The Calgary Flames have successfully played half a season without a captain. The way things are going, that might be the case for the remainder of it. Ever since Mark Giordano was picked up by the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft last summer, questions around who is best suited to take up the mantle of captain next have lingered around the team.
Frontrunners to be the next captain of the Flames.
There might not be an urgent need to name a captain, but if there was, who would be the best option?
5. Milan Lucic
From an outside perspective, that may seem to be an out-of-the-box choice for Flames captain, but there is a reason for seeing Lucic as captain-worthy. Milan Lucic has been around the NHL for a very long time. This current season is his 15th in the league, and he has surpassed the 1,000 game mark in the NHL.
Over the course of his career, he has also hoisted the Stanley Cup with the Boston Bruins back in 2011. Lucic is playing for a coach who really respects veterans in his dressing room, making him someone that is likely in the back of his mind.
Lucic is one of the players that are often relied on to spark some action in an uneventful game. He’s one of the best in the league for putting up a big hit or dropping the gloves when necessary. He has had a fairly decent season with nine goals and six assists in the 40 games he’s played in up until this point.
What makes him lower on the list of picks, is that he is not a top-line player. Depending on the line pairings, he can often be found down to the third or fourth line. Not exactly captain-level minutes, but he does show on and off the ice leadership in a variety of ways.
4. Blake Coleman
The Flames signed Blake Coleman to a six-year contract back in the summer of 2021. Out of all of the players on this list, Coleman is locked in with the Flames for the longest. However, he has also been with the team for the shortest amount of time.
Coleman is another veteran presence for the Flames that also brings the experience of a two-time Stanley Cup Champion to the locker room. Coleman is fresh off the back-to-back wins with the Tampa Bay Lightning and who better to go to for advice and inspiration than someone who has just completed one of the ultimate goals of an NHL player.
Coleman might not be ready to jump into a new team and take a high leadership role right away but after getting some quality minutes for the team, he could very well be in the conversation for next season for at least a letter, if not the captain role.
On the flip side of this choice, Coleman also hasn’t quite reached the standard of scoring that he has produced in previous seasons. Through his 39 games on the season, he is in single digits in the goals and assists category with eight goals and six assists. Another player that could use a few more boosted numbers to really earn the on-ice respect of his teammates.
3. Mikael Backlund
Mikael Backlund has quite an advantage over the other leaders on the team because of his history with the team. Backlund has played 14 years in the NHL and was on the team for the entirety of Mark Giordano’s run as captain. He was around during the times of Jarome Iginla as well.
He has seen two styles of running the team and reflects what he’s learned from his former captains into the Flames community and very likely the locker room as well. Backlund has been an alternate captain for the last four years and leads a variety of charitable initiatives that make him a large part of the Flames community.
Backlund’s stats are also not at the highest they’ve been at his whole career and strictly on a numbers basis, he appears to be on the back-half of his career. He is another player that is not getting any younger but at the age of 32, he could still play some solid hockey for the next two seasons of his contract.
This year, he has not been as noticeable as previous years with six goals and nine assists in 40 games. Backlund, if named captain, would also play more of a mentor role rather than a guy that’s going to go out and score 30 goals for you a season consistently.
2. Matthew Tkachuk
Matthew Tkachuk seemed to be the sure choice for the rank of future Flames captain based on the way he played in previous seasons. Coming into the 2021-22 season, however, this was not as clear. Tkachuk did not play typical Matthew Tkachuk hockey for the majority of the 2020-21 season and really wasn’t looking like himself.
While it is all speculative at this point, it also appeared number 19 didn’t adjust to Coach Sutter’s coaching style as quickly as some may think he would have. However, that appears to be past him. Sutter has shaken up the lines since then and finally gave Tkachuk the opportunity to play on the top line alongside Johnny Gaudreau and Elias Lindholm. This decision has definitely paid off as Gaudreau and Tkachuk lead the league in scoring among duos.
Tkachuk has the scoring to be an on the ice leader for the Flames. He’s averaging over a point per game for the Flames this season with 20 goals and 24 assists in 40 games played. He is first on the team in goals and second on the team in assists and points. He’s a guy that would be able to rial up the team and take his own advice as well.
If all the past drama is behind him, the biggest question mark around making Tkachuk a captain is if he is here to stay. His contract comes to an end after this season as he will be a restricted free agent come summertime. Rumors came up over last summer that he may be shopping for another team, but they were quickly dismissed. The offseason will prove whether his head is still in Calgary or if he’d like to make a run with a new team.
1. Johnny Gaudreau
Johnny Gaudreau has been the other half of the winning formula between himself and Matthew Tkachuk. He has consistently been one of the best players on the Flames since he joined the team and has been named an NHL All-Star now six times including this season. He has been viewed as the “young guy” on the team for quite some time but he himself is up there as a team veteran as well.
He is playing in his ninth season in the NHL, all of which, were played with the Flames. Johnny Hockey has never had a letter on his jersey, but his clutch play has earned him respect on the team in other ways. This season, Johnny leads the team in scoring with 17 goals and 35 assists and has already exceeded his scoring from last season in 16 fewer games.
Gaudreau has spoken out on multiple occasions how much he loves living in and playing for Calgary and has put up quite a few roots in the city. He is also another big contract the Flames will need to take care of in the summer as his current contract is up at the end of the season.
He will be an unrestricted free agent, but it is very unlikely the Flames will let him go for nothing. Every time Johnny has a good game, fans take to Twitter to demand a contract extension, and why wait? If it comes down to it and the Flames can only afford to keep one of Gaudreau or Tkachuk, it appears things lean more in the way of Gaudreau’s favor.
There is not a clear choice for the Flames captain role and that is very likely why a choice has not been made yet. The makeup of the team allows for leaders to emerge in a variety of ways and each player knows within themselves when they need to step up.
When they are in the middle of a tough game and need a push, it doesn’t matter who the pep talk is coming from in the locker room just as long as they have the credibility to back it up. What has been so interesting about the Flames this season is it is not just up to one player to step up, anyone can do so at any given time.
The Flames have no urgent need to name a captain right now so I wouldn’t be surprised if the rest of the season is played out this way. Their goal is to continue to do what is working for them, secure a playoff spot and be competitive in the playoffs. That involves everyone and the Flames have shown they can achieve this without a captain leading the way.