Why MacKenzie Weegar could be a steal — and No. 1 defenceman — for Calgary

Calgary Flames offseason acquisition MacKenzie Weegar discusses the sense of excitement around the city heading into the 2022-23 season, and how he believes his new team stacks up to his previous squad.

The Calgary Flames had by far the most eventful off-season in the NHL.

In the span of nine days in July, the Flames lost two star wingers who combined for 82 goals and 219 points last season.

Johnny Gaudreau shocked the league when he signed a seven-year, $68.25 million contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Matthew Tkachuk soon followed his MVP-calibre linemate out of town. After Tkachuk informed the Flames that he was not going to re-sign with them, they traded him to the Florida Panthers in a midsummer blockbuster.

Flames general manager Brad Treliving was aggressive in replacing Gaudreau and Tkachuk, adding 115-point playmaker Jonathan Huberdeau and newly crowned Stanley Cup champion Nazem Kadri to the forward group.

Defenceman MacKenzie Weegar was also brought into the fold. For the past few years, Weegar, 28, has been one of the league’s best-kept secrets, shining in a top-pair role for the Panthers.

If Weegar maintains his high level of play in Calgary, he could quickly become the Flames’ No. 1 defenceman.

Weegar is proficient on both ends of the ice. Defensively, his best attribute is his active stick. He ranked second last season in total blocked passes per game among 163 defencemen who played a minimum of 1,000 minutes. The only defenceman who finished ahead of Weegar in that category was Carolina’s Jaccob Slavin, widely considered the top defensive defenceman in the league.

Weegar’s offensive game, meantime, is driven by his ability to push the puck up ice and make opponents miss while doing so. Those skills should strengthen an already potent Flames rush attack. No qualified defenceman beat defenders one-on-one at a higher rate last season than Weegar, who did so 62.7 per cent of the time. Weegar’s 160 attempted dekes at 5-on-5 were tied for seventh at the position.

It is important to note that Weegar’s success with the Panthers was not solely a product of playing with Aaron Ekblad. 

When Ekblad fractured his left leg in March 2021, for example, the Panthers paired Weegar with Gustav Forsling for the remainder of the regular season. They controlled 57.1 per cent of expected goals in close to 300 minutes of ice time, compared to 62.4 per cent when Weegar and Ekblad were together before the injury.

In Ekblad’s absence, Weegar led the Panthers with 21:57 of average ice time and had 17 points in 19 games.

Flames coach Darryl Sutter will have plenty of options when it comes to formulating his defence pairs this season.

If Sutter elects to keep together Noah Hanifin and Rasmus Andersson, then Weegar could play with either Oliver Kylington or Chris Tanev. It helps that the right-handed Weegar is comfortable playing on his off side, which he did when partnered with Ekblad.

Weegar is entering the final year of a contract that carries a $3.25 million cap hit. Sportsnet insider Elliotte Friedman said on a recent episode of the 32 Thoughts podcast that Weegar’s next deal could be similar to the eight-year, $52 million extension signed by Boston Bruins defenceman Hampus Lindholm in March.

The Flames have already taken care of Huberdeau’s contract, and they would be wise to do the same with Weegar.

“We’re trying to get something done,” Weegar told reporters at the Flames’ charity golf tournament last week. “Hopefully we can get something done soon.”

Data via Sportlogiq.

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