Matthew Tkachuk is no longer the Calgary Flames catalyst in the Battle of Alberta.
He’s taken his friendship tour to south Florida, where he will happily engage in hostilities with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Don’t worry, though. The Flames signing of free agent Nazem Kadri should ensure the battles with Edmonton maintain their edge even without guys like Tkachuk and Zack Kassian.
The former Toronto Maple Leafs centre is no stranger to intense rivalries.
“Coming back to Canada, I’ve kind of had that in the past with Toronto/Montreal. This is very similar,” Kadri said. “I think it’s something I’m going to adjust pretty quickly to. I can’t wait to get to Calgary and start meeting the fans, meeting the community.”
The Battle of Alberta may be even more intense among the respective fan bases after the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames met in the playoffs last season for the first time in more than 30 years.
Those three decades without a playoff battle did nothing to lessen their hatred for each other. In the end, the Flames had no answer to stars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
Kadri up to challenge against Flames rival
Kadri is excited to take that challenge on after helping the Colorado Avalanche sweep the Oilers in the Western Conference Final.
“I respect it and I appreciate that. Being around the league for a while, I’ve been able to play against some great payers. That’s something I embrace. I accept that challenge of playing against the best players and the top lines every single night,” Kadri said. “I’ve certainly proved I can do that and come out on top. I look forward to that.”
Tkachuk took the regular-season rivalry up a notch in recent years with his physical play and agitating nature. He got under Kassian’s skin regularly and there was tremendous anticipation ahead of their spring meeting.
Unfortunately, the Calgary Flames fizzled on the ice, losing the series in five games. The aggression was lacking, too, with most of the Battle of Alberta moments coming with verbal spars between Tkachuk and Evander Kane.
Kadri may bring some of that back. Kane hit Kadri from behind and knocked him out of Game 3 of their series. Kadri didn’t return until Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final but won’t soon forget Kane’s dangerous play.
Discipline important in Battle of Alberta
Kadri has a history of walking a fine line and Flames GM Brad Treliving alluded to his suspension history after announcing his signing.
As Tkachuk learned, it will be important for Kadri to play with controlled emotion and not get caught up in the rivalry to the degree that it hurts the team with penalties.
“He’s got a unique combination of skill and snarl. The big moments, the big stage — when there’s a lot on the line — some tense up and some embrace it. He embraces it and he plays on that edge, which we value,” Treliving said of Kadri.
“He’s crossed the edge; he’s crossed the line a few times and paid for it. As years go on you mature to find that balance and stay on the right side of it.”