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Calgary Flames

Flames Can Ice Younger Balanced Lineup If Veterans Stick Around



With NHL free agency well underway and the Calgary Flames still in a position of relative limbo while deciding what to do with their own non-committal looming free agents, new GM Craig Conroy’s promise to leave room for young players looks as much like a necessity as a desire.  

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the early previews of a potential opening-day lineup barring changes that come throughout the summer certainly leave some slots for a few rookies.  

Not so much on the back end, where a healthy stable of two-way defenders still graces the Calgary Flames blueline. Noah Hanifin will almost certainly be moved between now and the trade deadline, but could start the season as a member of the top pairing in his usual spot to the left of Rasmus Andersson. Behind them, MacKenzie Weegar is part of a formidable top three, with Chris Tanev, Nikita Zadorov and Oliver Kylington rounding out a stellar top six.  

In goal, it’s expected that Jacob Markstrom gets every opportunity to have a bounce-back season. Which of the last two is he most likely to repeat, the Vezina finalist performance of 2021-22 or the disastrous campaign last season? Dan Vladar and Dustin Wolf round out the goalie depth. Vladar had a nice run of games with no losses, matching a franchise record during one of Markstrom’s lengthy breaks. But his game lacked consistency overall and the statistics at season’s end backed that up. 

Up front, you have a number of different categories. You have last year’s newcomers, Nazem Kadri and Jonathan Huberdeau, who have both expressed excitement about the top-down organizational changes after disappointing first years with the franchise.  

Holdovers like Dillon Dube, Andrew Mangiapane, Adam Ruzicka, and Blake Coleman are all under team control beyond this season, as is offseason trade acquisition Yegor Sharangovich. Swedish centres Elias Lindholm, who (checks watch) has seemingly been sitting on a massive offer of extension for weeks, and Mikael Backlund, who may choose to move on from the only NHL franchise he’s ever played for, don’t seem interested in inking new deals and may be trade bait between now and training camp, or as the trade deadline approaches mid-season.  

If one or both Lindholm and Backlund are moved, even more doors open for young players looking to make the jump. But even as the roster currently sits, there are a few open spots for rookies to fill.  

With the current roster, here’s what I see for potential combinations to start the year: 


Jonathan Huberdeau – Elias Lindholm – Yegor Sharangovich 

It’s easy to forget the hot start the Calgary Flames enjoyed last season. They started 3-0 and went 5-1 before things started getting weird. The top line off the hop? Huberdeau, Lindholm and Toffoli. Tyler Toffoli asked and got a trade early this offseason, and Sharangovich could be at the top of the list to replace him as camp lines come together. There has been lots of chatter that Lindholm and Huberdeau didn’t work well together but I don’t think they were given enough of a chance to find chemistry.  

Dillon Dube – Nazem Kadri – Andrew Mangiapane 

This was a very effective second line that produced like a top line in those first six games last season. Kadri had four goals and nine points in his first half-dozen contests in Calgary Flames silks. Dube had a career year with 45 points in 82 games and had a second straight 18-goal season bouncing around the lineup last year. Mangiapane struggled with injury and consistency but looked like a nice fit on an aggressive line with these two guys out of the gates.  

Jakob Pelletier – Mikael Backlund – Matt Coronato 

Here’s where the rookies come in. And before you ask why the Coleman/Backlund/Mangiapane perfection line is broken up, I’ll tell you … it’s all about the mentor in the middle. Backlund, should he still be a member of the Calgary Flames when the puck drops in October, is one of the most reliable centres in the league. He finished sixth in the Selke voting and had a career year with 56 points during a miserable year full of eff you matches with former head coach Darryl Sutter. Pelletier is still Calder eligible, and Coronato – who has one NHL game to his credit so far – couldn’t ask for a better guide to start his NHL career than Backlund.  

Blake Coleman – Adam Ruzicka – Walker Duehr 

This line is the opposite of the previous one. The guy in the middle could be lifted up by being flanked by two extremely hard workers who both also have the capacity to score gritty goals. And some pretty ones, too. Ruzicka has a lot to prove, but should be in the lineup with regularity this season sans Sutter after sitting out often as a healthy scratch. The balance of these Flames lines is pretty impressive even with the obvious injection and greater responsibility being given to the younger players.  


Noah Hanifin – Rasmus Andersson
Nikita Zadorov – MacKenzie Weegar
Oliver Kylington – Chris Tanev
Jordan Oesterle – Dennis Gilbert 

Obviously, there’s a good chance Hanifin will be gone by training camp. If he stays, these pairings offer great depth and balance, but coming off a confidence-building gold-medal showing at the world hockey championships, Weegar could easily slide into Hanifin’s spot and the team might not miss a beat with Oesterle or Gilbert rounding out the top six. And that’s assuming Calgary Flames GM Craig Conroy doesn’t get another top-six NHL defenceman back in the Hanifin trade.  


Jacob Markstrom
Dan Vladar
Dustin Wolf 

The fans are howling for Wolf to make the jump to the NHL. And while he may have nothing to prove at the AHL level after back-to-back best goalie seasons and winning the league’s MVP award with the Calgary Wranglers last season, his waiver eligibility offers a chance to give him some games without having to trade Vladar for less than they got him for, and giving Markstrom a chance to bounce back from his abysmal season.  

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