The Flames lost some players this offseason, but are any of them that important to the 2023-24 season?
Like every offseason teams say “goodbye” and “hello” to a new crop of players as they prepare for the upcoming season. Whether it’s trades, drafts, free agents leaving or free agents coming there’s always some fresh faces when training camp starts.
The Calgary Flames are no different than any other team as they certainly experienced some roster upheaval since they last took the ice on Wednesday April 12th, a 3-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks. Many familiar faces have moved on to different and or greener pastures, some top level prospects have moved on and probably more importantly, there was some front office and coaching staff jettisoned along the way.
Below are the staff and players who have come and gone since the Flames played game #82 and we’ll take a look at if the Flames are better off where they are now (note: there have been no PTO’s yet so clearly the roster will look even more different in a month or so).
-Brad Treliving was the first domino to fall in the offseason when the Flames GM announced he would be leaving the organization. It was probably the worst kept secret that Treliving and (then) Calgary coach Darryl Sutter did not see eye to eye on pretty much anything. It was also assumed that after the Flames gave Sutter an extension that it would be the lame duck GM who would be gone at the end of the season and that was true, as Treliving would head to Toronto to become the new Maple Leafs GM. Brad Treliving’s tenure in Calgary will be remembered as a mixed bag, mainly for his handling of Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk in 2022. Both star players ended up leaving Calgary, Gaudreau for nothing and Tkachuk was traded to Florida for Jonathan Huberdeau and Mackenzie Weegar. Not Brad’s best move, but he should be remembered with some positivity for his swindling of the Carolina Hurricanes where he traded Dougie Hamilton, Micheal Ferland and the rights to Adam Fox to the ‘Canes for Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm. That worked out pretty well. Time will tell on the latest deals though as Matthew Tkachuk carried the Florida Panthers to the Stanley Cup Finals and Johnny Gaudreau disappeared in Columbus. We all know how bad the Tkachuk trade looked last season as Jonathan Huberdeau went from 110 points to 55. Let’s see what 2023-24 brings for everyone before the panic button gets smashed into oblivion.
-Darryl Sutter had the last laugh as he finished a pretty disappointing season, watched his GM resign and had a contract extension in hand. What more could he want? Well, job security for one. A mere fifteen days after Brad Treliving stepped down as General Manager the Calgary Flames fired head coach Darryl Sutter. Sutter’s second run behind the Flames bench was a mixed bag for sure. He came in more than halfway through the 2020-21 season. Then he took the Flames to incredible heights in his first full season behind the bench in 2021-22, getting career seasons out of Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, Elias Lindholm and the list goes on and on. The Flames had a record of 50-21-11 and looked like they were going to make a deep run until they barely got past the Dallas Stars and then were steamrolled by the Oilers in the second round. No one knew it at the time, but that series was a sign of what was to come. The offseason was FILLED with upheaval, the season was a disaster with Calgary finishing 5th in the Pacific (38-27-19), no playoffs and the absolute mess that was the locker room, with “allegedly” most of it having to do with the players and their coach not getting along. Sutter was abrasive and openly mocked Matthew Phillips after he made his NHL debut. The writing was on the wall at the point and on May 1st the Flames did the right thing and canned Sutter, despite having to pay him to not coach the Flames for the next two seasons. Depending on how this works out, this MIGHT be the best money that Calgary has recently spent.
-It’s never good when you ship out your leading point producer from the prior season, but that’s exactly what the Flames did when they traded Tyler Toffoli to the New Jersey Devils. Toffoli was one of the few bright spots on the roster last season, as he led the Flames with 73 points (34 goals and 39 assists) and really carried the team throughout the year with his consistent play. The issue was Toffoli’s contract. The winger was under contract until the end of this season (2024) and clearly the Flames knew he wasn’t going to sign an extension. So it made some sense to strike while the iron was hot and trade him after a career season last year. Will his absence hurt the Flames? Potentially, but after learning from the Johnny Gaudreau situation it’s better that Calgary got something for Toffoli instead of nothing.
-Then there’s this hodgepodge of bodies that left this offseason: Milan Lucic, Nick Ritchie, Michael Stone, Matthew Phillips and Trevor Lewis. Yes, there are a few names in that bunch that are serviceable, but it’s highly unlikely most of those names will be missed. We’ll start with Milan Lucic. The big bodied forward was a shell of his former self last season, really providing the Flames with little to nothing from start to finish. And this isn’t something new as he’d been on the decline for a few years. At the end of the day he gave the Flames something, which is better than what James Neal gave Edmonton….so maybe a win? Lucic signed with Boston and that’s the perfect place for him. Let him play one last season in Boston and retire a Bruin because that’s who he should be remembered as. Nick Ritchie was a classic Flames deadline deal (traded for his brother Brett Ritchie) who had five points in 16 games with Calgary, but was just there most of the time and really wasn’t needed (an AHL player could have taken that roster spot, but we know Darryl Sutter would never let that happen). As for Trevor Lewis and Michael Stone, both are savvy veterans that knew their roles and did them well. If either was back on the roster this season, great. Seeing they’re not, no biggie. Stone retired from the NHL and took a job with the Flames in player development. Trevor Lewis opted to head to free agency and signed a deal with the LA Kings who drafted him back in 2006. The most (and could be argued ONLY) intriguing loss of the lot is Matthew Phillips. Phillips had been trying to kick the door in with Calgary due to his unreal AHL career, but Darryl Sutter happened to be on the other side of that door. Phillips had back to back outstanding seasons with the Stockton Heat and Calgary Wranglers, but he left this offseason to sign with the Washington Capitals and Wranglers former assistant Coach Mitch Love. Phillips just seemed like he was never going to get a look with Calgary, despite putting up a combined 144 points over the last two seasons. Even IF he had been given a decent look it probably wouldn’t have mattered after the “what number is he” fiasco with Sutter last season. After making his NHL debut the press asked Sutter what he thought of Phillip’s making his debut and Sutter was downright dismissive and rude. This after praising Walker Duehr for his NHL debut. You hope for Phillips that he lands on his feet and has a solid NHL career, but if you’re the Flames organization you have to be wondering if you ruined a potential star player for no reason at all.
-It’s still early on so new faces are draft picks (which we already covered in a previous article), but on the management/staff side there are some exciting changes. With Brad Treliving walking away in April, Calgary needed someone to handle the GM duties. After a relatively short search the Flames went with the consensus pick of Craig Conroy. In the history of the franchise there are few players more loved than Craig Conroy. Conroy had two separate stints with the Flames as a player, the most memorable was his place on the team during the ’04 Stanley Cup run. That year he finished second on the team behind Jarome Iginla in points (47) in the regular season and then finished second behind Iginla in the playoffs with 17. Since retiring in 2011, Conroy has been a member of the Flames front office under both Jay Feaster and Brad Treliving. The new GM has a tough road ahead of him as the Flames need to decide if they’re in win now mode, slightly rebuilding or trying to do a little of both. In any event, it should be nice to have fresh eyes on the entire process.
-Though the “placement” is switched with who’s #1 and who’s #2 from the previous paragraph, Conroy has his running mate by his side again in Jarome Iginla. The Flames added Iginla to the front office staff as a Special Advisor to the GM this offseason. You could kind of feel that when the winds of change started to blow that they might just blow the greatest Flame of all time right back to the organization. With Iginla and Conroy together in the front office no two people want to win more than those two as they were THIS close to drinking from the Stanley Cup. Maybe some old player insight and passion is the injection this front office needs.
-New GM. New Coach. Welcome Ryan Huska. The former boss of the Adirondack Flames, Stockton Heat and Calgary Wranglers was announced as the new bench boss of the Calgary Flames on June 13th. This move makes total sense from a hockey operations standpoint. Calgary has a ton of young talent that really needs to start getting NHL experience and who better to lead them through that transition than the coach who was with them in the minors. Besides that angle, Huska is a solid coach. In his time in the minors he compiled a record of 135-118-7 and was there to help with the development of players like Dustin Wolf, Adam Ruzicka and Jacob Pelletier.
-Yes, we finally have a player and it’s Yegor Sharangovich. Sherangovich came over to Calgary in the Tyler Toffoli trade to New Jersey. The 6’2 native of Belarus has been nothing if not consistent in the NHL. Since making his debut in 2020, Sherangovich has averaged over 30 points per season with 2021-22 being his high water mark of 46 points (24/22) in 76 games. The Flames are expecting big things from the left shot centre in 2023-24 as there are some serious holes (maybe even more that we’ll discuss in another article down the road) to fill, so it’s almost a sure thing that Sherangovich will have plenty of opportunities to showcase his skills.
Now, this all begs the question: are the Flames better off with their current lot and situation? Time will tell, as we all thought the additions of Nazem Kadri, Jonathan Huberdeau and Mackenzie Weegar made the Flames a better team last year. Usually it’s the players that determine whether or not a team takes that next step, but for the 2023-24 Flames it’s more about the coach and GM. No longer is Darryl Sutter behind the bench, rubbing people the wrong way and being stubborn. Craig Conroy now takes over as the guy to get the deals done and he’s got some big ones (Mikael Backlund, Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin) on his plate. In the end, I think it comes down to Ryan Huska this season and his ability to turn the tide of last season and get the best out of Kadri, Huberdeau and Lindholm come October. Sometimes you just need a breath of fresh air on a team to make a significant difference. The Flames can only hope this breath of fresh air comes in like a hurricane.