Rebuild? Playoffs? And what about their prospects?: 24 questions for the Calgary Flames in 2024

Do they rebuild or stay the course? Who do they re-sign and who do they move on from? Are they still looking to make the playoffs or is draft position more important?

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The Calgary Flames have a big 2024 ahead of them.

Do they rebuild or stay the course? Who do they re-sign and who do they move on from? Are they still looking to make the playoffs or is draft position more important?

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There’s a lot to get through, so for the sake of numerical symmetry, we’ve decided the best way to look at it all is by asking 24 questions facing the Flames in 2024.

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Here’s what we’re asking:

  1. HOW BUSY DOES CONROY GET?

This is the one question that lingers over everything. Flames GM Craig Conroy has some big decisions to make about the future of the franchise, and we’re going to find out what direction he wants to take the team over the next two months.

Deal soon-to-be free agents Noah Hanifin, Chris Tanev and Elias Lindholm, and we’re going to be in for a couple years of young and developing Flames teams.

Re-sign them and you’re going to be committing long term to a core that has underachieved for the last two seasons.

For a lot of people, it seems obvious that a team that’s sitting well outside a playoff spot on Jan. 1 should be looking at new directions.

But we all know that opens up a can of worms. Are guys like Blake Coleman, Nazem Kadri and even captain Mikael Backlund going to be interested in sticking around for a rebuild?

This has been the big question since the end of the Flames’ disappointing 2022-23 season and it’s still at the top of the list of what we’re asking today.

We’re going to get answers between now and the March 8 trade deadline.

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Flames GM Craig Conroy
Calgary Flames general manager Craig Conroy speaks with media at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary on Monday, June 12, 2023. Gavin Young/Postmedia file
  1. WHO IS THE FIRST TO GO?

Technically, the “first to go” would have been Tyler Toffoli, who the Flames traded before the draft last June when it became clear they weren’t going to be able to get him to re-sign before he became an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2024.

They moved Nikita Zadorov to the Vancouver Canucks, too.

Surely, the Flames would love to see bidding wars develop for any players they consider moving before the deadline and it’s probably safe to assume that an established two-way centre like Lindholm, a somehow-still-only-26-year-old defenceman like Hanifin and one of the league’s most fearless defensive blueliners, in Tanev, are all going to generate lots of interest.

It sort of feels like once one moves, the dominos will start to fall.

  1. ARE DRAFT ASSETS WHAT THEY’RE LOOKING FOR?

Re-stocking your prospect cupboard with teenagers on rookie contracts isn’t a bad thing, but will the Flames need to find a bit of a balance?

With veterans like Jonathan Huberdeau and Kadri signed to big contracts that are going to keep them in Calgary for a while, it makes it hard to trade their teammates for draft assets that may take years before they are ready to play in the NHL.

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And Conroy has shown he’s willing to look at other options. He took Yegor Sharangovich in return for Toffoli, and the cap space he got in exchange for Zadorov seemed just as important as the two later-round draft picks the Flames got in the deal.

Pulling off a full rebuild is going to be tough, so maybe the Flames will be willing to take on a few guys in their early 20s instead of abandoning any hope of contention for the next couple years and going all-in on the draft. We’ll see.

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  1. WHAT NEXT FOR HUBERDEAU?

The Flames’ New Year’s Eve game against the Flyers was Jonathan Huberdeau’s best in a while.

He was fast, aggressive and showed his on-ice vision to find Dennis Gilbert for a go-ahead third-period goal. It was what you want to see out of Huberdeau, who hadn’t picked up a point in 12 games.

One good showing doesn’t mean everything’s fixed, but for fans who were beginning to wonder whether they should give up hope of ever seeing Huberdeau back at his best, it at least had to be encouraging.

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But look, the Flames need Huberdeau giving that sort of performance every night. He’s got seven years after this one left on the contract that will pay him $10.5 million a season, so how he plays is inevitably going to be one of the biggest questions surrounding the Flames for a long time.

Jonathan Huberdeau
Jonathan Huberdeau #10 of the Calgary Flames looks on before the game against the Florida Panthers at the Scotiabank Saddledome on December 18, 2023 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Leah Hennel/Getty Images
  1. WILL A GOALTENDER BE MOVED OUT?

At some point, getting Dustin Wolf more NHL playing time is going to be a priority for the Flames.

It hasn’t really been an issue so far this season. The reigning AHL most valuable player has made it into five games due to a couple minor injuries that have affected Jacob Markstrom. He’s been credited with one win, while he’s posted a 3.46 goals-against-average and a .893 save percentage.

As arguably the most prized prospect in the Flames’ current pool, his development is obviously a priority and it remains a question how much more his game can grow in the AHL.

He’s got two guys ahead of him on the depth chart, though, and it doesn’t seem likely that the Flames are going to move Markstrom out of town.

Backup Dan Vladar is a guy who is easy to root for, but you can’t help but wonder if the Flames would take calls about his availability.

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Dustin Wolf
Flames goalie Dustin Wolf during training camp at the Saddledome in Calgary on Thursday, September 21, 2023. Jim Wells/Postmedia
  1. DOES MARKSTROM KEEP THEM IN THE PLAYOFF RACE?

We can’t talk about the Flames goalies without mentioning that Markstrom has bounced back in a big way this year after struggling in 2022-23.

It’s gone a little under the radar, but his 2.73 goals-against-average and his .904 save percentage are big improvements over his numbers from last year. And let’s not forget that the Flames took some time to adjust to their new zone defensive system. There were lots of games early where Markstrom was the main reason they had any chance.

If he keeps playing the way he has been, the Flames are probably going to linger around the playoff race.

Jacob Markstrom
Nashville Predators forward Tommy Novak, left, has his shot stopped by Calgary Flames goalie Jacob Markstrom during second period NHL action in Calgary on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023. Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press
  1. WHEN DO WE SEE CORONATO AGAIN?

Expectations were high for Matthew Coronato coming out of training camp.

The Flames’ first-round pick, 13th overall, in the 2021 NHL Draft cracked the roster for opening night, but was sent down to the Calgary Wranglers for a little more seasoning after 10 games in which he scored once and added an assist.

That’s no indictment of his potential. He’s 21 years old and trying to transition to the pro game after a couple fruitful years playing for Harvard in the NCAA. Most players need a little time in the AHL before they’re ready to be everyday contributors at the highest level.

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He got a one-game call-up in early December and is leading the Wranglers with 10 goals and 25 points through 21 games, so far. He’ll be back in the NHL soon enough.

Matt Coronato
Calgary Flames forward Matt Coronato skates during NHL action against the New Jersey Devils in Calgary on Saturday, December 9, 2023. Gavin Young/Postmedia
  1. WHAT’S PELLETIER’S TIMELINE?

Jakob Pelletier was looking great in training camp before suffering a tough shoulder injury that required surgery in early October.

Asked about a timeline for his return last week, head coach Ryan Huska said simply that the team still considered him to be out “long term.”

We’re not going to speculate on how long it might take Pelletier to return, but he’s an important part of the Flames’ future and with the way a few of the team’s other young guns are playing this season, you’d love to see him back in the lineup sooner rather than later.

Jakob Pelletier
Jakob Pelletier during Calgary Flames training camp at the Saddledome in Calgary on Thursday, September 21, 2023. Jim Wells/Postmedia
  1. CAN COLEMAN KEEP THIS UP?

Coleman played in his 500th game on New Year’s Eve, and when Huska was asked about his winger’s remarkable consistency, he had this to say:

“I would guess if you watched his first few in the NHL, you’d see the same things you see right now,” Huska said. “I talked to his mom when we were in Texas last time we were there, and he’s always, from what it sounds like, from a young guy on been the hardest working guy.”

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That’s a high compliment, but it’s also worth noting that Coleman does seem to have added to his game in his third year with the Flames. Namely, he’s scoring a lot more goals.

After scoring 16 in his first season with the team and 18 last year, Coleman is leading the team with 13 so far in 2023-24.

The 32-year-old is asked to do a lot more than just bury the puck in the back of the net, but for a team that has at times struggled to do just that it’s definitely welcome any time Coleman lights the lamp.

More of the same, please.

  1. COULD HE CHALLENGE A FRANCHISE RECORD?

Kent Nilsson has held the Flames’ franchise record for shorthanded goals in a season for 30 years. He scored nine back in 1983-84, and despite Hakan Loob’s best efforts four years later when he scored eight, nobody’s touched Nilsson’s mark.

Could Coleman do it this year?

Already, he’s got four shorthanded goals through 36 games.

The math says his pace would tie Nilsson’s record, but all four of Coleman’s shorties came in December, so maybe he’s just getting warmed up.

If Coleman gets a few more, it will definitely be fun to keep an eye on whether he can catch Nilsson.

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Blake Coleman
Blake Coleman #20 of the Calgary Flames is congratulated by his bench after scoring a goal during the third period against the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center on November 24, 2023 in Dallas, Texas. Sam Hodde/Getty Images
  1. DO THEY KEEP KADRI WITH THE KIDS ALL YEAR?

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

For now, Kadri seems to have really found his game playing alongside Connor Zary and Martin Pospisil.

After picking up only one point in the Flames’ first eight games, Kadri picked up 10 goals and 15 assists in their next 28 matchups. Not all of those have come with the two rookies on his line, but there’s no doubt their speed and energy have brought out the best in him.

Learning from a guy with a Stanley Cup to his name like Kadri can only be good for Zary and Pospisil, so there’s no real need to break this one up.

If Lindholm gets traded the Flames may need to shuffle their lines around, but Kadri and the kids have been one of the good news stories of the season. There’s no real reason to break the trio up in 2024, is there?

Nazem Kadri with Connor Zary
Calgary Flames’ Nazem Kadri (91) celebrates with teammates after scoring against the Montreal Canadiens during second period NHL action in Montreal on Tuesday, November 14, 2023. Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press
  1. CAN ANDREW MANGIAPANE FIND HIS GAME AGAIN?

After a not-particularly fruitful run of games playing alongside Lindholm, Andrew Mangiapane was moved back to a line with Coleman and Backlund for Sunday night’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers.

It’s a trio that’s had success in the past, and the change paid immediate dividends when Mangiapane collected three assists to help the Flames down the Flyers.

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He looked a lot more like the tenacious winger of years past than he had in a while.

The Flames need more of the same, plain and simple, and now that Mangiapane is back with Coleman and Backlund, it’s not hard to imagine a world where he stays there.

Andrew Mangiapane
Andrew Mangiapane #88 of the Calgary Flames celebrates with his teammates after scoring against the Colorado Avalanche in the second period at Ball Arena on December 11, 2023 in Denver, Colorado. Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
  1. WHAT ABOUT DILLON DUBE?

Dube has been relegated mostly to fourth-line duties this season and hasn’t seen more than 9:20 of ice time in the Flames’ last eight games.

It’s not exactly surprising that his point production has dropped significantly, but it’s still concerning that he hasn’t picked up a point in 16 games and has only three goals and four assists through 35 games this season.

Let’s not forget that he played much of last year on the Flames’ first line alongside Lindholm and Tyler Toffoli.

Are the Flames hoping to eventually get him back into a bigger role?

Dillon Dube
Dillon Dube #29 of the Calgary Flames skates the puck against Jackson LaCombe #60 of the Anaheim Ducks in the first period at the Honda Center on December 21, 2023 in Anaheim, California. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
  1. ARE RECENT POWER-PLAY IMPROVEMENTS A SIGN OF THINGS TO COME?

The Flames didn’t score on either of their power-play opportunities on New Year’s Eve, but had managed to pick up goals on the man advantage in their three previous games.

Could that be a cause for optimism?

Getting their power-play going would obviously be a big step in the right direction. They’ve currently converted on only 12.1 per cent of their opportunities, which is only the 29th-best mark in the league.

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Replacing Huberdeau with Connor Zary on the top unit seems to be paying off, but there’s still a long way to go.

  1. IS MACKENZIE WEEGAR THE FLAMES’ ALL-STAR?

There seem to be a couple candidates to represent the Flames at the 2024 NHL All-Star Game. We’ve named a few already.

Kadri and Coleman need to be right at the top of the list, and it would certainly be neat to see Coleman get rewarded with the first all-star nod of his career.

Weegar’s contributions can’t be overlooked, though, and he’d make for a great story, too.

The 29-year-old defenceman is fifth in team scoring, with 20 points, and only five blueliners around the NHL have scored more than his eight goals. He’s only two off the pace for the league lead, which is shared by Quinn Hughes and Rasmus Dahlin.

That’s some elite company, and Weegar definitely deserves all-star consideration for the way he’s elevated his game in his second season with the Flames.

MacKenzie Weegar
MacKenzie Weegar of the Calgary Flames celebrates with the bench after scoring against the Vancouver Canucks at the Scotiabank Saddledome on November 16, 2023. Derek Leung/Getty Images
  1. CAN ZARY PLAY HIS WAY INTO THE CALDER PICTURE?

Because Zary was with the Wranglers at the start of the season, his point total isn’t quite where some of the NHL’s other top rookies are sitting right now.

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But when you look at points per games played, it’s pretty clear that he’s right in the mix with the league’s top first-year stars.

With 17 points in 26 games, he’s averaging 0.65 points per game. Among rookies who have skated in 20 games or more, only Chicago Blackhawks budding superstar Connor Bedard is averaging more, at 0.92.

If Zary can keep up that pace, he’s at the very least going to be in consideration when Rookie of the Year voting gets going this spring.

Connor Zary
Connor Zary #47 of the Calgary Flames celebrates after scoring against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the third period of an NHL game at the Scotiabank Saddledome on December 16, 2023 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Derek Leung/Getty Images
  1. DID THEY WIN THE TOFFOLI-SHARANGOVICH TRADE?

It’s not entirely fair to compare players for the rest of their careers just because they were exchanged for one another in a trade.

But we’re going to keep revisiting last summer’s deal where the Flames sent Tyler Toffoli to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for Yegor Sharangovich and a third-round pick.

When Toffoli got off to a hot start with the Devils and Sharangovich was struggling early in the season, it didn’t look like a great deal.

But as time has passed, it’s started to look better and better.

Sharangovich had six goals and six assists in 13 games in December. He was also second in the NHL in shorthanded points, with four, behind only Coleman.

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Toffoli’s having a good season, no doubt about it, and his 27 points in 35 games make him a player the Devils are happy to have.

But the Flames are saying the exact same thing about the younger Sharangovich.

They may look back at the deal as a very good bit of business, especially if Aydar Suniev, who they drafted with the pick they got in the trade, becomes a productive NHL player, too.

Yegor Sharangovich
Yegor Sharangovich #17 of the Calgary Flames skates down the ice during the third period against the Vegas Golden Knights at the Scotiabank Saddledome on November 27, 2023 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Leah Hennel/Getty Images
  1. WHO COULD GET CALLED UP IF THEY TRADE AWAY TANEV AND HANIFIN?

It’s no secret that the Flames aren’t exactly drowning in defensive prospects, but what would their d-corps look like if Conroy traded away Hanifin and Tanev and didn’t get NHL-ready defencemen back in return?

Ilya Solovyov would probably be their first call. The Belarussian has already appeared in six games for the Flames this season and is knocking on the door of more ice time.

There was a lot of talk about Jeremie Poirier throughout training camp, but the offensively gifted 21-year-old suffered a bad bit of luck in late October when he suffered a laceration from a skate on his arm and required surgery. He hasn’t appeared since October 21.

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Ilya Solovyov
Ilya Solovyov #98 of the Calgary Flames skates against the St. Louis Blues during the first period of an NHL game at the Scotiabank Saddledome on October 26, 2023 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Derek Leung/Getty Images
  1. IS THERE ANYONE ELSE WITH THE WRANGLERS WHO MIGHT BE READY?

The answer to this question is yes.

There’s a lot of fascination about 6-foot-7 winger Adam Klapka and he’s taken a nice step forward in his second season with the Wranglers, scoring 10 goals and adding nine assists in 27 games.

But there are lots of others, too. Guys like Ben Jones, Dryden Hunt and Clark Bishop might never be guys you’re going to slot into your top line, but people around the Saddledome will tell you they could comfortably step into a checking role with the Flames and do a nice job.

There are others, too. Cole Schwindt looked close to earning a job at the end of training camp, and Emilio Pettersen is having a nice season with the Wranglers.

With what Zary and Pospisil have done this year, who doesn’t want to get a good look at a few more young guys in the NHL?

  1. IS THERE ANY SOLUTION TO THEIR SHOOTOUT WOES?

The numbers aren’t good.

The Flames have had four games decided by shootouts this season.

They’ve lost all four.

Sharangovich has scored three times, but no other Flames player has managed to put one past an opposing goalie in a shootout.

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Hopefully, 2024 sees somebody else find a little success, otherwise they’re going to keep dropping points after 65 minutes of work.

  1. CAN THIS WRITER COME UP WITH A GOOD QUESTION ABOUT A.J. GREER?

This is a bit of a cheat, but we can’t go all this time without bringing up A.J. Greer.

He’s been great since the Flames picked him up off waivers from the Boston Bruins at the end of camp. Precisely the type of physical presence they needed on their fourth line.

That’s all.

AJ Greer
A.J. Greer #18 of the Calgary Flames celebrates a goal against the Anaheim Ducks in the third period at the Honda Center on December 21, 2023 in Anaheim, California. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
  1. WHAT DOES ADAM RUZICKA BECOME?

This is one where we really don’t know the answer. Ruzicka has played in 30 games this season. He’s scored three times and put up six assists.

It’s the third season in a row where the 6-foot-4 Slovakian has gotten a lengthy shot with the Flames and he’s now got 105 NHL games to his name.

There’s a lot of upside there, but Ruzicka still hasn’t managed to turn that potential into consistent NHL production, although playing on the Flames’ fourth line recently means he isn’t getting a tonne of minutes.

What does he become? It’ll be fascinating to see.

Adam Ruzicka
Calgary Flames forward Adam Ruzicka scrambles to reach a loose puck in front of New Jersey Devils goaltender Vitek Vanecek during NHL action in Calgary on Saturday, December 9, 2023. Gavin Young/Postmedia
  1. DO OESTERLE AND DESIMONE CONTINUE TO ROTATE?

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Gilbert has done a nice job of establishing himself as a day-to-day player for the Flames, especially since Zadorov was traded to the Canucks.

For now, though, it seems like Jordan Oesterle and Nick DeSimone are set to rotate as the Flames’ sixth defencemen.

That’s not always an easy spot to be in, knowing that you could be in and out of the lineup for any given game. It’ll be worth watching whether either guy claims the job entirely for himself or whether it’s a rotation through to the end of the season.

  1. CAN THEY MAKE A PLAYOFF PUSH?

Look, there are some fans out there who want to see the Flames bottom out and tank and try to get the best draft position possible.

But for now, the Flames are still in the fight.

As it stands on Jan. 1, 2024, the Flames have a 15-16-5 record. Their 35 points have them five points out of the second wild dard position in the Western Conference.

They’re very much in the mix and while trades might change their trajectory this season, anyone hoping for playoff hockey in Calgary this spring certainly shouldn’t abandon hope just yet.

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X: @DannyAustin_9

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