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Flames focused on homestand amid off-ice roster distractions


The Calgary Flames are managing off-ice distractions internally ahead of a two-game homestand starting on Thursday versus the Vancouver Canucks

The Flames went 1-1-1 over a three-game road trip through Eastern Canada, including a three-goal comeback in Toronto that led to a shootout point against the Maple Leafs, and a stellar Jacob Markstrom outing in Montreal on Tuesday where he stopped 34 of 35 shots in a 2-1 win over the Canadiens. The Flames have points in three of their last four games, including a 4-2 victory over the Nashville Predators in their final home game prior to hitting the road.

The talk, however, has been about blueliner Nikita Zadorov’s trade request that became public following the 5-4 loss at Scotiabank Arena on Friday.

Zadorov was not made available to media on Wednesday but did answer questions about the request after the team’s 4-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators on Saturday.

“There’s a lot of business stuff going on and everything,” the 28-year-old told reporters postgame.

“You guys can only see 10 per cent of what’s going on behind the curtains.”

The request comes less than seven months after Zadorov said he wanted to be a Calgary Flame for life.

“The business side, sometimes stuff happens,” he said. 

“My agent’s gotta protect me at some points, for sure.”

Four days after the request became public, centre Nazem Kadri empathized with Zadorov’s predicament.

“You always try to be delicate with guys’ situations and what they want for their future,” he said after Wednesday’s practice.

“At the end of the day, it is a business and guys want to secure themselves and their families…as far as I know, they’re fighting hard for this team. They want to be a part of this team. Within the dressing room, everything’s fine.”

Captain Mikael Backlund and head coach Ryan Huska said the team has addressed it internally.

“We’ve dealt with it in the room,” Backlund said.

“We’ll keep [player reaction] within the room…we’ve talked about it and now we’re focusing on playing hockey.”

Zadorov has been a valuable contributor to the organization since he was acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks in 2021. The hulking 6-foot-6, 248-pound defenceman played through broken ribs during the Flames’ 2022 playoff run while forming one of the league’s best depth defensive duos alongside Erik Gudbranson. Last season, he notched a career-high 14 goals. He’s also been a presence in the greater Calgary community.

His request for a change of scenery, however, perhaps signifies competing priorities on this Flames roster and which players general manager Craig Conroy wants to keep around long term. 

Kadri, in the second of a seven-year, $49-million deal he signed last off-season, made it known he still has faith that this Flames team (5-8-2, 12 points, sixth in Pacific Division) can get on a run. 

“At my age, you want to win now,” the 33-year-old native of London, Ont., said.

“I came here to have an opportunity and I feel like we still do. I feel like we still have a great team. Obviously, [we] should have a couple of more wins than we do, but at the end of the day, we’re going to find ways to stack them on top of each other.”

Despite a season where the team’s dealt with a public trade request, two suspensions, Jonathan Huberdeau getting benched, and other distractions, there have been bright spots. Kadri’s play has picked up of late and several players credit him with mentoring them. Rookies Connor Zary and Martin Pospisil have exceeded expectations. Perhaps the most significant of all, Markstrom has been exceptional. True to habit, the goalie deflected when asked of his strong play.

“We’ve just got to build,” he said.

“It’s about winning hockey games and we have to keep winning.”

But with those positives, there is a sense that this is a roster in transition. 

Zadorov’s name is not the only one circulating in the rumour mill. The likes of defencemen Chris Tanev and Noah Hanifin have also been mentioned. It’s likely that Huska’s squad come this spring will look different than what he has now. Between now and then, however, the Flames will have to handle the external noise that comes with pending free agents and an expected roster reset.

“It’s all stuff that we keep in house,” Huska said of how they’ve managed so far.

“It’s very early, but I’ve not lost belief in this team one bit,” Kadri added.