Calgary Flames

Two key Calgary Flames that need to bounce back for 2023–24

Make no mistake, the Calgary Flames were a miserable and boring team to watch last season. They had high hopes after an offseason of absolute chaos and came up extremely short by missing the playoffs. They had many players underperform, but if the Flames want any chance at the playoffs for next season, they will need these two players in particular to bounce back to past forms.

The Flames need two players to be their best selves

To be fair, multiple players need to be better than they were last year, but the two biggest candidates are no other than Jonathan Huberdeau and Jacob Markstrom. On one hand, the winger is about to see his massive contract kick in and he simply can not underperform. On the other, Markstrom will still be the Flames’ starter for at least another season but it’s going to be a position that’s challenged for as Dustin Wolf makes his way up (although that isn’t a bad thing).

Jonathan Huberdeau

It is no surprise that Huberdeau must be better this upcoming season if the Flames want to have any chance of making the playoffs. The winger is coming off the biggest season-over-season drop-off of points in NHL history, going from 115 in 2021–22 to just 55 in 2022–23. This is not even just about the point totals, there were times this season where Huberdeau looked uninterested, miserable, and quite frankly was not enjoying his time at the rink.

There were more than a handful of games where you would have thought Huberdeau was not playing, and for a player whose big 84 million dollar extension is kicking in this season, that cannot happen. So how can Huberdeau get back to being the player he was in Florida?

For starters, a new coaching staff that includes former assistant coach Ryan Huska as the head coach and former offensive wizard Marc Savard will be joining the staff as the offensive coach and power play specialist. A more positive environment and a more offensively driven system should hope to get Huberdeau back on track.

He should be back on his natural left wing for the entirety of the season where he had so much success in the past and not having a living anchor in Milan Lucic on his line should let him create more while he is out there. Shooting the puck more and having the puck on his stick for more time is something that Huberdeau will have to do, there were plenty of times last season where he had a shot and opted for a pass (often a spin-o-rama pass) and it looked like every time he touched the puck, he wanted to get rid of it as fast as he could.

There cannot be any excuses this season. Huberdeau wanted a new coach, he got one. It is now time for him to perform. But in my opinion, Huberdeau just has to start having fun again. If you watched him at all in his Panthers days, he had a smile on his face all the time and was making plays on the ice that only a handful of players in the league could make. If Huberdeau can revert back into prime Huberdeau, that will be a massive jolt to a team that is in desperate need of a superstar talent and a leader on and off the ice. 

Jacob Markstrom

The Flames have had goaltending issues for years on end. They had not had a true #1 goalie since Miikka Kiprusoff hung it up in 2013. Jacob Markstrom was supposed to change that, and for one year in 2021–22, it looked like that was the case. Last season was a disaster for Markstrom, posting a .892 SV% and a horrendous -18.4 goals saved above expected.

For reference, in the 2021–22 season, Markstrom posted a .922 SV% and had 26.1 goals saved above expected. He also finished second in Vezina voting, only behind Igor Shesterkin. Many would agree that Markstrom probably is not the goalie he was in 2021–22, but he is not as bad as he showed this past year either. It felt like every time Markstrom had a good showing or two this year, he would follow it up by four to five games of allowing four or more goals, often being caught out of position or flat out missing a puck that should have been saved.

What drives me crazy and probably countless other Flames fans is if Marsktrom had just been league average this year, the team makes the playoffs without a doubt. And with Dustin Wolf knocking on the door ready to be a full time NHLer, Markstrom will have to get his game back on track if the Flames want to be competitive and if he wants to keep his starting role.

So how can Markstrom get back on track? It’s pretty simple really, he has to calm his game down. There were so many times last year where Markstrom would get caught out of position trying to play the puck or by trying to make a save much more dramatic than it needed to be, resulting in a goal against. A smaller amount of games played should also keep Markstrom fresh throughout the year—Darryl Sutter is no longer around to play him 60+ games, which Markstrom should benefit from. If you want any chance of making the playoffs, you need your goaltenders to be strong, and Markstrom will have to get back to form if the Flames want to get back in to the playoffs.

A season of high hopes

A lot will have to change in 2023–24 for this Flames roster, but if a full teardown is not happening and they are still going for it, Huberdeau and Markstrom will have to play up to their big tickets and be the go to guys to get it done.

Alex Russo

Contributor for the Win Column CGY | 1/3 of The Burning Leaf Podcast
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