The sport of hockey can be related to in terms of putting together a large jigsaw puzzle. If you have all the pieces in front of you and they fit properly, then you can assemble a nice picture of something and feel a sense of accomplishment in completing a project. However, when a few pieces are missing or you just can’t match the remaining pieces together, jigsaw puzzles can feel like an exercise in futility. Although I personally enjoy mentally challenging stimulation (try writing some hockey articles and your brain gets immediately taxed), I want to know that if I’m going to start assembling a puzzle that all of my pieces are just there waiting for me.
The 2023-24 Calgary Flames as a franchise must feel like a giant jigsaw puzzle to players, fans and pundits alike. There is so much talent assigned to this team and by all means, the Flames should be heavy contenders in the Pacific Division and not languishing in eternal mediocrity as an NHL franchise. Long gone are the glory days of the 1989 Flames and their sole Stanley Cup championship. Yes, Calgary has made the playoffs many times since then but then again, many teams have made the postseason since 1989 so why do the Flames always seem to epitomize the word average?
Looking at the current season, the Calgary Flames sit with an “average” record of 24-22-5 and are just shy of a possible wild card spot in the Western Conference. So what? A number of other teams also sit within a hair’s reach of a wild card spot in this contentious conference as well. Again, I bring up the analogy of a jigsaw puzzle because the Flames have a lot of great individual puzzle pieces but always seem to come up short with the last, key parts of the same puzzle to put together a great team.
The Flames have the offensive firepower to win it all.
When it comes to firepower to win big, the Calgary Flames have a veritable arsenal of weapons to chose from. From center Nazem Kadri and his team leading 16 goals and 27 assists to Yegor Sharangovich (acquired from the New Jersey Devils before this season) and his 35 points along with rookie Connor Zary (yes, the other Connor), the Flames have a cornucopia of weapons to win hockey games. The recent trade acquisition of Andrei Kuzmenko from the Vancouver Canucks has added even more offensive weaponry as Kuzmenko has already won over the good people in southern Alberta with with two goals in exactly two games played wearing the Coca-Cola red Flame sweater. Other names of course in the offensive mix read like a weapons list with names such as Coleman, Weegar, and Mangiapane all adding depth to the Calgary lines.
Which pieces are missing, and which don’t fit properly?
Well, the above is the million-dollar question right now and for the Calgary Flames, they are missing key pieces of the puzzle and have some pieces that don’t quite fit properly. Given the fact that it’s NHL trade deadline season from now until March 8th, the Flames look to be both buyers and sellers at the same time but the question still remains: who stays and who goes? The seemingly obvious question surrounding the Flames is whether or not veteran goaltender Jacob Markstrom will be guarding the pipes for the Flames after next month. Markstrom is having a steady season with a 16-13-2 record but his 2.56 goals-against-average and his .914 save percentage really has becoming a selling point and fanning the flames (no pun intended) with trade rumors swirling around Calgary. Markstrom does carry a hefty $6 million dollar salary cap and only serious playoff teams should apply within the Flames’ front office but Markstrom has indicated that he’d waive his No-Trade clause for a possible trade to the New Jersey Devils – a team in search of playoff aspirations who have goaltending issues as well.
Why would the Flames want to send off a valuable piece of the puzzle in Jacob Markstrom just as they’re trying to find a way, any way to make the postseason themselves? The answer lies in the future of the organization and Dustin Wolf looks to be the future of the franchise in terms of minding the net for the Flames. With backup goaltender Dan Vladar on the Injured Reserve currently, Dustin Wolf will get his shot again after some early-season tune ups with the big club. Wolf has been a huge asset to the AHL Calgary Wranglers and currently has an 18-7-2 record with a 2.27 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage. To keep things real here, Dan Vladar isn’t a bad goaltender but his 7-7-0 record, a 3.27 goals-against average and a .888 save percentage really scream backup goalie at this point. Any movement of Jacob Markstrom at this point should point that the Flames are looking to Dustin Wolf to lead this team the remainder of this season and well into the future.
Another piece of the Flames’ puzzle who may well be on his way out of Alberta is the venerable blueliner Chris Tanev. Tanev is 34 years old and an Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA) at the end of the season – telltale signs that his days in Calgary are probably numbered. Tanev has never won a Stanley Cup and his window of playing opportunity is shrinking and now may be the opportunity to unload Tanev to a team looking to make a deep playoff run. Dallas, Toronto and yes, Vancouver all are looking for solid veteran defensemen right now and for Tanev, this may be his last shot at hoisting the Cup to cap off an illustrious career.