Flames’ MacKenzie Weegar sends powerful message with commitment to stay

Calgary Flames' MacKenzie Weegar (52) in action during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the St. Louis Blues Thursday, March 28, 2024, in St. Louis. (Jeff Roberson/AP)

LOS ANGELES — MacKenzie Weegar didn’t sign in Calgary to be part of a rebuild.

But the team’s emerging leader wants it known he’s not about to bail. 

Sending a powerful message by way of a one-on-one chat during the team’s California swing, the Flames’ 30-year-old defenceman declared his full commitment to being part of the solution, not the problem.

“Obviously when we signed here we didn’t think it was going to turn out like this, but that happens, things can change quick in this league,” said the Flames defenceman, who inked an eight-year, $50 million extension with the team shortly after arriving in 2022.

“I’m here for a long time. 

“I love the city. 

“It’s easy to ask for a trade, but I grew up not to be a quitter.

“I want to stay here. I want to win a Cup here, I’ve said that. 

“I believe in Connie and Husk and Backlund and Naz and everybody here.

“I think we’re not far.

“I believe in that. I want to turn it around. 

“I think it starts with yourself. You’ve got to take it upon yourself to help the organization.

That’s kind of where my head is at.”

Strong, culture-setting words.

For an organization that has had its narrative dominated by veterans bolting for what they perceive to be greener pastures, his comments will come as a tremendous relief to fans, teammates and management.

Weegar has evolved into the top-tier defenceman he was touted as when acquired with Jonathan Huberdeau in the Matthew Tkachuk trade.

Sitting amongst blue line league leaders with a career-high 19 goals and 50 points, Weegar’s two-way play also has him on the cusp of founding the NHL’s first 20 goal/200 shot block club.

But his leadership off the ice is what illustrates so perfectly why the Flames can count on him being a franchise pillar around which Craig Conroy now knows he can build.

He’s a future captain.

“When you have a guy like Tanny (Chris Tanev) in your lineup, who could be a captain on another team, I watched him closely and took notes on the way he led and how subtle he was and how humble he was,” said Weegar, whose status as a rotating alternate captain will unquestionably become full-time next year.

“I’m a bit more vocal than he is. I feel like I’m pretty open in the locker room. I’m not afraid to tell guys, or the media, how it is. I think that’s how it should be.

“I think now with the young guys, the new guys, I want to take it upon myself to make them feel comfortable and show them how hard it is to play in this league and help them out.

“I wanted to make a conscious effort to step up in this role.”

It has been noticeable, especially during the final stretch of games he insists should be meaningful in terms of setting standards and expectations.

“There’s one way to play,” he said.

“We’re making a conscious effort to play the right way the rest of the year and work for each other.

“We’ve only got ourselves in this room at the end of the day, and we’re going to have to face the media at the end of the year.

“How are we going to go out with a great work ethic and culture and environment so that other players around the league — the UFAs and the guys that might get traded here — want to be here and want to play here and get that culture back?

“Especially for the youngsters like Zar (Connor Zary) and Matty (Coronato) and a couple of the d-men too, they need to see you’ve got to work in this league, and if you get too satisfied it will chew you up and spit you out quickly.

“I don’t want to see that happen to any of them. I want them to play the right way and they’ll only get better.”

Weegar has been doing just that, playing like every game is his last, as coach Ryan Huska put it.

“MacKenzie will block 10 shots a night, and will do whatever it takes to help our team win, and that’s what you love about him,” said Huska, who can count on almost 23 minutes a night from Weegar.

“What he does on the ice and what he does off the ice, he’s learned to control his emotions a little bit more when things aren’t going his way or the team’s way, and I think that’s a lot of his growth that’s coming from wanting to be a leader and maybe expecting that out of himself right now too. 

“I know I’ll get the same effort from him the rest of the year.”

And many years to come.

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