Calgary Flames may have had the most intriguing off-season of any National Hockey League team, and for Flames’ fans, the coming season’s success or failure will be measured in mathematical comparisons.
Two superstar offensive players, Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk, have been stricken from the roster, and replaced by players of similar skill levels — Jonathan Huberdeau and Nazem Kadri.
You can bet that when Flames’ fans fire up their computers to check scores around the league this winter, they’ll be checking out the Columbus Blue Jackets’ summary to see how Gaudreau fared, and results from Florida games, where Tkachuk will be skating for the Panthers.
On the surface, the free-agent transactions — Gaudreau out, Kadri in — is close to a wash. Gaudreau may have more offensive firepower, but Kadri can score and also plays a more physical game than the slight Johnny Hockey.
The trade deal — Tkachuk for Huberdeau — is also close to a coin-flip. Tkachuk is a sandpaper, in-your-face player who not only scores and sets up wingers, but plays an antagonistic game that definitely keeps opponents on their toes. A stick jab to the belly, a quick fist to the jaw or a slash to the ankle are trademarks of Tkachuk’s game, while Huberdeau plays a less physical game while performing as one of the NHL’s best playmakers.
The wildcard that turns the off-season transactions in the Flames’ favour is the addition of defenceman MacKenzie Weegar, who comes to Alberta from Florida in the Tkachuk-Huberdeau transaction.
Weegar was a top-pair defender with the Panthers last year and will definitely strengthen the Flames defence corps, but they may have him for only one year. Weegar is an unrestricted free agent after the 2022-23 season, probably the key reason the Panthers weren’t too concerned about including him in the big trade.
Weegar strengthens the Flames’ defence, which was pretty strong to begin with. He joins Rasmus Andersson, Noah Hanifin, Chris Tanev and Oliver Kylington on the blue line, protecting goalie Jacob Markstrom, who ranks in the top third of NHL keepers.
Players come and go, contracts expire, free agency looms and players get traded like shares on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
Flames’ fans will generally root for Gaudreau’s success in Columbus, but comparisons between his offensive numbers and those of Kadri will be frequent. Same with Tkachuk-vs.Huberdeau.
If Gaudreau and Tkachuk shine in their respective new homes, and Kadri and Huberdeau don’t live up to exceptions, it won’t take much to fan the flames of discontent around Calgary this winter.
by Bruce Penton