A little more than a month ago, it looked as though the Calgary Flames would enter this season with major holes in their lineup.
Forward Johnny Gaudreauwho was second in the NHL with a career-high 115 points (40 goals, 75 assists) last season, informed the Flames the night before free agency that he was leaving, ultimately signing a seven-year, $68.25 million contract ($9.75 million average annual value) with the Columbus Blue Jackets on July 13.
One week later, forward Matthew Tkachukwho was second on the team with a career-high 104 points (42 goals, 62 assists), told the team that he wouldn’t sign a long-term contract to remain in Calgary.
However, the Flames were able to regroup, and fast.
In the trade that sent Tkachuk to the Florida Panthers on July 22, the Flames acquired a forward Jonathan Huberdeauwho tied Gaudreau for second in the NHL with a career-high 115 points (30 goals, 85 assists), and defenseman MacKenzie Weegarwho set career highs in goals (eight), assists (36), points (44) and plus/minus rating (plus-40).
Huberdeau then signed an eight-year, $84 million contract extension ($10.5 million AAV) on Aug. 4, and on Thursday, Calgary signed free agent forward Nazem Kadri to a seven-year, $49 million contract ($7 million AAV).
Just like that, the Flames’ lineup is looking balanced and strong again.
“Well, certainly a great rebound,” Kadri said. “Definitely not easy losing your two best players, and that was something I’m sure a lot of people were concerned about. But in retrospect, I think the return has been pretty significant.”
Along with Huberdeau, who is fourth in the NHL with 346 points (103 goals, 243 assists) in 286 games since 2018-19, Kadri is coming off a season in which he scored 28 goals and set career highs in assists (59), points (87) and power-play points (29) in 71 regular-season games for the Colorado Avalanche.
Kadri followed that up by getting 15 points (seven goals, eight assists) in 16 Stanley Cup Playoff games for the Avalanche, who defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games to win their first Stanley Cup championship since 2001.
“I said it the night John decided to go to free agency: It’s difficult, but you deal with it,” Calgary general manager Brad Treliving said. “And it’s not just me, it’s our staff. We dug in and said, ‘OK, now we get to work here.’ How do you make your team better? So that’s always been the motto here.
“The last month has probably been more dramatic with the people involved, the players involved. That’s the job. I said that day, you can curl up and play woe is me and poor me, or you dust yourself off and get after it. That’s what we tried to do.”
Now that the dust has settled, the Flames’ goal is to pick up where they left off last season, when they won the Pacific Division and advanced to the Western Conference Second Round before being eliminated by the Edmonton Oilers in five games.
And despite all the twists and turns this offseason has produced, the Flames believe they’ve got the right pieces in place to do just that.
“Certainly, that’s kind of alarming to anybody when you lose players of that magnitude,” Kadri said. “Brad’s done a great job of getting some return, some valuable players. Johnny Huberdeau and Weegar are great players, part of a great team last year. The best team, Presidents’ Trophy, of course. Any time you can add players of that magnitude, it’s certainly intriguing.
“Ultimately, it’s about winning and about being a contender, and I feel that played a huge factor in me coming to Calgary. Just understanding that the time is now, and it certainly could be close with the moves we’ve made and me hopping on board.
“Being at the pinnacle of hockey and winning the Stanley Cup (last season), it’s almost that addictive feeling of winning, of getting to the playoffs, playing meaningful games, scoring meaningful goals. I think that’s something you always cherish as a hockey player . I know with Calgary, we’re going to get another opportunity to do that.”