It was no surprise in the off season that the Calgary Flames made some big splashes to try and improve the team. It has become GM Brad Treliving’s MO.
The surprising part for many was where he plucked those players from - four to be exact- from the Vancouver Canucks, all of which came by free agency. The two biggest names being Jacob Markstrom, who finally gives the Flames a solid goaltender between the pipes since number 34, and Chris Tanev on the back end.
Calgary also added Josh Leivo and Louis Domingue and with all those signings the jokes started to fly that the Calgary Flames turned into the Calgary Canucks - which is kind of funny considering the AJHL team in cow town is actually the Calgary Canucks.
But what many failed to realize and was proven during games two and three of the season for the Flames, was the significance of signing those former Canucks - specifically Tanev and Markstrom.
In a regular year those would be two big signings for Calgary and would dramatically improve their chances at making the playoffs and who knows, maybe moving past the first round. But with the COVID-19 pandemic changing how this season is played, these moves become much more valuable.
This season, Canada and the rest of the hockey world gets the treat of watching an all Canadian division. It means important games every single game and the ability for teams to grow rivalries - The Battle of Alberta - and also build new rivalries - Calgary and Toronto thanks to Matthew Tkachuk falling on Maple Leafs goalie Jack Campbell which left the tender in some pain on Sunday (you be the judge if it was on purpose or not), followed Jake Muzzin flipping the puck at Tkachuk at the end of the game Tuesday which resulted in a scrum.
Also with this season it means teams will be seeing a lot of each other - nine to 10 games to be exact - and if you can have the upper hand in those games the majority of the time the likelihood of making the playoffs increases.
That is where Tanev and Markstrom come in. These two players were integral in making the Canucks as good as they were last season and now for 10 games they can take what they learned in Vancouver and help their new teammates get the edge against the Blue and White.
Flames fans already got to see a sample of the impact those two can have every game but even more against Vancouver. In the first meeting between these two teams, Markstrom showed why the Flames signed him to a six-year $6 million deal. In his first game against his former team he recorded his first shutout with the C of Red, stopping all 32 shots - 25 at even strength and seven on the power play.
Markstrom followed that up the very next game helping secure a 5-2 win again against the Canucks. He recorded .926 save percentage and once again stoned the Canucks on the power play.
The fact Calgary was able to blank the Canucks in both games on the power play is quite the feat, given where the team ended the previous season.
Last year the Canucks ended the year with the 4th best power play in the league according to NHL.com at 24.2 per cent. The only teams above them were Edmonton, Boston, and St. Louis.
Now to be fair the Flames penalty kill was pretty solid as well ranking 8th at 82.1 per cent, but the fact they were able to blank what was such a lethal power play is impressive, and a large part is thanks to Markstrom.
The other man that helped put up zeros while facing the Canucks penalty kill was Tanev. He was instrumental in both wins particularly in the first game as part of the 3-0 win.
While Tanev didn’t show up on the score sheet in the goals or assists columns for either game against Vancouver, he was very prominent in the block column, recording 10 through the two games, eight of which came in the shutout win.
To start the season, Tanev has been out on the top penalty kill and paired with Mark Giordano. That is a solid veteran presence out there to ensure the puck stay out of the net and Tanev was well prepared to shut any attempt down.
There is a chance Vancouver might have had a goal or two on the power play if it wasn’t for Tanev being in the right spot at the right time to sacrifice his body and get in front of the shot. It was almost as if he had seen the set up before.
He showed on several occasions that he was already in position before the puck got to a player for a shot and was down ready to block it.
The other positive stat with Tanev is his plus/minus, as he currently has the second best mark on the team at plus three, one behind his defensive partner Noah Hanifin.
Now some may debate the importance of the plus/minus stat as the numbers can be skewed at times and that debate is valid, but the fact when he in the on the ice the team isn’t being scored on is a rather positive thing.
Lastly with Tanev, his leadership and veteran presence is already being showcased on the team. The hockey world saw it with how he was a mentor for Quinn Hughes and now he has already been seen on the ice after practice with some of the Flames young defensemen, Juuso Valimaki, Oliver Kylington and Connor Mackey.
The knowledge that he could potentially pass on to those young players could be crucial in the development of the Flames blue line for years to come.
Calgary has eight more games against Vancouver this season and if they are able to win the majority of them or even sweep them - which would result in a total of 20 points - that could be a strong push to be one of the top four teams in the division, and it is safe to say that Markstrom and Tanev will be big pieces in those remaining eight games.
On top of that, if each player is able to continue their strong play, not only against the Canucks, but the rest of the Canadian division, they could be X factors in helping the Flames clinch a playoff spot.
If you want to watch how these two players will continue to play against their former team, you won’t have to wait long as Calgary and Vancouver will tangle for four straight games starting on Feb. 11.