Flames Non-Thanksgiving (because Canada) Season Update

Happy Turkey-hangover day to those of you reading this south of the border, and a happy Friday to those of you reading from my homeland. Regardless of how you spent yesterday, I hope it was glorious, and you’re riding into the weekend hot.

Given that I’ve been a little MIA lately, I figured it was best to jump into a full panic-fuelled breakdown of how the first month or so of the season has gone, because it’s truly been weird, and it makes it very hard to have an opinion one way or the other.

The Flames rolled out of the offseason of the century feeling pretty good, moving from rebuild to win-now mode pretty effectively, and we had some question marks we looked to address. Could Huberdeau replace the Tkachuk-Gaudreau output we stood to lose? Not really so far, but we’re holding out hope. Was Kadri worth what we paid him? Hell yes, and then some. Could Markstrom start the season as hot as he did last year and look to see himself in the Vezina conversation again? Hard no. Let’s jump into all of these before we dive deeper into looking forward.

Sniping Huberdeau and Weegar from the Panthers was an absolute heater trade on paper. It got me fired up in all the right places. We lost a 115 point scorer for nothing and we found a new one. We bolstered the hell out of an already pretty deep blue line. It all felt right. Huberdeau has not jumped headfirst into the saviour role we all envisioned him in, but it’s something that doesn’t have me as stressed as some. He was a franchise player on a different team, in a different conference. Moving from that level of responsibility on a contender to the same level of responsibility in a larger hockey market that also happens to be a contender? Not easy. There’s gonna be some growing pains, which he and the lads are clearly feeling. It takes time. If by All-Star Break we havent sorted out this whole “why isn’t his name on the scoresheet again?” thing out by then, I’ll take it all back and I’ll apologize for being this relaxed.

Markstrom. What to say about the guy. Handsome, charismatic, talented, happy to take shots at Tkachuk in the media, you gotta love the guy. His issue for my purposes here is that last season he set the bar way too high for himself. The guy went nuts early on, picked up a ton of shutouts and put the Flames solidly in a place where we got a little too comfortable. Sutter rides the guy into the ground, which is worth talking about, but this season’s start has been a touch shakier, getting hooked against the Oilers, going on a bit of a nasty losing streak, and just underperforming relative to last year’s statline. Am I stressed? Again, not entirely at the moment. It’s still early. One thing I’d like to see, but like every other armchair Flames GM, have nothing but the eye test and my inferior hockey knowledge to back it up, is Vladar getting more regular starts. Markstrom is the better goalie, but he’s also going to end up an exhausted bag of bones like last year if he starts 70 games. Vladar is a starter on at least 10 other teams in this league, and he adds a TON of value to the blue paint section of the ice. Despite Markstrom being shaky, I’d still argue that, at their best, they are the best goaltending tandem in the NHL. Vladar has simply had the misfortune of going into games ice cold after sitting for extended periods of time. I’m not the coach, but I’d like to see Sutter mix the starters up a little more regularly so Markstrom gets some rest and Vladar gets to stay loose and look for a chance to get hot.

Onto brighter things. Nazem. Fuckin. Kadri. They guy is a nuclear missile out there. One thing he has most notably been doing is getting on the scoresheet EARLY and often. A ton of his points are in the first period, a good handful of which open the scoring on any given night. The value of a guy who jumps out of the gate buzzing around like a Red Bull fuelled nightmare is that he creates the space for the rest of the squad to get on his level while he’s rippin’ around all over the place. His value cannot be understated to this team. The guy has been an absolute pleasure to see in red this year, earning every penny of his seemingly dicey contract. He adds a huge amount of grit and tenacity that we lost with Tkachuk, and he can put the puck in the net just as well. I hope he keeps getting hotter as he adds chemistry with the lads, and really opens it up now that the scales have somewhat balanced out again.

The 5-1-0 start the Flames had to the season was obviously not sustainable heat. The 7-game skid that immediately followed, obviously wasn’t going to be the rest of the season but holy hell did it feel like forever. The Flames have once again found some form, picking up spare points in a few of their recent losses, and finally finding the W column, working their way back up the Pacific Conference ladder, which seems steeper now than it ever has, with Vegas being an absolute wagon and Seattle all of a sudden being pretty good at hockey. It’s looking doable, but it’s going to be an absolutel GRIND to get out of the Pacific this season.

By the time you see this, the puck will have just about dropped on a delicious little Friday Matinee with the back-on-track Capitals.

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