The Calgary Flames are heading into the 2023–24 season with almost the exact same defence corps as last season. The only difference being the minor acquisition of Jordan Oesterle due to the retirement of Michael Stone and the unfortunate situation Oliver Kylington is dealing with.
With the defence looking practically identical, don’t expect too much to be different from last year. Here is how I’d assess each defenceman in terms of expectations in production and outputs.
Asking how MacKenzie Weegar’s season went last year would give you a range of answers. Some would say he struggled due to his lack of points while most will say his defensive play made him great. Weegar missed only one game last season and in those 81 games, he had 31 points.
For each defender, we will look at that their impact chart from HockeyViz.com.
This chart does a pretty good job of telling how Weegar’s season went. At 5v5, he had bad results offensively only really generating shots from the bottom half of the zone. Moving to the defensive end, we can see where Weegar shined. He was among the best at 5v5 defence, defending high-danger areas tremendously. His special team results were also eerily similar to his 5v5. When we look at his sG (a stat similar to WAR), we can see once again that his defence gave him points while his offence made him drop.
Weegar will likely get more offensive use under new head coach Ryan Huska and get back to that true two-way form he had in Florida. Expect him to score 35–45 points while still having amazing defensive play.
Rasmus Andersson has come a long way since his struggles in the bubble season. He blossomed into a top-pairing defenceman and has had two almost identical seasons. In 79 games, he scored 11 goals and 49 points, only one fewer point from his 50 in 2022–23. These seasons were so similar it’s hard to say which would be the best of his career so far. I’d lean to last year solely because of the seven more goals.
Andersson’s HockeyViz chart is super interesting to me. It reads that he struggled offensively and was slightly above-average at defence at 5v5. It’s the only model I’ve seen say this about his play this season. Most models say Andersson had amazing offensive results while being mediocre defensively.
Andersson could very well become the Flames #1 defenceman this season. It’s very likely that the Flames view him as the future one. My expectations for Andersson are that he’ll take another step forward, scoring 55–65 points and improving his overall two-way play.
With two good seasons, Noah Hanifin has seemed to finally escape the cycle of his averageness. Hanifin really stood out during the 2021–22 season for his sudden offensive and defensive improvements. Many were expecting Hanifin to either repeat or build on this for 2022–23 and he chose to repeat it. Hanifin scored seven goals and 38 points in 81 games this past season.
Hanifin’s chart tells us that he’s a solid defenceman overall. His 5v5 offensive impact is above league average by quite a bit. He did really well at generating offence at the left point and in front of the net. Heading down the ice to the defensive zone, Hanifin was once again above average. He defended well near the net and slots with most of his problems coming from the point area.
It wouldn’t be surprising if the Hanifin we have got for the past two seasons is similar to what he’ll be for most of his career. Because of that, I think an expectation of 35–45 points while keeping good offensive and defensive results is pretty fair.
Chris Tanev has been an absolute stud for the Flames since signing his $4.5M contract for four years. During the first year of the deal, Tanev became arguably the best defensive defenceman in the league. This has continued and we really haven’t seen much of a decline.
The HockeyViz model loves Tanev. Most would say he doesn’t have good 5v5 offence, which is probably more realistic, but HockeyViz wants to differ. The most important of Tanev’s game is his defence and this chart visualizes that. Tanev has what’s called the ocean of blue. It’s that super dark blue area in the net-front and high-slot spots. Having any impact like that is absurd but to have it in high-danger areas is even more crazy.
I wouldn’t expect much to change from Tanev this season. He should still be phenomenal defensively and be a safe bet for 15–20 points.
Coming to Calgary has been a blessing for Nikita Zadorov. His best seasons have been here and he just had his best one. Zadorov played a full 82-game season, scoring 14 goals, 21 points, and the only Flames hat trick last season.
Zadorov has a pretty interesting chart. Starting in the offensive zone, his results at 5v5 were league average, but he easily has more red than blue. The negative impact in the higher danger areas is definitely what is holding it back. Zadorov was great defensively. He shut down offence all over the zone, not having an area where he excelled but he didn’t have an area he struggled in either.
Zadorov will probably have a similar year to the prior one with less goal scoring. Expect him to still get around 20+ points but have his goals halved.
Jordan Oesterle was the only addition outside of the Flames organization to this group of defenceman. He possesses good skating mechanics and solid defensive traits. Serving as a sixth or seventh defenceman has been Oesterle’s role for pretty much his whole career and he’ll do that again in Calgary.
Oesterle had some struggles last season. He couldn’t get anything going offensively and couldn’t find his footing defensively posting -8% and +6% scores respectively. His sG isn’t much better at a -5 which is only being saved by his positive penalty difference.
I think it’s unlikely Oesterle will have results like he did last season again. I’m expecting him to at least be good one way and score 10–15 points.
Dennis Gilbert had been on the Flames roster as early as November but didn’t get most of his games until February and March. Gilbert’s hard style of play, throwing hits, taking fights, and blocking shots won most fans over.
Gilbert will likely be the Flames’ seventh defenceman this season, only filling in for struggling players and injuries. Due to that, we don’t expect too much from him and something like five points seems fair.
Ilya Solovyov was a double over-ager selection by the Flames in the seventh round of the 2020 entry draft and now just three years later, he might make the team. Solovyov first gained some attention due to his great play in the AHL, but now doing it in the preseason has caught even more eyes. When the opening night roster is announced, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Solovyov’s name.
If Solovyov makes the Flames, he’ll either take Gilbert’s role as seventh defenceman or he might even be the eighth defenceman. Because of the limited role, a handful of points—anywhere between 3–5—seems reasonable.
Identical core, calm expectations
With the Flames’ defence being pretty much the exact same as last season, I am not expecting much to change. I expect to see some minor improvements or declines, but it won’t be anything too drastically different.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire