames career. Learning a completely new system, adjusting to new linemates, while also dealing with a nagging injury is no small feat. The good news is he’s posted 17 points across his last 20 games, which is a 70 points pace and has steadily looked better as the season has gone on.
If there’s anyone on the Flames who has the raw talent to be their second-half MVP, it’s Huberdeau. If the Flames can go out and acquire an actual top-six winger for his line his odds will be even better.
Jacob Markstrom is in a very similar situation to Huberdeau. On paper he should be one of the first names that pops up when discussing the Flames MVP. The problem is his first-half was anything but MVP worthy. After a Vezina calibre season in 2021–22, Markstrom’s play fell off a cliff to start this season.
Across his first 16 games, he posted a save percentage over .900 only six times. A far-cry from his performance last season when it felt like he was posting a shutout every week. This led to him getting an extended time-off and only playing one game between November 26 and December 8.
The time off seems to have helped as he’s since posted a save percentage over .900 in seven of 11 games since. Still not at the level expected, but leaps and bounds better than his start. After a disastrous start Markstrom has climbed his way back up from the depths and sits at 2.27 GSAx courtesy of evolving-hockey.com. Again, far off what’s expected of him but a positive sign that he’s rounding back into form.
Like last season, if the Flames want to go anywhere this season, they need Markstrom to be one of their best players. With the way the Flames’ offence has looked thus far, if Markstrom isn’t the Flames’ second-half MVP the team may find themselves outside of the playoffs come April. If they do get into the playoffs, it’ll likely be because Markstrom led them there.
Elias Lindholm just seems to fly under the radar almost every night. You won’t notice his name all game and then you’ll check the scoresheet and he’ll have three points. That’s been the story of his 2022–23 season thus far. While the Flames’ newest acquisitions have garnered most of the attention, Lindholm has quietly had a very productive season once again.
He currently sits with 12 goals and 23 assists for 35 points in 39 games. His 17 assists are first on the team as are his 35 points. Despite the appearance he may be having an off-year, he’s having anything but. Here’s a crazy stat. Across his first 39 games last season Lindholm had 33 points. With 35 this season he’s actually ahead of his pace last season in which he posted a career-best 82 points come year’s end.
Lindholm continues to quietly lead the way for the Flames as their number one centre, and on their top power play and top penalty kill units. Tag on his solid defensive play and he does it all for the Flames. He may not be the elite playdriver that some peg him as, but he’s an all-around great player. He’s the swiss-army knife of the Flames’ offence and is an incredibly valuable player under a coach like Sutter.
Honorable mention – Mikael Backlund
He wasn’t included as one of the original four options, but Mikael Backlund has once again been Mr. Consistent this season. He’s probably carried that title for the better part of the last decade. No matter where the Flames are in the standings or how old he gets, Backlund continues to post top-end two-way results every year.
His 21 points in 40 games are far off the team leaders, but still sixth on the team. What makes him so valuable is his borderline elite defensive results. He just continues to put his name into Selke consideration every season. He’s first on the team among Flames regulars for CF%, xGF%, and HDCF%. Not much else to say. His offensive production probably keeps him from being a real MVP candidate, but he’s undoubtably one of the Flames’ best players.
Someone needs to step up
The moral of the story is the Flames desperately need someone to step up and be their clear MVP in the second half of the season. With the team hanging onto their playoff hopes for dear life, they need someone to step forward and drive them towards to the playoffs. After Gaudreau and Tkachuk put the team on their backs last season night in-night out, the Flames need someone to do the same this time around.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire