Photo: Litter Box Cats
No one in the NHL has had a busier offseason than the Calgary Flames, who lost two superstar forwards in left-wing Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk. Gaudreau signed a seven-year contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets as an unrestricted free agent after turning down an eight-year offer from the Flames. Tkachuk refused to sign a long-term deal in Calgary, thus forcing the team to deal him.
When it appeared that the Flames would start a rebuild, they took a different approach, and reloaded in one summer. Did the Flames provide a blueprint for rebuilding in one offseason? Should the Washington Capitals take note with a rebuild of their own coming soon?
What The Flames Did
After losing Gaudreau unexpectedly in free agency, the Flames traded Tkachuk to the Florida Panthers for star left-wing Jonathan Huberdeau, top-pairing defenseman MacKenzie Weegar, center prospect Cole Schwindt, and a 2025 lottery-protected first-round pick.
Huberdeau tied Gaudreau for second in the NHL with 115 points and led the league with 85 assists in 80 regular-season games last season. Meanwhile, Weegar tallied eight goals, 44 points, a +40 rating (which was ninth), 57.61% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, 57.27% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and 58.44% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 80 regular-season outings.
Several weeks later, the Flames signed center Nazem Kadri, who set career-highs in assists (59) and points (87) in 71 regular-season contests with the Colorado Avalanche. He added seven goals and 15 points in 16 Stanley Cup Playoff games to help them win the ultimate prize.
Can Capitals Adopt Blue Print?
While the Flames were able to regroup after losing their two-leading scorers from last season, it might be challenging for the Capitals to do so.
Tkachuk just turned 24-years-old and is coming off of a season where he recorded 42 goals and 104 points in 82 regular-season games before tallying four goals and 10 points in 12 postseason outings. In addition, Tkachuk is a unique player who has some bite to his game and can change the momentum in favor of his team with his physicality. The Capitals’ roster is older and their best players are past their prime, thus it does not have pieces like Tkachuk that are young top scorers in the league which makes it more complicated for them to do what the Flames just did.
While center Connor McMichael, center Hendrix Lapierre, right-wing Brett Leason, center Aliaksei Protas, right-wing Ivan Miroshnichenkov, and defenseman Martin Fehervary are all promising pieces for the future, none will likely be 100-plus point scorers like Tkachuk was last season. Even if one does pan out to reach that level of production, why should the Capitals deal him if the player is happy unless another team overpays? While the deal that the Flames made served as a major boost, the Capitals should do to improve their team, not just to follow their blueprint. There is also no guarantee that they could convince another team to pay the price that the Panthers just paid to acquire Tkachuk, who signed an eight-year contract before the deal was made (which upped the return).
Another challenge to following this model would be the state of the team. With Tkachuk and Gaudreau out of the picture and before the trade with the Panthers was made, the Flames’ core consisted of left-wing Andrew Mangiapane (who is 26-years-old), center Elias Lindholm (27), defenseman Noah Hanifin (25), and defenseman Rasmus Andersson (25).
By the time captain Alex Ovechkin’s contract expires, the Capitals’ core of center Evgeny Kuznetsov (currently 30), center Nicklas Backstrom (34), right-wing Tom Wilson (28), right-wing T.J. Oshie (35), and defenseman John Carlson (32) will all see theirs expire. Their core players are also older and will not likely be with the organization for the Capitals to build around. So, comparing what the Flames did to what the Capitals could do in 2026 isn’t exactly comparing apples to apples.
This plan will not likely fit the Capitals.
The Flames finished last season third in the Western Conference and sixth in the NHL with a 50-21-11 record. The Capitals were in a much different position, grabbing the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference with a 44-26-12 record. That could change even more by the time the final season of Ovechkin’s deal comes.
The Capitals have made the Stanley Cup Playoffs in all but one season since 2007-08 and have not had many chances to infuse their system with high-end talent since they have picked higher than 20th overall in the NHL Draft just twice since then.
Meanwhile, the Flames have picked fourth, sixth (twice), 13th (twice), and 16th overall picks over that span, which has helped them infuse young impact players into their system. The Capitals will be in need of a fresh start when Ovechkin hangs up his skates, which will dictate the direction that they take (different from the Flames’).
The plan that the Flames were able to execute was easier said than done. We did not see the New York Islanders reload (on paper) after captain John Tavares signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2018 or the Columbus Blue Jackets do so after losing left-wing Artemi Panarin, goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, and center Matt Duchene during free agency in 2019. We did not see anything like the Flames did previously and while what they did could change that, there is no guarantee that another team will be able to pull it off (successfully).
And though one might say the Flames improved, losing their top scorers from last season will change the chemistry of the lineup. While they are expected to be a contender this season, what they did over the offseason could always backfire. If the Flames miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the Spring (though, it is unlikely), everyone will say that they should have started rebuilding. If their plan does not work, every team will look at it and try to avoid replicating it. The Capitals could try this approach but there is risk in it as the Flames will have to integrate new players (who play differently than Gaudreau and Tkachuk) into their system that already worked out great previously.
Flames’ GM Brad Treliving did a masterful job of getting the franchise back up off of the mat after the team took a few heavy shots, which could inspire other teams approaching a rebuild, but we cannot ultimately see if the team is better until we see the product on the ice. Though what he did demands respect, it certainly has its challenges. The Flames should be a team to keep an eye on this season for sure, especially to see if their plan is one to take note of.
By Harrison Brown