Entering the 2022-23 season, many believed the Calgary Flames had potential to finish first in the Pacific Division. Instead, they were plagued by inconsistency and locker room drama, resulting in them falling just shy of the playoffs. With the down year, there is plenty of debate as to whether or not they will bounce back to the form they showed in 2021-22, or continue last season’s mediocrity.
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It should be noted that the Flames are tough to judge at this moment, as there are several players on their current roster who could be moved before the season begins. However, for the sake of things, this article will be written with the assumption everyone is staying put. With that said, here is how the Flames stack up against their divisional opponents.
While it is a bit of a mystery as to how the Flames will perform this season, the Anaheim Ducks are expected to be amongst the league’s worst once again. They are starting to get some very good, young players in the fold thanks to some high draft picks in recent years, but at this point in time they simply aren’t ready to compete.
The Flames are significantly deeper than the Ducks both up front and especially on the blue line. As far as goaltending goes, Jacob Markstrom struggled this past season, but could very well bounce back. John Gibson also struggled, but it marked his fourth-straight season of doing so. On top of that, he reportedly requested a trade earlier this offseason, so whether he is there to begin the 2023-24 campaign remains to be seen.
Flames fans won’t want to admit it, but most are aware that their provincial rival is the better team at this point in time. A team that once relied specifically on Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl has seen their entire forward group improve in a big way under Ken Holland’s guidance, and they were able to add to that further this offseason by signing Connor Brown.
As for the blue lines, you could argue either way as to whose is better. The Flames would have taken it last season, but the addition of Mattias Ekholm proved to be beneficial to the Oilers. The one spot the Flames do have the upper-hand is in the pipes, but it isn’t enough to give them the advantage over the uber-talented Oilers.
Los Angeles Kings
The Los Angeles Kings are quickly turning into one of the league’s best teams again. They made several improvements prior to last season, most notably the addition of Kevin Fiala. They were able to make another big addition this summer, acquiring Pierre-Luc Dubois from the Winnipeg Jets.
The Kings hold the advantage over the Flames in terms of forwards and defencemen. Things get interesting in the pipes, however, as the Kings will be relying on Cam Talbot, whom they signed as a free agent. Whether he is capable of bouncing back after a down year with the Ottawa Senators remains to be seen, but any way you look at it, this Kings team should be able to finish ahead of the Flames next season.
San Jose Sharks
As bad as the Ducks are expected to be this upcoming season, the San Jose Sharks may be even worse. This is a team who is in the early stages of a rebuild, with not a lot of top-end talent remaining on the roster. Tomas Hertl was dealt earlier this year trade deadline, and Erik Karlsson is expected to be moved in the near future.
Whether you want to talk about forwards, defencemen, or goaltenders, these two teams aren’t very close in any regard. If you were to compare rosters throughout the entire league, you may come to the conclusion that the Sharks will finish dead last in 2023-24.
Some may be puzzled by this given how good the Seattle Kraken played this past season, but they will have to prove in 2023-24 that it wasn’t just a one-off. Last season, they relied heavily on their relentless forecheck and physical play. It paid off admirably, but the fact of the matter is that on paper, their roster still has some serious flaws.
The forward position is pretty even between these two, albeit the argument could be made that the Kraken have more depth. The Flames have the upper-hand on the back end, however, and the Kraken saw both their goaltenders post save percentages below .900 last season. Both Martin Jones and Philipp Grubauer have struggled over the past few seasons, so those hoping for a turnaround in the pipes for the Kraken may be disappointed. Time will tell, but these two teams should be tight in the standings all season long.
Despite the Vancouver Canucks’ struggles over the past few seasons, this one could end up being a lot closer than people think. The Canucks boast a ton of talent up front. Elias Pettersson is the best of the bunch, and J.T. Miller, Andrei Kuzmenko and Brock Boeser are no slouches.
While the forward groups may be a wash, the Flames come ahead due to their blue line being significantly better. Aside from Quinn Hughes, the Canucks are very thin on the back end, which could cause some problems this season. That said, if Thatcher Demko can bounce back after an ugly season, he could help mask some of those problems. Either way, the Flames come out on top here.
Vegas Golden Knights
Advantage: Golden Knights
This one shouldn’t come as a surprise. The Vegas Golden Knights were able to put it all together this past season, winning their first Stanley Cup in franchise history. There are simply no holes in this lineup, as they have some elite talent on their top line led by Jack Eichel, and some great role players in guys like Keegan Kolesar and William Carrier.
On the back end, the Golden Knights have two defencemen who could find themselves playing for Team Canada at the 2026 Winter Olympics in Shea Theodore and Alex Pietrangelo. Their one slight question mark is in the pipes, where they will likely be relying on Adin Hill and Logan Thompson. That said, Robin Lehner is also still under contract, so there is a chance he finds his way back into the crease as well.
Playoffs Won’t Come Easy for the Flames
Based off these predictions, the Flames will be duking it out with the Kraken for fourth in the Pacific. Of course, only time will tell how the standings play out, but at this time it feels likely. That said, many had the Golden Knights missing the playoffs last season, a prediction which they made look extremely foolish. Making the playoffs won’t be easy for this Flames team, but if their roster remains intact, it is certainly a possibility.