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Calgary Flames head into the off-season lamenting lack of finish

CALGARY — Almost, but not quite, was the theme of the Calgary Flames’ season.

On the losing side of 30 one-goal games, including an NHL-leading 17 in overtime or a shootout, the Flames ended up two points out of a playoff spot.

“If you look at the overtime and shootout losses first … if we could win half those games, we’d still be playing,” Flames forward Tyler Toffoli said Friday. “It definitely makes it worse.”

Aside from Toffoli and his career-high 34 goals, the Flames lacked a finisher in close games. 

Calgary shooters hit 81 posts and crossbars, which was a league high heading into Friday evening’s regular-season finale.

The Flames put a lot of rubber toward the net, but there was more quantity than quality. 

The 1,166 attempts that sailed high or wide ranked second only to the Carolina Hurricanes (1,373) in missed shots.

Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk took firepower with them when they departed Calgary last summer.

Flames general manager Brad Treliving orchestrated the acquisition of winger Jonathan Huberdeau from the Florida Panthers and the signing of centre Nazem Kadri coming off a Stanley Cup win with the Colorado Avalanche to fill that void. 

Calgary committed a combined $133 million and 15 contract years to Huberdeau and Kadri.

Neither settled in, or came close to their career-high outputs of the previous season, in their first season as Flames. 

Their combined 111 points just topped Tkachuk’s 109 for Florida this season.

“I completely lost my swagger this year,” Huberdeau said. “I knew it was going to be a change an adjustment. Of course, I didn’t think it would be this hard. Offensively, (I) really didn’t help the team.

“I didn’t lose my talent in five months. I’m not a different player than what I was last year. Maybe I’ve got to play a little different here. Maybe work on some stuff in the summer.”

Regular line juggling — left-winger Huberdeau flipped to the right and back to the left and Kadri moved from second-line centre to third — was a search for chemistry.

How Huberdeau and Kadri adjusted, or didn’t, to head coach Darryl Sutter was a prominent question Friday as the Flames headed into an early off-season.

“Darryl … likes to push buttons and get you going. Our relationship is good,” Huberdeau said. “It’s a different style of play here, so that’s the kind of stuff that’s an adjustment, but me and Darryl had a good relationship.”

Kadri shrugged off speculation of friction with Sutter.

“I’ve had a long history with coaches with similar styles, kind of that hard exterior and just try to get the best out of you,” Kadri said. “Nine months together, you’ve seen each other every single day. 

“Even with your teammates, you might butt heads a little bit. At the end of the day you understand that you’re a team. You play for each other and stand up for each other.

“To think everything throughout the course of the season is just going to be rainbows and butterflies is just unrealistic.”

Goaltending wasn’t anticipated to be a Calgary weakness. Backup Dan Vladar got more starts to rest Jacob Markstrom, but the latter’s .892 save percentage was his lowest in eight years.

“It’s been a battle for me personally to find my game, find my way and get on a roll,” Markstrom said. “You know you have it. When it doesn’t show, for me personally, you’re almost trying too hard if that makes sense.

“You tense up and you want it too much instead of just going out and play and enjoy it and just trust it. It’s a big summer for me. I’m up for the challenge to get back to where I want to be.”

The Flames posted their first four-game winning streak of their season inside of their final nine. 

But back-to-back shootout losses Saturday and Monday eliminating the Flames from playoff contention was a reflection of their close-but-no-cigar season.

“We just couldn’t find that kind of big goal, big save, whatever we needed at the time,” forward Andrew Mangiapane said.

Mikael Backlund (56) and Dillon Dube (45) posting career highs in points were bright spots for Calgary. 

Defenceman MacKenzie Weegar wasn’t the headliner in the Florida trade for Huberdeau, but he was Calgary’s best player some nights after the all-star break.

Treliving’s contract expires this season. He’s held that job in Calgary for nine years.

Uncertainty around a GM’s future tends to create the same for the head coach, although Sutter signed a two-year contract extension in October that kicks in next season.

The 64-year-old from Viking, Alta., won the NHL’s Jack Adams coaching award last year after piloting the Flames to the second round of playoffs, but this year’s edition couldn’t find the right ingredients to get there again.

Neither Treliving nor Sutter spoke to media Friday.

Milan Lucic, Nick Ritchie, Trevor Lewis, Troy Stecher and Michael Stone are headed for unrestricted free agency this summer.

“I definitely still want to continue playing,” said the 34-year-old Lucic, who has spent four of his 16 NHL seasons in Calgary.

A bunch of core players head into the final years of their contracts in 2023-24: Toffoli, Backlund, Dube, Elias Lindholm, Noah Hanifin, Chris Tanev and Nikita Zadorov.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 14, 2023.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press