The 2023-24 season is nearly upon us. With preseason games starting later this month, we are one step closer to regular season NHL action. One of the league’s biggest question marks is the Calgary Flames. After a dominate 2021-22 season and chaotic 2022 offseason, the Flames fell flat on their face in 2022-23 and missed the playoffs.
After a shockingly quiet offseason and a new coaching staff behind the bench, it’s anyone’s guess how the Flames will look in 2023-24. Have they gotten better this offseason? Could they be even worse than last year? Based on how many things went wrong last year, I’d say there’s a good chance we see a big improvement from the Flames in 2023-24.
Goals above replacement change
One of the first ways we can determine what impact the Flames offseason had on their outlook for 2023-24 is their overall change in GAR (goals above replacement). Here’s a breakdown from evolvinghockey.com on GAR.
“Goals Above Replacement (GAR, WAR, and SPAR) is a metric that attempts to assign a total value to each player, which represents how much that player contributed to their team in a single number. This single number is comprised of multiple components.”
After an incredibly low event offseason, how do the Flames fare when it comes to GAR out and GAR in? Let’s take a deeper look courtesy of evolvinghockey.com.
|Additions||2022-23 GAR||Subtractions||2022-23 GAR|
|Yegor Sharangovich||0.4||Tyler Toffoli||21.1|
|Jordan Oesterle||-3.2||Milan Lucic||-3.4|
|Oliver Kylington||17.2*||Trevor Lewis||-2.3|
|TOTAL||14.4 GAR IN||13 GAR OUT|
The Flames offseason can best be described as addition by subtraction. The Flames shed a ton of dead weight in the offseason, letting go of many of Darryl Sutters favourite veterans. Just losing the likes of Milan Lucic, Trevor Lewis and Nick Ritchie gained the Flames 6.3 GAR which is not an insignificant amount.
Moving out the above veterans is probably even more beneficial than we see here as they’ll likely be replaced by the likes of Jakob Pelletier, Matthew Coronato, Adam Ruzicka and Walker Duehr in the lineup full time. We don’t have a full understanding on how they’ll fare in full time roles, but needless to say it can’t be worse than the group leaving.
Troy Stecher’s departure is pretty much offset by bringing in another bottom pairing defender in Jordan Oesterle, although I’d be surprised if he’s anything more than a pressbox option for the Flames this season.
The big loss is of course Tyler Toffoli who led all Flames skaters in GAR last season at 21.1 GAR. The next closest Flame came in at 10.6. Replacing him is Yegor Sharangovich who struggled last year to the tune of 0.4 GAR. That said the year prior he posted a solid 9.1 GAR so the hope is he can return to that form in a larger role this season to make up for the loss of Toffoli.
Lastly the addition of Oliver Kylington to the Flames blueline cannot be understated. He was such a huge part of the teams success in 2021-22 and the Flames dearly missed his speed and transition ability last season. Assuming he returns even close to his 2021-22 form of 17.1 GAR, he’ll by far be the biggest offseason addition for the Flames.
The youth movement
The Flames desperately needed some more youth in their lineup last season. That much was obvious to just about everyone except the man who could actually make it happen. Sutter’s refusal to give the likes of Pelletier, Ruzicka and eventually Coronato more runway down the stretch no doubt contributed to their ninth place finish.
With Sutter now back on the farm and Ryan Huska behind the bench, the youth movement may finally be taking place in Calgary. With new general manager Craig Conroy making a point to offload the teams veterans depth pieces this offseason and avoid any PTO’s thus far, there is a very good chance we see multiple new mainstays in the Flames lineup in 2023-24.
As mentioned above, the likes of Lucic, Lewis and Ritchie just weren’t getting it done for the Flames. Their combined GAR last season amounted to -6.3. Not great. The trio of Pelletier, Ruzicka and Duehr in a smaller sample size posted a combined 3.5 GAR. Already an improvement of 9.8 GAR. In full time roles and with another year of development there’s no reason that total can’t climb much higher this season.
For reference, the below two players in Lucic and Lewis were mainstays in the Flames lineup, logging the ninth and 10th most minutes among Flames forwards. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to determine that may not have been to the teams benefit.
Points wise, Lucic, Lewis and Ritchie combined for 44 points in 175 games for a 0.25 points per game rate. Conversely with much less playing time Pelletier, Ruzicka and Duehr racked up 38 in just 95 games. Six less points in 80 less games. Add in the most skilled youngster of them all in Coronato this season and the Flames should have massively improved scoring depth in their forward group.
Their impact should reach further than just on-ice impact too. Craig Conroy said it himself in his first press conference in charge of the team.
“You need young players on the team. You need that excitement, you need what they bring, day-in and day-out.”Craig Conroy on adding youth to a locker room
Team luck turning around
Make no mistake, one of the largest parts of the Flames struggles last year stemmed from flat out bad luck. At every integral moment of every game it just always seemed like the Flames couldn’t get a bounce. Case in point, below are some unfortunate stats and where the Flames ranked last season.
|Losses when outshooting opponent||22||T-1st|
|1 goal losses||30||1st|
|PDO (5v5 SVA)||0.980||32nd|
The above chart is the definition of bad luck. To no ones surprise the Flames led the entire league in both posts hit and crossbars hit as it became a regular occurrence nearly every game. On top of that they also had the most losses when outshooting opponents with 22.
Further more they also led the entire league in both 1 goal losses and overtime losses, with their 17 overtime losses setting a franchise record. You simply cannot get more unlucky. Flip the outcome on even three of those 17 overtime losses and the Flames are in the playoffs.
Lastly the Flames finished dead last in the entire league when it comes to PDO which is the combination of team shooting percentage and save percentage. PDO is typically a great indicator of how lucky or unlucky a team is. By finishing dead last in the entire league, it’s evident the Flames couldn’t get a bounce or a save all season.
With even a league average shooting percentage and save percentage last season the Flames are in the playoffs. There’s no reason those percentages don’t bounce back in 2023-24 to league average at worst.
It’s absolutely not sustainable for this level of bad luck to continue for another year. The Flames should receive a big boost this year just on the fact they can’t simply be as unlucky as they were in 2022-23.
Individual luck turning around
It wasn’t just as a team the Flames experienced bad luck either. Multiple key players on the roster experienced some unfortunate percentages that led to some big point drops in 2022-23.
Two of the Flames most important forwards and their two highest scorers from the 2021-22 season (among current Flames) both experienced a big drop off in shooting percentage in 2022-23. This of course added to a big drop off in goals.
Andrew Mangiapane went from 35 goals in 2021-22 to just 17 in 2022-23. Lindholm meanwhile saw his total drop from 42 to 22. All said both players essentially saw their goal totals halved. Their combined total went from 75 goals in 2021-22 to just 39 in 2022-23, a massive difference of 36 goals.
Now that’s not to say we should expect Mangiapane and Elias Lindholm to return to their career high totals from 2021-22, but we should at least expect them to get back to their career average shooting percentages in 2023-24. Case in point, had Mangiapane shot at his 17.1% career average last season he would’ve scored 31 goals. Lindholm meanwhile would’ve had 30 goals at his career shooting percentage as a Flame.
The goaltending can’t possibly be worse
The title says it all. The 2022-23 season was an absolute disaster for Jacob Markstrom and it’s hard to picture the 2023-24 season being worse. It was that bad last year. Markstrom went from finishing as the runner up for the Vezina trophy in 2021-22 to posting replacement level numbers last year. I find it very hard to believe he struggles to that level again this coming season.
Here’s Markstrom’s ranks among the 26 goalies with at least 40 games played in 2022-23 courtesy of evolvinghockey.com
|Stat||Jacob Markstrom |
(Among goalies with >= 40GP)
Overall it was a miserable season for Markstrom and not one you’d expect from the reigning Vezina runner up and $6 million goalie. In particular his -18.3 GSAA really stands out and drives home just how much his struggles hurt the Flames. Had he saved those 18 goals and got his GSAA to even 0 (a total that would still rank 16th among starters) the Flames are likely in the playoffs. Remember they lost 30 one goal games?
Let’s compare that to his career averages before last season as that’s much more in tune with what we can expect from Markstrom this coming season.
There’s no question the 2022-23 season was a massive outlier for Markstrom. Across his career he’s been at worst a slightly above average starter in the NHL. The disappointing season wasn’t all on him of course, but had he provided even league average goaltending throughout the year, the Flames likely squeak into the playoffs.
Like with some of the Flames top forwards, there’s a very good chance Markstrom’s numbers rebound in 2023-24 to much closer to his career average. If they do, the Flames will find themselves on the right side of many more one goal games this year.
A new look behind the bench
This one is pretty self explanatory. Ask any Flames fan the main reason the Flames struggled last year and they’ll tell you it was coaching. Now that’s not to say Sutter was the only issue in Calgary last season, he wasn’t, but he by far had the largest impact on the team’s poor season.
From constant puzzling on ice decisions to worrying off-ice distractions, Sutter’s 2022-23 season was a complete and utter mess. Enter Ryan Huska. The Flames former AHL head coach and longtime NHL assistant coach is now in charge and should present the team with a much different look than Sutter, both on and off the ice.
Multiple key Flames have already come out in support of the Huska hiring, a drastic shift compared to the attitude under Sutter’s rule. Having a coach behind the bench who the players respect and want to play for will do wonders for a Flames team who quite simply had no fun last season.
On-ice, Huska brings a more modern approach to the game, and one that should open up the Flames offence for their top players to finally get creative. Add in the hiring of former offensive star Marc Savard and we could be looking at a completely new look on offence in 2023-24.
“I know the offence really struggled last year. I think I can help out. A lot of that is going to be through good relationships with the players and helping them believe in themselves. And give them the opportunity to make plays… I’ve got some great ideas and the guys are going to have a lot of fun”.Marc Savard on changing up the Flames offence
Opportunity to make plays? Fun? There’s two things you never heard anyone say about the Flames offence last season. Don’t even get me started on the dreaded Mullerplay that ranked 19th in the NHL last season.
Savard’s control over the team’s offence and powerplay should be a breath of fresh air for both the Flames top players and Flames fans in 2023-24. His introduction on the bench has the potential to bring some huge positive influence to a Flames offence that was more often than not burnt out in 2022-23.
It’s not all doom and gloom
The attitude around the Calgary Flames this offseason has understandably been very negative, but that doesn’t mean there are no positive to find with the 2023-24 itteration of the team.
With a new forward thinking and modern coaching staff behind the bench, no more dead weight in the lineup, and some likely positive regression on the ice, Flames fans have plenty of reasons to believe the Flames will be much better in 2023-24 than they were last year.