The Flames have kicked off the 2023–24 season in a disastrous fashion. We asked you for your Calgary Flames questions in our second TWC Mailbag of the year. Here’s what you asked. There were some clear trends so I’ve grouped some questions together.
To rebuild or not rebuild?
Should they? Probably a year and a half ago the day Johnny Gaudreau left for nothing in free agency. This is a team spinning its wheels right now and everyone on the outside can tell it’s time to tear this thing down and start fresh. With plenty of high-profile players on expiring deals, the Flames have a great chance to kick off a rebuild and finally land a top-three pick for the first time ever.
Will they tank? Unlikely, at least not yet. It’s in the Flames’ DNA to do whatever it takes to get into the playoffs even if everything is working against them. It’s the reason Jarome Iginla was traded for magic beans. The Flames will never rebuild until it’s too late. We even heard the team CEO flat-out say he’s not allowed to say the word rebuild this past summer. This organization will absolutely never willingly tank or tear it down until they have no other choice.
As of right now, it’s still early into the season and the Flames have plenty of time to save their season and get back into playoff contention, even if they’ve shown nothing to suggest they can get out of the basement. For that reason I find it highly unlikely the team gives in and rebuilds just yet. That said ownership has certainly made note of the team’s start, putting a pause on all contract talks for now. You know things are bad when even this ownership group starts to lean towards a retool/rebuild over going all in on the playoffs. So it may just be the case that they are now starting to feel cornered into a rebuild after all.
Ryan Huska’s start in Calgary
Ryan Huska’s first couple weeks as an NHL coach quite frankly couldn’t have gone worse. However that said I’d be shocked if he’s fired from his first ever coaching role within a couple of months. Even if the Flames start snowballs and gets even worse, I don’t think they’d let a coach go this early into his tenure. It’s rare for a coach to be fired before the new year and even when it does happen it’s typically a coach who’s on his final straw. Huska will surely be given the entire year to figure things out before the Flames consider a replacement.
Yes and no. When a team starts the season this poorly there’s never one person to blame, and that’s the case in Calgary right now. Is the Flames roster completely devoid of high-end talent? Yes. Did they already fail under a different coach last year? Also yes. Have they also shown almost no progress from last season? Also yes, and that’s where some of the blame starts to fall on Huska. The Flames were expected to be a new team after getting out from under the shadow of Sutter, but instead, Huska has this team looking nearly identical to last year, if not worse. Shots from the outside, not getting to the high-danger areas, you know the story.
Thus far, we still don’t have a full idea of what type of team Huska wants the Flames to be. A summer of touting a new look on offence has turned into just 22 goals in ten games, one of the lowest totals in the NHL. Huska’s system thus far simply looks like he’s told the Flames forwards to go out and be creative and score. There’s no structure, no organization and no clear identity in this team right now, it’s 18 guys skating around like they’re playing shinny. It’s on the coach to give his team structure and Huska has failed in that department so far which is a major part of the team’s early failures.
I get it’s still early and Huska is only ten games into his NHL coaching career, but so far there haven’t been many positives under the new head coach compared to last year’s team. If there were signs of a team adjusting to a new system that would be one thing, but instead Huska’s Flames don’t look very different from last years Flames.
The Jonathan Huberdeau situation
Does Huberdeau ever return to above a ppg?”
If you had asked me this question a couple of weeks ago I would’ve said absolutely. Now I’m less certain given Jonathan Huberdeau looks exactly like he did last year and has just five points in 10 games to start the season. It’s easy to forget Huberdeau set the NHL record for assists by a left wing just two years ago and was a point-per-game player for four straight seasons between 2018 and 2022. The problem is he’s looked like a shell of himself from the day he stepped on the ice as a Flame. Through 89 games in Calgary, Huberdeau has produced at just a 0.67 points per game rate—nowhere close to a point per game. He also recently turned 30 and isn’t getting any younger.
That said there’s still plenty of time not just this season but also throughout his contract to get back to a point-per-game pace. Talent like his doesn’t just disappear overnight and you’d have to think Huberdeau eventually figures it out right? With so much time for him to get back to a point per game, I think there’s still a good chance he gets there one day, even if at this moment it looks like he’s going in the opposite direction. The Flames better hope he gets back there or his contract is a lock for one of the worst in NHL history.
Would the Flames benefit from trading Huberdeau to the Habs (retaining $3 million) and getting back Josh Anderson, Joel Armia, and the 1st they gave up in the Monahan trade? Salary would be a wash (give or take) and they’d gain what could end up being the return of their own lottery pick in 2024
This is a wild one. In this deal, the Flames would move Huberdeau and his gigantic contract to his hometown Canadiens while still having $3 million AAV retained on the books for another six years, along with Josh Anderson’s $5.5 million AAV for another three seasons and Joel Armia’s $3.4 million AAV for one more season. Lastly, they’d get back the first-round pick they sent to Montreal in the Monahan trade. It’s worth mentioning that Montreal will only have the option to take Calgary’s 2024 pick if it’s between 20-32, so it’s not like re-acquiring it is saving them from disaster at this year’s draft.
Overall I wouldn’t make this deal if I was Calgary. Retaining $3 million on Huberdeau’s contract for another six years is a big loss, as is taking on three more years of Anderson at $5.5 million. Yes, getting a first-round pick back is nice but at the end of the day at least Huberdeau has the chance to become an impactful, high-end player again, while Anderson and Armia are both straight-up cap dumps.
Maybe Huberdeau pulls an Erik Karlsson and has a bounce-back career year and the Flames can get an actual return for him? Maybe he turns into a key veteran piece in a couple of years on a young up-and-coming team like Jamie Benn in Dallas. Who knows. If they are truly rebuilding, they may as well hold onto Huberdeau at this point and see how it plays out versus dumping him for other bad contracts.
Elias Lindholm trade
What is a possible return for Lindholm at the deadline
In the span of a couple of weeks, we’ve gone from being leaning towards the idea that Elias Lindholm would eventually re-sign in Calgary to now having all contract talks put on hold. If the Flames don’t recover from their awful start, there’s no reason Lindholm shouldn’t be dealt before the deadline. In terms of a return, I think the Flames could get quite the haul even if Lindholm hasn’t been his best so far this year. He still carries a strong reputation around the league after his 42-goal, Selke candidate season in 2021–22.
In terms of a return, I think the Flames should be looking at getting at minimum a first-round pick, a top prospect, and a younger roster player similar to the Bo Horvat deal. One team in particular I’ll continue to tout as a perfect fit is the Columbus Blue Jackets. Columbus desperately needs a first line centre to play with Johnny Gaudreau before it’s too late so who better than his old linemate in Calgary?
Columbus has plenty of young players the Flames could be interested in and could put together a real solid package. Perhaps something like Cole Sillinger, a 2024 or 2025 top-10 protected first-round pick, and Andrew Peeke could work? The Flames would be getting a young, talented centre in need of a change in Sillinger, a young defenceman in Peeke who could fill in for one of their numerous pending UFA defenceman, as well as a first-round pick.
We’ve yet to see Dustin Wolf in the NHL this season, and with the Flames off to a bad start and staring down a rebuild the Flames plan for him is even more up in the air now. The last thing you want to do is throw a rookie goalie to the wolves (no pun intended) behind a tanking roster. For that reason, I think we may end up seeing a lot less of Wolf this year than expected—at least for now.
Wolf and the Wranglers are off to a terrific start in the AHL, with Wolf sitting with a 4–0–0 record and .921 save percentage. It just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to call him up right now and subject him to the Flames’ disastrous situation at the moment. I think for this season at least Wolf may spend the majority of his season in the AHL, while Jacob Markstrom and Dan Vladar hold down the fort of the sinking ship that is the Flames. With Markstrom’s strong start, it makes that decision even easier.
Noah Hanifin’s contract
In case anyone missed it, according to Elliotte Friedman the Flames were reportedly offering Noah Hanifin a deal above Devon Toews‘ newly signed seven-year, $50 million contract before Hanifin and the Flames broke off contract talks. As for what would motivate the Flames to offer Hanifin such a massive deal I’m honestly not sure. Hanifin is a solid top-four defenceman—there’s no denying that—but he’s nowhere close to the player Devon Toews is. Here’s the two compared courtesy of evolving-hockey.com.
Why Craig Conroy and the Flames would be looking to give such massive money to a 26-year-old defenceman while the team sits on the edge of a pending rebuild is beyond me. There was no reason to be looking to sign Hanifin long-term before knowing what kind of team the Flames would be this season. Luckily their slow start has made them reconsider any pending contract talks, but the fact they were on the verge of signing Hanifin to a mega $50 million deal is concerning for the future of the team.
Potential trade options
First off I don’t think the Flames should be looking to add players right now, they should be looking to do the opposite. That said if there are younger, cheaper players available around the league that could add some youth and speed to their lineup it’s certainly worth looking into. We covered off one target who could be of interest in Morgan Frost last week. Frost is a 24-year-old first-round pick coming off a 46-point season, but has been a regular scratch in Philadelphia this year. If he’s available, he’d be a perfect low cost target for the Flames as they enter a retool/rebuild.
While they have 82 games on the schedule so that’s 82 nights right off the bat. The other nights I’m left crying thinking about Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk so I’d put the number right around 365 days a year.