NHL Off-Season Outlook: Calgary Flames

This is the newest piece in THN.com’s ongoing series of columns on the off-season plans for each of the NHL’s 32 teams. Today, we’re analyzing the Calgary Flames.

2021-22 Record: 50-21-11
Finish In The Pacific Division: 1st
Salary Cap Space Available (As Per CapFriendly.com): $26.9 million
Restricted Free Agents: Andrew Mangiapane, F; Matthew Tkachuk, F; Oliver Kylington, D
Unrestricted Free Agents: Ryan Carpenter, F; Johnny Gaudreau, F; Calle Jarnkrok, F; Trevor Lewis, F; Brett Ritchie, F; Erik Gudbranson, D; Michael Stone, D; Nikita Zadorov, D

What Calgary Has: A savvy, demanding coach in Darryl Sutter; a clear starting goalie in Jacob Markstrom; an underrated defense corps led by 25-year-olds Noah Hanifin and Rasmus Andersson; defensively-responsible veteran forwards in Elias Lindholm, Blake Coleman and Mikael Backlund; proven scorers in winger Matthew Tkachuk, Lindholm, winger Andrew Mangiapane; and defensive depth in Oliver Kylington and Chris Tanev

What Calgary Needs: A convincing argument to bring back star winger Johnny Gaudreau; a better playoff performance from Markstrom; depth on the lower part of their blueline group and at center; a bounce-back season from center Sean Monahan

What’s Realistic For Calgary Next Season: It’s safe to say the Flames exceeded expectations in the regular season this past year, running away with first place in the soft Pacific Division. But the same could not be said for their performance in the playoffs; after narrowly getting past the Dallas Stars in the first round, Calgary wilted badly in Round Two and fell to the arch-rival Edmonton Oilers in only five games. So, the difficult part for Flames fans is the knowledge that, no matter how well they play in the 2022-23 campaign, it won’t matter if they don’t at least make it to the Western Conference Final.

That task will be monumentally harder if Flames GM Brad Treliving is unable to persuade Johnny Gaudreau to re-sign a long-term contract this summer. The 28-year-old star winger was the chief force that fueled Calgary’s engine on offense, with a team-best and career-best 75 assists and 115 points, and he surely will be the most valuable unrestricted free agent on the market this off-season, bound to make far more than the $6.75 million he earned in 2021-22.

Treliving has more than enough cap space to bring back Gaudreau, but money is tighter for the Flames than first glance would make you think: in addition to Gaudreau, Calgary needs new contracts for fellow star youngsters Matthew Tkachuk and Andrew Mangiapane, as well as D-man Oliver Kylington. All three are restricted free agents, but none will come cheaply, and with only 12 players currently signed for next season, the Flames are going to have to fill out the remainder of their roster with low-payday signings.

The Flames are a well-coached bunch, but Darryl Sutter’s job will be notably easier if center Sean Monahan recovers from hip surgery and returns to the form that saw him score at least 22 goals in his first seven NHL seasons. The 27-year-old had only 18 goals in the past two seasons combined, and although his $6.375-million cap hit will be replaced while he’s on Long-Term Injury Reserve, this will be his final season under contract before becoming a UFA in 2023. Whatever they can squeeze out of Monahan will help Calgary, but at this point, his effectiveness as an above-average NHLer is rightfully being questioned.

All in all, the Flames will be a playoff team next year. But when you see how deep, fast and skilled the Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche were this season, you see that Calgary has a ways still to go before they can be a Cup frontrunner. It doesn’t all come down to Gaudreau’s employment decision, but without him, it will be a far more difficult road for them.

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