Nearly 70 bodies in camp. The Calgary Flames hit the ice today to officially kick off the 2022-23 season. Three groups. A mixture of tryouts, prospects, veterans and young core players are all competing for spots. There are plenty of pieces pencilled in but the next couple of weeks will determine how the Flames start their defence of the Pacific Division crown.
Here are a few of the burning questions to be answered.
3. How will the winger battle play out?
The only pre-determined position outside of Jacob Markstrom locked into the top goaltending spot is the centre roster. At least as far as the top three go. Elias Lindholm, Nazem Kadri and Mikael Backlund will anchor the forward group down the middle.
How things shake out from there is a little dicier. Jonathan Huberdeau will likely pair his significant setup skills with Lindholm in the early days of camp. That means Kadri’s chemistry experiment could start with Tyler Toffoli on one flank. The most probable candidates to land on the other two spots on the top lines are Andrew Mangiapane — who will miss the first couple of days of practice with an offseason injury — and Blake Coleman.
But don’t discount Dillon Dube, who had 18 goals in his breakout season last year and could leave Coleman alongside Backlund for more balance after the duo had some success at the end of the season.
There is still a top-nine winger spot up for grabs. Calgary Flames GM Brad Treliving has said he’s still looking at the NHL trade market, but he also brought in Sonny Milano and Cody Eakin on PTOs. Prospects Jakob Pelletier, Cole Schwindt, Adam Klapka and Connor Zary intend to push, too, with Treliving declaring open season for any player in camp.
Head coach Darryl Sutter will be looking for chemistry, which Treliving said will be an interesting storyline as camp plays out.
“I’m excited to see where all the pieces fit,” Treliving said. “I know Darryl and the staff have been working on that for a while, so I’m interested to see where this all goes.
“You never know where the chemistry is going to be.”
2. Will the Calgary Flames name a captain?
The Calgary Flames played last season with an extra alternate in the absence of Mark Giordano. Not having anyone wearing the extra C on their chest didn’t seem to phase the group, which didn’t lack for locker-room leaders.
But this group looks very different. Massive new pieces were brought in. Mature players with major leadership skills on and off the ice. Jonathan Huberdeau brings a serious, competitive swagger. Nazem Kadri has a snarl and ultimate level of confidence.
The team has undergone a blood transfusion and it will be interesting to see if a captain is named at some point in camp or if they are confident with their rotation of alternate captains.
“We’ll see. Darryl and I talked about it a little bit. That’s got to play out. I don’t think you name a captain just to check it off the list. We’ll see how everything goes. We’ve got some new people in here. I think our No. 1 priority is to get everyone together and get the group formed and start building the team.
1. What about Weegar?
We’re all still waiting for that contract extension. But there seems like a lot in play despite both parties saying all the right things. Are the Calgary Flames willing to give another eight-year extension for a guy who will be well into his mid-30s when it expires? If so, what will the AAV max out at for a team that has many young pieces to sign in the coming years?
Questions upon questions when it comes to MacKenzie Weegar, one of the centrepieces of the Matthew Tkachuk trade.
Another one around Weegar is whether he’ll be the “stud” defenceman head coach Darryl Sutter says a team needs to be successful in the playoffs.
He’s shown he’s capable of massive minutes and touching on ever aspect of the game,
Who he plays with will be another surprise worth watching.
With Oliver Kylington out indefinitely dealing with a personal family issue, it’s almost assured Weegar starts either with Chris Tanev or Rasmus Andersson. Does Sutter keep the Noah Hanifin-Andersson pairing together or shuffle them up after the duo was overwhelmed by Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in the second round of the post-season.
Nikita Zadorov and Connor Mackey, Juuso Valimaki or maybe PTO vet Michael Stone are likely to form the third pairing for now.
When Kylington returns, every option is on the table. It’s one of the deepest groups in the NHL.
And it might finally have its stud.