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Calgary Flames Put Pacific Division, West on Notice with Nazem Kadri Signing

Abbey MastraccoAugust 18, 2022

Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images

The Pacific Division, if not the rest of the Western Conference, has just been put on notice.

And you can start to think about giving the Calgary Flames' Brad Treliving the Jim Gregory General Manager of the Year Award if this all comes together as planned.

After Johnny Gaudreau left for the Columbus Blue Jackets in free agency and Matthew Tkachuk requested a trade out of Calgary in July, Treliving and the Flames looked destined to take a massive step back in the West.

What a difference a month makes.

Despite losing two huge contributors, Treliving was quickly able to revamp his lineup, getting Jonathan Huberdeau, fresh off of a 115-point season, and MacKenzie Weegar from the Florida Panthers in the Tkachuk trade, and then signing Huberdeau to a long-term contract. The Flames got even better Thursday with the addition of Nazem Kadri, who was largely considered to be the second-best free agent on the market after Gaudreau.

Kadri, who will be 32 in October, agreed to a seven-year contract that carries a $7 million annual cap hit. To make salary-cap room, the Flames sent center Sean Monahan to the Montreal Canadiens.

Calgary Flames @NHLFlames

The <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Flames?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Flames</a> have traded Sean Monahan and a conditional 2025 first round pick to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for future considerations.

The acquisition gives the Flames the best center depth it has had in decades. Monahan was solid but unspectacular, and Kadri is an upgrade. The Flames now boast an elite forward group, a versatile defense group and an elite goalie in Jacob Markstrom. They have a two-time Stanley Cup-winning coach who just won the Jack Adams Award in Darryl Sutter. The ingredients are there for a deeper playoff run.

How the Pacific Shapes Up

Most teams in the Pacific got better this summer (one exception is the San Jose Sharks, and the Vegas Golden Knights now have a goalie situation to figure out). But it seems as though we could be headed for another postseason edition of the Battle of Alberta.

The Edmonton Oilers extinguished the Flames in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs this summer but were unable to make it past Kadri and the Colorado Avalanche in the Western Conference Final because of goaltending. The club landed the best goalie on the free-agent market in Jack Campbell to shore up its biggest area of need.

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The Los Angeles Kings, the team the Oilers took down in the first round, landed Kevin Fiala to boost their offensive production. They have a group of talented young players who are blending with veterans like Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty and Phillip Danault. The club's rebuilding period is over, but it might be a year or so away from being a serious contender.

The Anaheim Ducks might still be in theirs, but with summer additions like Ryan Strome, Frank Vatrano and John Klingberg and standout young players like Trevor Zegras, they won't be an easy out.

But the Flames might be setting themselves apart from the rest.

How Kadri Improves the Flames

What Kadri does well is drive offense. He did this exceptionally well last season with Cale Makar on the ice, and while the Flames don't have the same creative force on the blue line, they have a coach who likes to utilize the transition game and wants his forwards to create off the rush.

Sutter's system has shown to be effective time and time again, and he now has a center who loves to carry the puck. He can create offense for others and create it for himself. He has scored 32 goals twice in his career, and last season he scored 28 and put up a career-best 87 points for Colorado.

Mark LoMoglio/NHLI via Getty Images

You can't mention Kadri and not talk about the extreme edge to his game. Sometimes he has gone over that edge, as is evidenced by his six suspensions. But he managed to stay out of trouble during the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs, and the snarl to his game is something that will garner favor with Sutter.

The Flames have Huberdeau, a great facilitator, and Kadri, a great finisher, locked up through 2028-29. Put them with Tyler Toffoli or Andrew Mangiapane and you've got a high-octane first line. Or you could put Kadri on the second line with Blake Coleman and they could score, check and do just about everything in between.

Either way, adding Kadri allows shutdown center Mikael Backlund to shift down to the third line. The fourth line has a big body with Milan Lucic, a championship veteran in Trevor Lewis and a solid defender in the middle in Kevin Rooney.

It's fair to wonder how this contract is going to age given that the 1.23 point-per-game pace he averaged last season is well above his career average of 0.69, but any long-term contract means paying for decline on the back end. There isn't anything to indicate that he is due for an immediate drop-off in production, so it's probably safe to say he has 3-4 good years left in him.

This is a much better fit for him than the New York Islanders, where he likely would have had to move out to the wing with Mathew Barzal, Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Brock Nelson all at center.

While Calgary fans may not be saying "Johnny who?" anytime soon, Treliving has done a fantastic job this summer. The Pacific Division was already good, but it just got even better.

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