Calgary Flames seek to turn entertaining off season into longer playoff run

No NHL team lost more and gained more than the Calgary Flames after their most successful season in years.

Newcomers Jonathan Huberdeau and Nazem Kadri can bring offensive firepower and other intangibles to compensate for departed wingers Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk. Will they?

Masterful wheeling and dealing in the off-season does not guarantee a championship, Calgary’s general manager cautioned.

“This idea of winning in the summer is a load of crap I think,” Brad Treliving said to start training camp. “You try to win in the winter.”

Calgary has the pieces of a Stanley Cup contender, but there’s still the matter of fitting them together.

Click to play video: 'Huberdeau, Kadri take in 1st training camp with Calgary Flames' Huberdeau, Kadri take in 1st training camp with Calgary Flames

Huberdeau, Kadri take in 1st training camp with Calgary Flames – Sep 22, 2022

“Chemistry, you’ve got to get in and see live bullets. You just don’t know right?” Treliving said.

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The Flames open at home Thursday against the defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche.

Kadri won the Cup with the Avs, so he’ll face his former teammates within weeks of lifting it with them.

The Flames (50-21-11) won the Pacific Division and made it past the first round of playoffs for just the second time in 17 years in 2022.

Calgary bowed out in five games to the Edmonton Oilers in the conference semifinal.

It was nevertheless a significant post-season step forward for the Flames. There will be little tolerance for backsliding.

“Make sure that the returning guys are on top of it, of the identity of our team and the strides we’ve made as an organization, that’s really important to reinforce that,” head coach Darryl Sutter said.

“As important as it is that the 23-to-28 age group takes another step in terms of their maturity on ice and development, it’s important that those three or four older guys get back to their career average or maintain where they’re at, at least.”

Read more: Calgary Flames sign defenceman MacKenzie Weegar to 8-year contract

Treliving shelled out $183 million in long-term contracts to Huberdeau, Kadri and defenceman MacKenzie Weegar, who accompanied Huberdeau in the Florida Panthers trade.

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Last season’s winner of the Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s top coach, Sutter signed a multi-year contract extension with the Flames less than a week out from opening day.

Huberdeau brings his playmaking talents to Gaudreau’s former spot on the left wing of the top line centred by Selke-finalist Elias Lindholm.

Sutter stating: “Jonathan Huberdeau is probably the best passer that this team has had, maybe ever” was an intriguing projection given Gaudreau’s history in Calgary.

Tyler Toffoli is auditioning on Lindholm’s right side where Tkachuk previously plied his trade. Lindholm’s line combined for a pretty goal off the rush in the pre-season finale.

That was overshadowed, however, by the Flames giving up a combined 10 goals in two straight losses to the Winnipeg Jets to end the pre-season with a 4-4 record.

Read more: Gaudreau, Tkachuk returning to Calgary among must-see games this NHL season

“We’re all trying to figure out where we’re all at as a team,” Toffoli said. “The season’s starting, so time’s running out.”

Kadri, a free-agent signing, and Mikael Backlund give Calgary depth at centre, which Sutter wanted more of against the Oilers.

“The last five games we played last year we weren’t good enough up the middle of the ice,” Sutter said. “So, lessons learned.

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“I’d certainly rather have top centreman, the way our division is set up, to play against top centremen.”

Weegar’s addition gives Calgary a seasoned top-five grouping on the back end including Rasmus Andersson, Chris Tanev, Noah Hanifin and Nikita Zadorov.

Defenceman Oliver Kylington missed training camp dealing with a personal matter. The Arizona Coyotes claimed 2017 first-round pick Juuso Valimaki off waivers Sunday.

Goaltender Jacob Markstrom is tasked with duplicating a season that made him a Vezina Trophy finalist.

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His stellar playoff round against Dallas was overshadowed somewhat by the acrobatics of Jake Oettinger in the Stars net.

After 75 games, Markstrom was then outplayed by the grizzled Mike Smith in the Edmonton series.

HELLO HUBERDEAU

The departed Gaudreau was the straw that stirred the top line’s drink, particularly on the power play. Huberdeau, 29, has the chops to replace that playmaking on the left wing as proven by his career-high 85 assists last season for the Panthers. Huberdeau posted the same number of points as Gaudreau (115) trailing only Edmonton’s Connor McDavid (125) for the NHL lead.

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NO CAPTAIN MY CAPTAIN?

Sutter didn’t name a captain last season and doesn’t seem inclined, so far, to do so in 2022-23. He rotated the alternate captains’ letters through 11 players in the pre-season. Mikael Backlund, the longest-serving Flame in his 14th season, and Tanev were alternates last season as were the departed Tkachuk and Sean Monahan.

SCHEDULE WATCH

Kadri faces the team he won a Stanley Cup with in Calgary’s opener Thursday.

Tkachuk and the Florida Panthers are in town Nov. 29

The Flames host Gaudreau and the Columbus Blue Jackets on Jan. 23.

© 2022 The Canadian Press

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