Flames cap emotional day with another comeback victory
Hours after the Flames dealt disgruntled blueliner Nikita Zadorov to the Vancouver Canucks, Calgary’s defencemen combined for three goals in a 4-3 overtime victory over the Dallas Stars Thursday night at the Saddledome.
Chris Tanev, Noah Hanifin and MacKenzie Weegar scored in regulation before Nazem Kadri ended the game about 60 seconds into OT on a feed off the stick of Jonathan Huberdeau. The Flames (10-10-3) have won eight of their last 13, notching points in 10 games.
They compiled a solid 8-4-2 record in November and are at .500 for the first time since mid-October, sitting one point behind the Arizona Coyotes for the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference.
Despite the victory and another showcase of the group’s resiliency, players didn’t hide their emotions post-game about how Zadorov, a third pairing blueliner for his two-plus seasons in red and white, was no longer a teammate. The six-foot-six, 248-pound native of Russia publicly requested a trade weeks ago.
“It’s a sh***y business,” Kadri said afterwards.
Despite a depth role, Zadorov had an outsized influence on the team and organization.
He stood up for teammates and gutted out the 2022 playoffs with broken ribs. Zadorov was also brash and outspoken in the media, apologizing for “playing like sh*t” and saying that Calgary’s players had no excuses to improve their play with former head coach Darryl Sutter no longer being part of the organization. Those comments irked some teammates, but he was by and large a popular teammate. He even found time to chide reporters on the questions they asked Sutter.
“You get to know somebody every single day,” Kadri said.
“They’re in your room every single day. The next thing you know, they’re on a different team. Especially when it’s a friend of yours, you get a little sensitive, but at the end of the day, they’re going to be friends for a long time…he’s a guy you can give it to and he gives it back. Those are always fun guys to have in the room because they don’t take it too personally. They can take a chirp and give one out too.”
“I talked to Z and wished him good luck and all the best,” Tanev said.
“It’s always tough when you play with someone for almost three years. You get to know them, their family, wife, kids…it could’ve been a distraction for us, but we were able to focus on what we needed to do tonight.”
The Flames received a fifth-round pick in 2024 and third-round pick in 2026 from the Canucks for the 28-year-old Zadorov. Equally, if not more, important for the organization, however, was that they didn’t retain any of his salary and didn’t take back another player. Zadorov makes $3.75 million this season and is an unrestricted free agent next summer.
“Now we have an opportunity to bring up another guy we really like and…to have them not retain any money really is another asset that we can work with moving forward,” Calgary general manager Craig Conroy said.
At times, the Flames have carried a roster of 22 players, one below the league limit.
“It allows me to bring up players from the American [Hockey] League, which I wasn’t able to do before,” he said.
“So if I want to bring players back and forth, it allows me to do that. The second thing is, especially when you get closer to the trade deadline, other teams up against the cap need a third party to go through, it allows you to do that and that gets you more draft capital, too…if there’s a trade to bring in a player, there’s that also. It really frees you up to do a lot more,” said Conroy.
On the ice Thursday night, the Flames showed no signs that the day’s news had been a distraction. They once again clawed back against an opponent that, on paper, was better than them.
Calgary had the edge in shots (36-16) and scoring chances and Jacob Markstrom kept the team alive with two key stops on Matt Duchene midway through the third period. No Flames forward line was outshot on this night.
The blueliners’ speed in the offensive zone opened up holes for the forwards. Connor Zary continued to dazzle with his creativity. Head coach Ryan Huska has noticed an increasing swag with his battle-tested team that has now won eight times when trailing after the first or second period.
“Our bench felt like, ‘We’re coming back to win tonight,’” Huska said.
“It had that feeling all night. When the penalty shot goal [scored by Mason Marchment] went in, there was no sag…they felt tonight that they were going to win the game. You could see after in situations after situations where they gave something up. They came back with a good shift and found a way.”
The victory, one in a stretch of games versus Stanley Cup contenders like the Stars, Colorado Avalanche, and Vegas Golden Knights, sets up a Saturday night affair at the Saddledome versus Zadorov and the Canucks.
“I don’t know if he’s staying in town,” Kadri said.
“He’s going to have a few bucks on the board, that’s for sure.”
The emotional day had Kadri pondering about switching sides himself.
“It’s a tough business having to watch guys come and go at the drop of a hat,” he said. He then added with a smirk, “This is where I wish I was in the media business.
“You guys getting traded?”