Calgary Flames

TWC Mailbag: Early look at the 2023-24 Calgary Flames

With the 2023-24 season set to kick off in a few weeks, we asked you for your Flames questions for our first TWC mailbag of the year. Let’s take a look.

Personally I’m not on the side that believes a big breakout is coming for Dillon Dube, but I can see where the belief stems from. The 25 year old has long been picked as a breakout player for the Flames and finally showed some flashes of that last season with a career high 45 points.

There’s certainly an opportunity brewing for Dube this season as the Flames are incredibly thin on the wings when it comes to established top-six players, leaving Dube as one of the frontrunners to earn a full-time top six spot which is something he never had under Darryl Sutter. If he can come into camp and earn a spot in the top-six and second powerplay unit, he could set himself up for a big year.

That said last season may have been more of his ceiling as a player versus the sign of a blooming breakout season. We’ve seen him in a top-six role already back in 2020-21 and it didn’t amount to much. On top of that his underlying numbers have never been the strongest and until last season he had never really shown any signs of being more than a middle-six winger.

I just don’t think there’s enough evidence to suggest a huge breakout is coming even with an expanded role. This isn’t the same situation we saw with Andrew Mangiapane a couple years ago where he was consistently posting elite underlying results and not seeing results. Dube has never been that type of player. I expect him to remain firmly in the 40-45 point range this season, but a big breakout seems unlikely.

Going from a seasoned veteran and old fashioned coach in Darryl Sutter to a modern coach with no prior head coaching experience in the NHL in Ryan Huska couldn’t be more of a shift, and there should be plenty of impacts on the way the Flames play this season.

To me the biggest impact will be in the team’s offensive style and approach. We all know Sutter approached the game with a defence first mentality which led to some rather boring hockey last season. I think we can expect to see a completely new look on offence for the Flames this year under Huska, and one that promotes creativity and skill instead of pure shot volume as was the case under Sutter.

In terms of which players should benefit the most, I’ll go with the Flames group of young players in Jakob Pellettier, Matthew Coronato and Adam Ruzicka. Under Sutter they were never given a fair chance but with a former AHL head coach in Huska now calling the shots, I expect the teams young talent to earn larger roles on the team and flourish.

Jonathan Huberdeau is undoubtably one of a few names at the top of the list when it comes to the Flames vacant captaincy, so his odds of landing the role are among the highest on the roster. That said we heard last week that Rasmus Andersson is the likely choice, and given his history with the franchise it makes sense. Things can obviously change, but it doesn’t seem like Huberdeau will be named captain.

That’s not to say Huberdeau wouldn’t be a good pick, I think he’d be the third best choice behind MacKenzie Weegar and Rasmus Andersson, but given all the pressure that’s already on him after last season the organization may want to prevent piling on even more pressure. Again until an actual announcement is made I think Huberdeau is one of the primary contenders for the role, but I think Weegar or Andersson would be the pick before him.

It can’t possibly be worse can it? The Mullerplay was an unmitigated disaster last season, regularly letting the Flames down in key moments and games. There was just zero creativity behind their powerplay and it seemed completely lifeless for most of last season. The good news is there are plenty of reasons to believe the powerplay will be much improved in 2023-24.

With former NHL all-star Marc Savard now behind the bench and in charge of the powerplay, the Flames are in a great spot to get back to the top of the league in terms of powerplay success. The last time Savard was in charge of an NHL powerplay in St. Louis he found immediate success.

2018–19 (Pre Savard)21.1%10th
2019–20 (With Savard)24.3%3rd

There’s no reason to believe Savard can’t get the Flames in a similar range this coming season. It’s not like they’re lacking high end offensive players for the powerplay, they just weren’t utilized properly. Case in point Huberdeau, one of the league’s best perimeter passers, was used as a net front presence most nights last year.

Until proven otherwise I think it makes sense to have full faith in Savard’s ability to turn the team’s powerplay around this season and expect to see a much improved look on the man advantage. If not, the Flames could be in big trouble.

The belief going into the offseason was that Dan Vladar would be moved to make room for Dustin Wolf on the NHL roster, however that wasn’t the case and now the Flames are staring down the dreaded three goalie setup and Wolf’s status is up in the air.

Wolf is ready for NHL action and deserving of starts in the NHL, but with two veterans in front of him he’ll be hard pressed to earn regular NHL minutes. Due to his waiver status and the Wranglers playing out of the same arena, I’d assume Wolf starts the year bouncing between the AHL and NHL team. Assuming this goes on all season I think the range of 20 games is slightly high but not completely off base assuming the Flames want to get Wolf in the net every few games.

That said there are a couple big variables that could drastically increase his playing time in the NHL. If the Flames do end up moving Vladar at some point this season which should absolutely still be on the table, Wolf would immediately jump up to number two on the depth chart and would be in line for a much higher workload in the NHL.

Another factor is the play of Jacob Markstrom. Everyone knows Markstrom wasn’t himself last season, but if those struggles continue into this year could the Flames turn to Wolf to right the ship? It’s certainly a very real possibility and one that could even make Wolf the team’s starter by years end.

The safe bet is to assume Wolf gets into anywhere from 10-20 games this year, but I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see him come in over that total by years end. He’s just too good to bet against and the Flames current duo doesn’t inspire much confidence after last season.

After spending most of last season at left wing, Flames top 2023 draft pick Samuel Honzek will reportedly be shifted to the middle of the ice for his sophomore season in the WHL. I think this is great news for the Flames. The centre position is more valuable than the wing so it makes a ton of sense to try Honzek out there and see how it goes. Worst case scenario he doesn’t fit and he moves back to the wing. There’s really no risk here.

That said if it does go well and he thrives at centre it would be a massive win for the Flames. Standing at 6’4 and nearly 200 pounds already at just 18 years old, Honzek has all the makings of a dominate player down the middle of the ice. He’s a great skater for a player his size and has shown the ability to hold his own at both ends of the ice. A 6’4 centre who can skate, and play both special teams? Sign me up.

On the surface the Flames have some nice depth down the middle of the ice, but with the status of Lindholm and Backlund up in the air it could get thin very quick. Add on that they don’t have a ton of depth at centre in their system past Connor Zary and Honzek thriving at centre would present the Flames with some much needed depth down the middle. He’d be the only centre with top-six upside in their prospect pool.

Let’s take a look at a few dates I’m circling on my calendar for the 2023-24 season.

October 29th vs. Edmonton Oilers – This should be must watch TV as the Flames will head back outdoors for the first time since the 2019 Heritage Classic. This time the stakes will be raised though as they’ll face off against the Oilers for the first Battle of Alberta since December 2022. Here’s hoping there’s a heavy snowfall that day that slows down Connor McDavid.

December 18th vs. Florida Panthers Even though he’s already been back once, Matthew Tkachuk‘s departure is still very fresh in the minds of Flames fans. He’ll return to the Saddledome for his second visit as a Panther in December. The Huberdeau vs Tkachuk matchup will create intrigue for years. Here’s hoping the Flames maintain their unbeaten record against the Tkachuk-led Panthers.

January 25th vs Columbus Blue Jackets – Like Tkachuk, Johnny Gaudreau has already been back to the Saddledome once, but that doesn’t mean his second visit won’t be must watch TV. After the boo birds were out in full force last year, it’ll be interesting to see if Flames fans are more forgiving for Gaudreau’s departure this year.

March 9th @ Florida Panthers – Yes this will be Huberdeau and Weegar’s second trip back to Florida, but that’s not the season I’m circling this date. This will be the first game for the Flames after what could be a chaotic 2024 trade deadline on March 8th. With six major 2024 UFA’s still unsigned, the Flames could see some key players shipped out at the trade deadline and this March 9th game could be their first of new era.

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