The Calgary Flames’ turbulent transition season is over, but there could be growing pains moving forward

Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Ryan Pike
1 month ago
The Calgary Flames begin every season with a pretty simple goal: to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs. If you want your team to be able to do anything impressive, making it into the post-season tournament is a requirement.
But this season’s expectations were hampered by the reality of where the Flames found themselves contractually, entering the season with five prominent members of the team on expiring contracts.
The Flames traded away their leading scorer from the prior season, Tyler Toffoli, in the middle of the summer. During the season, they traded away five more pieces of their roster. They entered the season with a first-time general manager in Craig Conroy, a first-time head coach in Ryan Huska, an entirely new coaching staff, and an entirely new defensive system, to boot. It was, in many different ways, a season of transition.
Think of the situation as trying to fly a plane through a storm while swapping out parts mid-flight. It’s a minor miracle that the season went as smoothly as it did.
“We had a lot that went on over the course of the year and I feel like with the leadership group and the guys willing to persevere and fight through some of the adversity, we were competitive just about every night,” said Huska during Friday’s exit interviews with the media. “The guys worked, and that’s what I asked out of them, is to make sure that whatever situation is you come and work. And there were a few nights where we weren’t at the level we wanted to be at, but I felt like they were few and far.”
The Flames dress two goalies and 18 skaters per game. Just four skaters played in all 82 games, while two goalies and 10 skaters dressed in more than three-quarters of them. That’s a pretty good amount of roster churn, resulting in the Flames using 35 different skaters and four different goalies during the season.
In a season where there was a lot of noise – players being traded, players being injured, players leaving the club for personal reasons, players returning to the club, a regular rotation of players moving to and from the AHL, and a seemingly never-ending amount of trade rumours – Huska commended his club’s leadership group for keeping the team focused on the task at hand.
“I think they found a way to keep what mattered inside our dressing room,” said Huska. “So, they learned early on that all the talk outside the room, the room was a safe haven if you will for the players and I think once they kind of got to understand that, they didn’t allow any of that outside noise to come inside. So it was more about them than anything else and whenever something came about, whether it was a trade or a situation that we had to deal with, they dealt with it, they put it to bed and they moved on.”
“And I think that showed a lot of maturity from some of our key players like Mikael [Backlund] and Blake [Coleman] and MacKenzie [Weegar], and others like Naz [Nazem Kadri] and Marky [Jacob Markstrom], all those guys were a big part of that this year in helping to push it down a little bit and just stay focused on what we were trying to do as a team.”
The Flames got off to a pretty rough start, going 2-7-1 in their first 10 games before a roster shuffle in early November that brought Martin Pospisil and Connor Zary to the NHL. (Huska gave Pospisil a shout-out, singling out him as a player that shook the team out of their early funk.)
Despite the tough start, the Flames were in a playoff spot as late as Nov. 27. From there, as the Flames traded away their five pending unrestricted free agents, they drifted down the standings but remained within a stone’s throw of the final playoff spot.
  • 1 point out on Nov. 30 when Nikita Zadorov was traded to Vancouver
  • 5 points out on Jan. 31 when Elias Lindholm was traded to Vancouver
  • 7 points out on Feb. 29 when Chris Tanev was traded to Dallas
  • 6 points out on Mar. 6 when Noah Hanifin was traded to Vegas
The Flames ended up finishing 17 points out of the playoffs. something you can attribute to their rough start and losing five regulars from their lineup. Huska admitted that he under-estimated the size of the change he was asking his players to make to their defensive zone structure early in the season, but he also discussed the team’s progress after that tough start.
“If you take our start out of the equation this year, we were playing some good hockey at the trade deadline and I do feel like if we stayed status quo, we’re probably in a different position right now,” said Huska. “That’s my thought on it. And then once we got over the hump of losing some of those players, it was starting to come again. So I do think that we’re in a position where we have a good group of older players that are going to continue to push and they want to get better and they want to be in the playoffs and they’re going to drag people along with them because that’s what has to happen.”
The Flames went through a tough season in 2023-24, with the club moving on from several significant players, integrating several new, young players to their lineup, and hanging around the playoff picture for much of the season. The goal for next season is, at was this year, making the playoffs.
But reaching that goal is likely dependent on the team’s young and veteran players not only maintaining this season’s performances but also taking further steps forward, and the team (as a whole) finding the consistency that largely eluded them throughout this season. We wouldn’t rule it out, but achieving that outcome will take some time and likely involves some growing pains along the way.
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