Calgary Flames

Who’s to blame for the Calgary Flames failed season?

The Calgary Flames 2022–23 season can only be defined with one word: Failure.

With all of the heightened expectations around the team entering the season, missing the playoffs was simply on no one’s bingo card back in September. Now, it’s a sad reality. 

The Flames now enter an offseason full of questions, but one that stands at the top of the list is: “Who’s to blame?” 

The finger pointing has been happening all season, but now that Game 82 is in the books, we can dive in and see just who should shoulder the blame the most out of the organization.

Blaming Flames management

There was no team in the NHL that dealt with roster turnover more than the Calgary Flames. Despite some of the moves potentially being self-inflicted wounds from past decisions, general manager Brad Treliving easily did the most with having the fewest cards at his disposal.

Over the last 12 months, his team is vastly different in so many ways:

Players InPlayers Out
Jonathan Huberdeau
Nazem Kadri
MacKenzie Weegar
Kevin Rooney
Troy Stecher
Nick Ritchie
Johnny Gaudreau
Matthew Tkachuk
Sean Monahan
Erik Gudbranson
Calle Jarnkrok
Ryan Carpenter
Juuso Valimaki
Connor Mackey
Brett Ritchie

After losing Gaudreau to free agency, followed by immediately being forced into an ultimatum with Tkachuk, Treliving was able to turn that all into Huberdeau, Kadri, and Weegar. That then turned into three of the biggest contracts in franchise history. After the offseason work, Treliving was being touted as an early candidate for GM of the Year.

I think that it’s very important to note that with the moves made by Treliving, the Flames went from crippling defeat to Stanley Cup favourites within a month. Ignoring the work that Treliving had put in before the season would be disrespectful. 

Could he have done more during the season? Absolutely. Never forget when the Flames made the Matthew Phillips recall, the announcement said “General Manager Brad Treliving announces…” Despite all of the work he could do, he didn’t make the lineup decisions.

Without Treliving’s work, the Flames would have been in a rebuild prior to the season. Sure, some would have asked for that now, but those same people picked the Flames to win the Cup.

Blaming Calgary’s coaching staff

Here is where things get spicy early. 

I don’t think there was an area of the Flames season that produced more perplexing results. Most were a result of head coach Darryl Sutter’s “antics” which means it’s probably best to make a list of everything that threw us for a loop:

  • Playing Jonathan Huberdeau—new NHL record holder for most assists by a left winger—on the right wing for most of the season
  • Rolling four lines continuously regardless of the game score or situation
  • Playing Milan Lucic consistently in the top-six
  • Penalizing younger players for mistakes, while ignoring the same ones made by veteran players
  • Publicly criticizing players to the media
  • Benching, scratching, or not using young players that provided a spark to the lineup, which ended up in the loss of Valimaki and Mackey from the roster
  • Using Nick Ritchie as the final shooter in a must-win game shootout situation

We could spend hours on each individual example that came up during the season, but we all know in gross detail how painful it was to see throughout the season.

It wasn’t just Sutter though, Kirk Muller’s handling of the power play this season was truly atrocious. Last season the Flames ranked tenth in the league at 22.9%, this year they dropped to 21st in the league at a 19.8% clip. The personnel may have changed, but the constant changing of both units didn’t help foster chemistry.

That being said it wasn’t all bad, the penalty kill was one of the best in the league. That of course came as a result of them spending more time on the penalty than last year, but that isn’t the coaches fault. 

Blaming the skaters

The forward group lost two 100-point producers from last season, which is near impossible to replace immediately. Getting one 100-point producer back was nice in theory, but Huberdeau coming would still need further replacement by committee to be a more viable solution. However, the Flames’ top offensive players completely fell off a cliff: 

Player2021–22 Points2022–23 PointsPoint Change
Jonathan Huberdeau30G—85A—115P15G—40A—55P-60
Nazem Kadri28G—59A—87P24G—32A—56P-31
Elias Lindholm42G—40A—82P22G—42A—64P-18
Andrew Mangiapane35G—20A—55P17G—26A—43P-12

Huberdeau set an NHL record for biggest point drop between seasons.  Kadri played more games this season but registered 31 fewer points than his career year last season. Elias Lindholm missed out playing with Gaudreau and Tkachuk, and despite putting together a decent season, it wasn’t anywhere near last year. Finally, Mangiapane couldn’t register half of his goal output from last season after signing his big time contract.

Of course, the Flames forward group also has four players set career-highs:

Player2021–22 Points2022–23 PointsPoint Change
Tyler Toffoli20G—29A—49P34G—39A—73P+24
Mikael Backlund12G—27A—39P19G—37A—56P+17
Dillon Dube18G—14A—32P18G—27A—45P+13
Blake Coleman16G—17A—33P18G—20A—38P+5

It’s almost even sadder that some of their key forwards had career years and they couldn’t capitalize on that success. The odds that some of these players are able to replicate the key years is slim, which means they need their top stars to pick up the slack.

The Flames needed a few key goals at important times and just didn’t get them. 

Pointing at the goaltending

The Flames goaltenders are where the numbers truly dropped off between seasons, in Jacob Markstrom’s case they fell off a cliff:

Goalie (Season)GAASV%HDSV%
Jacob Markstrom (2021–22)2.220.922%0.849%
Jacob Markstrom (2023–22)2.920.892%0.814%
Dan Vladar (2021–22)2.750.906%0.789%
Dan Vladar (2022–23)2.910.892%0.839%

Markstrom took a Vezina finalist season and turned that into one of the most dramatic declines in recent memory. Across all categories, Markstrom got worse even after facing fewer shots than last season. He let in far more goals and that directly resulted in fewer victories for the Flames.

Vladar on the other hand had a mixed bag. Despite his franchise-tying point streak record, Vladar’s record was similar to last season. Additionally, his GAA and SV% got worse, but his HDSV% improved. He was able to save more genuine scoring chances, but his overall game seemed to decline year over year.

With the emergence of Dustin Wolf in the AHL, the NHL tandem’s performance paled in comparison and had many wondering “What if…?”

The final verdict on Calgary’s faults

Based on a review of the season as a whole, most of the blame falls on the shoulders of the coaching staff and goaltending. Both were particularly an area of concern, a year after they both shone above the rest.

That being said, there is no doubt that every single member of the organization and players contributed to this failure. Trying to place it on one person is foolish. 

Take Jonathan Huberdeau for example. Yes, his season was historically bad, but would that have happened had the coaching staff put him in a better position or his linemates played to their potential? 

You win and lose as a team, which means everyone should feel the weight of this failed season despite some taking the fall in the coming weeks.

Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire

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