Up in smoke: How the Calgary Flames saved a potentially disastrous offseason
Josh Werle, Sports Editor
Ever heard the saying “lightning never strikes the same place twice?” Calgary Flames fans have, as lightning struck twice during the NHL offseason when Calgary’s two biggest stars left the team. Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk, who led the team in points and goals respectively, will both be wearing new threads to start the 2022-23 NHL season.
On top of the world
On May 18 of this year, Flames fans were on top of the world. They had just wrapped up a grueling first-round playoff series against the Dallas Stars — winning in overtime of the seventh and final game — and managed to defeat the Edmonton Oilers in the first game of round two. The 9-6 victory marked the first Battle of Alberta series in the playoffs in 31 years, and Calgary seemed unstoppable. On May 20, a mere 48 hours later marked the beginning of a nightmare for the Calgary Flames.
After their initial victory over the Oilers in round two, the Calgary Flames went on to lose four straight games, and were subsequently eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs. As difficult as the playoffs can be, Flames fans knew that the offseason wasn’t going to be a walk in the park either, as Gaudreau and Tkachuk needed new contracts for the upcoming season.
Gaudreau has been with the Flames for almost a decade, and Tkachuk was one of the brightest young players that Calgary had, making it seem like a foregone conclusion that they would be back in a Flames uniform at the start of next season.
On July 12, the day before free agency, the news broke that Gaudreau would become a free agent and test the open market. The next day, Gaudreau shocked the hockey world as it was announced he was officially a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Flames had been eliminated from Stanley Cup contention and lost their star player, what else could go wrong?
On July 17, Matthew Tkachuk — who was perceived to be the future of the franchise — announced that he didn’t intend to sign a new contract with the team.
Tkachuck’s situation differed slightly from Gaudreau’s, as he wasn’t an unrestricted free agent. This meant that Calgary could, at the very least, engage in trade talks with other teams so that they could receive something in return. Still, the once bright future of the Flames organization had taken a turn for the worse.
On July 22, things took a turn for the team, as the Calgary Flames traded Tkachuk to the Florida Panthers in exchange for Jonathan Huberdeau and Mackenzie Weegar, among other assets. Huberdeau finished in a tie for second most points in the NHL last season, with Gaudreau wracking up a league-best 85 assists. Weegar, a defenseman, finished with 44 points last season. The duo contributed massively to the Panthers’ record during the 2021-22 season, where they led the entire NHL with 58 wins.
With Tkachuk’s exit from the team guaranteed, getting two high-quality players in return is exactly what the Flames needed to turn their offseason around. The Flames had unceremoniously lost two top-20 point scorers and only got one in return, leaving a hole that needed to be filled.
In order to do this, the Flames shipped off another longtime team member, Sean Monahan, who went to the Montreal Canadiens to clear up some room for Calgary to sign one final piece to their puzzle.
On Aug. 18, the Flames landed free agent centre Nazem Kadri, who was a member of the 2021-22 Stanley Cup winning team, the Colorado Avalanche. Kadri also finished in the top 20 for points scored last season, meaning Calgary had effectively exchanged their players for two of equal quality. Of course, Tkachuk and Gaudreau were special members of the team — they were locker room leaders who were responsible for a large amount of Calgary’s success last season — but they were guaranteed to leave and said as much.
What General Manager Brad Treliving was able to accomplish this offseason was historic, and he may have been able to save what had the potential to be one of the biggest downfalls in all of hockey history. Only time will tell where the Flames will finish in the standings this season, but the team is in great shape with their newest acquisitions.