Happy New Year! The Calgary Flames enter 2023 firmly in the playoff picture and playing probably the best hockey they’ve been playing so far in the 2022-23 season.
On that note: onto the mailbag!
My read of the situation is this: the Flames will take as much time as they can to (a) determine their roster’s most pressing need and (b) maximize their cap space. My guess is the next month will be their final evaluation period, and then trade talks will begin to heat up after the All-Star Break.
Last season the Flames acquired Tyler Toffoli on Valentine’s Day, and somewhere around that time-frame would be about what I would expect for 2023 as well.
I think whether or not we see Dustin Wolf get any NHL games in this season depends on two factors: the health of Jacob Markstrom and/or Dan Vladar, and where the Flames are in the standings. If the Flames are home and cooled, perhaps they give Wolf a game down the stretch. Based on how jam-packed the Western Conference playoff picture looks, I wouldn’t necessarily expect that to occur, though.
There’s no need to rush Wolf. There’s no downside to him clowning the AHL for a while longer.
Honestly, it’s probably primarily a product of the departures of Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk from the lineup and their replacements needing a bit of time to gel with the playing style that Darryl Sutter expects from his players. The Flames won a lot of games by 2 or 3 goals in 2021-22 because the top line could be counted upon to score a ton. Heck, Gaudreau and Tkachuk combined for 82 goals, which alone is enough to drop the Flames from comfortable wins into more white-knuckle affairs.
Up front, Dillon Dube could be a really important player for the Flames down the stretch. We’ve seen flashes of absolute on-ice brilliance from Dube at times, and he has a big role at five-on-five (with Elias Lindholm and Tyler Toffoli) and is on both sides of special teams. If he can maintain his intensity, attention to detail and offensive swagger, he could be a big difference-maker for the Flames in close games.
On the blueline, MacKenzie Weegar is probably the big X-factor. He’s been so good at times in his own end, and he’s basically done everything asked of him except for generate consistent offence. But if he can get that part of his game going, suddenly teams have to worry about his pairing, and Michael Stone’s big shot, and Rasmus Andersson dynamism. His potential emergence makes the Flames’ defensive group much more daunting to play against.