The Calgary Flames have provided their fans with a very interesting 2023-24 NHL season, to say the least. They have gone from a 2-7-1 beginning to the campaign to now sitting just one point out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. There have been negative aspects to the team and its players, but there have also been great leaps and bounds made. With a handful of the top trade candidates this season being Flames, it has been a year of uncertainty when it comes to personnel. Both forward Elias Lindholm and defenceman Nikita Zadorov were traded to the Vancouver Canucks in separate deals, and fellow Flames blueliners Chris Tanev and Noah Hanifin also find themselves in the trade rumour mill.
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One Flame who isn’t getting enough attention is defenceman MacKenzie Weegar, who is in his second season with the team after being acquired from the Florida Panthers in the infamous Matthew Tkachuk trade. He also isn’t going anywhere anytime soon after inking an eight-year, $50 million contract with the Flames. After a solid 2022-23 season and a magnificent showing in the offseason with Team Canada at the World Championship, many fans and media expected Weegar to take a step forward in 2023-24. Boy, were they right. The 30-year-old is currently leading the NHL in goals by defencemen with a remarkable 15 in 52 games played. Not bad for a former 206th overall draft choice. Weegar’s high level of play thus far is more than worthy of a closer look, as he has the potential to etch his name in the Flames’ record books should he continue it.
An Underappreciated Campaign & Player
Weegar has long been overlooked amongst high-level NHL defencemen despite being revered by front offices for his versatility and two-way play, which is why the Flames wanted him in the first place. The native of Ottawa can play on any pairing, on either side of the ice effectively and is a prominent figure on both the power play and the penalty kill. His ice time per game has increased with new head coach Ryan Huska, from 21:05 last season to 22:12 this season and he is getting almost a full minute more on the power play. The added responsibility has paid off immensely, as Weegar leads all Flames defencemen in goals, points, and plus/minus (plus-13). He is on track to smash his career-high in points, which was set in the 2021-22 season when he had 44 in 80 games played. His current pace of 0.62 points per game would have him finish with an even 50 in a full 82-game season.
Stats that are more heavily favoured nowadays are rates, such as per 60 minutes stats and Corsi For. In that regard, Weegar’s figures are astounding. He averages 1.663 points per 60, a franchise-record 0.779 goals per 60, and a 52% Corsi For rating. This means that the Flames are dominating puck possession, and creating and scoring on more chances than the opposing team whenever Weegar is on the ice. Sticking to defence, only Tanev has more blocks on the team than Weegar’s 125, and that number is good for eighth in the entire NHL. His 103 hits are tied for the team lead with forward Martin Pospisil and rank 13th among NHL defencemen. He is second on the team in point shares; an estimate of the number of points in the standings contributed by the player, with 6.4. To think that Weegar’s role and production could increase even more with the moving of Hanifin and/or Tanev is ludicrous.
Multiple Records Within Reach
Weegar’s previous career-high in goals in a season was set with the Panthers back in 2021-22 when he scored eight. If he can stay healthy and keep up this torrid pace, he will finish this season with a whopping 24. In comparison, last season’s highest-scoring rearguard was Erik Karlsson, who had 25 goals and 101 points. Only one other defender had 20 or more goals in 2022-23 and it was former Flame Dougie Hamilton, who had 22.
The highest total reached in the post-salary cap era (2005-06) was by way of Washington Capitals blueliner Mike Green, who had 31 in 2008-09. Right now, this seems within reach for Weegar. The 20-goal mark hasn’t been reached by a Flames defenceman since former captain Mark Giordano had 21 in the 2015-16 season. In fact, it has only been achieved 11 times in franchise history, and just twice in the post-salary cap era. If Weegar finishes with 24 it would be the fifth-best finish in Flames history. The franchise record is held by Al MacInnis, who had 28 goals in both the 1990-91 and 1993-94 seasons, respectively.
What is most incredible about Weegar’s body of work so far is that despite his power play prowess, most of his damage is done elsewhere; he has scored one of his 15 goals with the man advantage. MacInnis also holds the Flames record for most even-strength goals by a rearguard, with 16 in 1987-88. Weegar will undoubtedly be the new holder of this record by the end of this season. For even-strength points in a season, he would have to step it up a tad to beat Giordano’s 47, as he is on track to record 38 this season. With two more overtime game-winners, he could break Giordano’s record of two from 2017-18. He is also two shorthanded assists away from breaking the franchise mark of four, also set by Giordano in 2013-14. Weegar’s current 11.6% shooting success rate is the fourth-best all-time and is close to besting Paul Reinhart’s 14.8%.
In conclusion, Flames fans could firsthand be witnessing hockey history this season via Weegar. He is scoring at a rate not seen since the 2010s and as mentioned, could be in line for a boost if the team decides to make more trades. It is an awesome sight to see for anyone worried about the massive contract given to Weegar this offseason. Hopefully, he can keep up his high level of play and build upon his already impressive body of work this season.