There is no question that the Calgary Flames had a disappointing 2022-23 season, but fear not Flames fans, defenceman Mackenzie Weegar is optimistic a bounce-back year is in store.
A big reason for his optimism? The hiring of general manager Craig Conroy and head coach Ryan Huska.
In just a few short months since each was hired, they already have the veteran defenceman feeling better about the direction of the team.
“I think with the two new hirings with Craig and ‘Husk’, I think that was already moving in the right direction,” Weegar told NHL.com before participating in the Rogers Legends of Hockey Charity Skins Game in Calgary on Saturday. “There’s lots of rumours of guys not wanting to be here or guys staying. To be honest, I kind of keep my head out of it and my nose out of it. I just want guys that want to be here. And I think Craig and Husk are on the same page.
“For me the turnover, it doesn’t really affect me. All that matters is the guys that want to be here and guys that want to win here in Calgary and if you don’t want to be a part of it, unfortunately you have to move on even if they’re great friends and great guys. For me, you want to win and I think we want to win now. It starts with Craig and Husk at the helm.”
It’s also not as if Conroy and Huska are completely new faces. Conroy was with the team in an assistant GM role before being named as Brad Treliving’s replacement, while Huska was an assistant on Darryl Sutter’s staff before Conroy promoted him.
And while Weegar isn’t 100 per cent sure what to expect with new faces at the helm, he knows that both Conroy and Huska are high-character individuals and that there will be a focus on having a little more fun at the rink this season.
“I don’t really know how it’s going to be,” Weegar said. “I know [Craig and Huska] personally and they’re great guys. We all know Darryl and Husk, they’re both different guys and different personalities. I think just the focus point might be this year where it’s a little more fun coming to the rink and I think that’s going to be big for a lot of guys. You just want to come in and enjoy it. We’re going to have our ups and downs … but just have fun with the guys. I think if we have fun, we’ll be winning more.”
The Flames could use a little more winning, as they fell just short of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last year with a 38-27-17 record. They finished fifth in the Pacific Division and just two points behind the Winnipeg Jets for the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference.
Weegar is hopeful that Huska’s coaching style will free up the team offensively and help a Flames team that finished last season 19th in total goals scored (258) put a few more pucks in the net.
“I think [Huska] just wants to let guys showcase their skills and I think there are a lot of guys in the room maybe felt handcuffed or maybe on a shorter leash or whatnot, and he wants to open it up a bit more and play a little looser,” Weegar said. “At the same time, you have to take care of your own end. I think our defensive game is there. Our whole team has played that defensive game for the last few seasons now, so we know how to play hard ‘D’ but at the same time, I think they’re going to want to open it up a little bit and play some good offence, make some plays and score a few more goals.”
Calgary does still have a ton of uncertainty heading into the 2023-24 season, as the future of key players Elias Lindholm, Noah Hanifin and Mikael Backlund remain unclear. All three are entering the final year of their contracts and their desire to stay in Calgary is in question.
But with how the roster sits right now, Weegar is not only confident the Flames can be a playoff team, but that they can compete for a Stanley Cup.
“I think [Huska] just wants to let guys showcase their skills and I think there are a lot of guys in the room maybe felt handcuffed or maybe on a shorter leash or whatnot, and he wants to open it up a bit more and play a little looser,” Weegar said. “At the same time, you have to take care of your own end. I think our defensive game is there. Our whole team has played that defensive game for the last few seasons now, so we know how to play hard ‘D’ but at the same time, I think they’re going to want to open it up a little bit and play some good offense, make some plays and score a few more goals.”