NHL Rumors: Will the Calgary Flames be buyers or sellers in 2023-24?

Today’s NHL Rumors follows up on the latest regarding how several pending unrestricted free agents will make 2023-24 a potential franchise-altering year for the Calgary Flames. 

In 2021-22, the Flames claimed the Pacific Division title, coming within a few wins from tying team records for victories and points. However, their season came crashing down in the second round against the Edmonton Oilers, and the team hasn’t been the same since. 

After a dismal 2022-23 season, several star players, including Mikael Backlund and Elias Lindholm, requested trades this past summer. Although neither pending free agent left, the team decided to let their general manager (Brad Treliving) go and fired the head coach (Darryl Sutter). Of course, those players took back their requests, but with a talented roster that includes Jonathan Huberdeau and Nazem Kadri, failing to qualify for the playoffs (again) would drastically alter the franchise.

Another poor season could force the Flames to be sellers this year

NHL: Chicago Blackhawks at Calgary Flames
Apr 4, 2023; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Calgary Flames center Jonathan Huberdeau (10) during the second period against the Chicago Blackhawks at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

The team’s longest-tenured player, Backlund, wants to contend for a Stanley Cup. Despite asking for a trade, he’s playing out his final year in red, and if he doesn’t plan on returning, the Flames would have to flip him at the deadline to acquire assets for the team’s unofficial captain. 

Interestingly, Lindholm is in the same boat. After coming to Calgary in a trade in 2018, he’s been a reliable goal scorer and playmaker who is being drastically underpaid at $4.85 million. Statistically, he’s tallied 64 goals in the past two seasons with 146 points and is plus-67, the fourth-highest plus/minus total in the league. 

Besides Huberdeau and Kadri, who joined the team in 2022, both Backlund and Lindholm are the club’s heartbeat. Ultimately, the team stumbled in 2022-23 after losing Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk, so it would be tough to think about the club’s future if they were gone in seven months.

Flames could see their future unravel in the coming months

Although Backlund and Lindholm have been the talk of the summer in Calgary, another player is living in the rumor mill, and that is pending UFA Noah Hanifin. Realistically, if you search up the Flames on social media, they always appear to be trending, but there’s been action yet. Whether the team moves him sooner or later, many suitors seem interested in a top-four defenseman who can score 30 points yearly. 

Despite these three skaters routinely appearing in the headlines, no one talks about the other players who may not be in Calgary past 2023-24. Currently, most of their defencemen will be UFAs, along with a handful of young forwards who will be RFAs. 

Besides Hanifin, the Flames could lose Chris Tanev ($4.5 million), Nikita Zadorov ($3.75 million), Jordan Oesterle ($925k), and Dennis Gilbert ($762k) on the back end. Meanwhile, forwards outside Backlund and Lindholm include RFAs Dillion Dubé ($2.3 million), Jakob Pelletier ($863k), and Adam Ruzicka ($762k).

Although there was a lot of blame to go around for the Flames’ failure to duplicate the success of 2021-22, one of the components of that run is now gone: former head coach Sutter. Now, with Ryan Huska drawing up the plays and pushing the players to take their game to the next level, there may actually be nothing to worry about if they contend for the Stanley Cup. 

However, it’s very quiet in Calgary right now, and the team doesn’t appear to be making any more moves before opening night. Ultimately, their future will begin to unfold in the first few weeks and months of the regular season, which could lead to one of the most interesting campaigns in recent history.