There’s a lot of confusion surrounding the Flames right now. Injuries and suspensions have left the backend a mess. The trade deadline is coming up, but we don’t know who – if anybody – will be traded. (To say nothing of the upcoming UFAs getting hurt in the games leading up to the Feb. 29 deadline.) The cap is going to go up a little, or stay where it is, or go down, and the Flames have a lot of bad contracts they have to deal with all the while.
One thing that’s not confusing? Johnny Gaudreau. He’s been one of the Flames’ best players all season long. In just his second NHL season, he’s the team’s top scorer, and it may be a title he refuses to relinquish – he was already second in scoring in just his rookie year.
He’s going to get a new contract, and it’s going to be a big one. We know this. And now, we know Gaudreau is open to the possibility of playing for just one team his career. His agent is town – so now, we may be just one step closer to that.
A caveat or two
I always take it with a grain of salt when a player waxes his love for the city he plays in and its fans. What else is he going to say? He doesn’t just work there; he lives there, too, and he has public appearances to keep up. Not to mention that this is hockey: a sport and culture that gets twitchy when you’re even remotely candid.
Calgary just happens to be the NHL team that got first dibs on Gaudreau. Had he been drafted by any other team, he’d probably be saying the exact same things. They’re interchangeable.
That said, there’s still something nice to be said for his words, predictable as they may be. It was Calgary that drafted him. Calgary took the chance on him that nobody else did. Gaudreau was afraid he wouldn’t even get drafted to begin with; Calgary dissuaded those fears. Nobody else. Just Calgary.
So that plays a part in making his words a little more genuine than they may have been otherwise. That, and the presence of Gaudreaus felt over the past couple of seasons. They all have Flames gear; handfuls of them have shown up to games. The Gaudreaus, as a collective family unit, have been embraced by Calgary, and they seem to be returning the favour.
There’s really no reason to doubt the sincerity of his words.
Just one other hitch: I’m sure Jarome Iginla was intending to play out his entire career as a Flame, too. But we never know what the future brings. We never know what actions a team may have to take as the years progress. Things can chance in an instant, and Gaudreau could end up donning another team’s colours at some point.
The nice thing with him, though, is unlike with Iginla, he definitely has at least one quality centre to play with. Hopefully the Flames will manage to build a championship team with this particular winger, unlike what happened with their most recent franchise player.
I say “franchise player” because just as nobody will ever wear #12 again, if things keep going as they are, it’s entirely possible nobody else ever dons #13, either.
Let’s talk contract
“My agent just got in town yesterday,” Gaudreau told TSN. “We didn’t really talk too much about it, but it’s something that we gotta keep our eye open for and hopefully it happens in the near future.”
He is, of course, talking about his upcoming contract. Gaudreau will be a restricted free agent following this season, and sitting at 120 points over 136 games – a .88 point per game pace – he’s going to cash in. He’s one of the best scorers in the entire world right now, tied with Sidney Crosby for seventh overall in NHL standings.
There’s a reason Vladimir Tarasenko’s name has come up as a comparable. Through his entry level contract with the St. Louis Blues, Tarasenko scored 135 points over 179 games: a .75 point per game pace. Right out of the gate, Tarasenko was off to the races, and 73 points through 77 games in his contract year helped cement the eight-year, $60 million deal he got.
Eight years is the maximum term Gaudreau can be re-signed for under the CBA, and it should probably happen. Giving him a bridge deal makes no sense: he’s probably just going to get better. And with the way salaries are going – Anze Kopitar is about to start carrying a $10 million cap hit – by the time any hypothetical bridge deal runs out, it would be easy to see Gaudreau in the double digits.
If the maximum he hits is Taraensko’s $7.5 million cap hit, though – and for eight seasons following this one? He’d be 30 by the time it runs out – then that could end up being a massive win.
Gaudreau is young, he’s elite, and he still has a lot of his best years ahead of him. This is where dishing out on both term and salary makes sense.
Hopefully, with Gaudreau’s agent now in town, talks start gaining traction. Because it’s really hard to map out the Flames’ future on the cap without knowing just how much of that cap Gaudreau is going to take up – and it’s going to be a fair amount of it, as it rightfully should be.
What of Sean Monahan?
Going into this season, I think – both from watching them and the sake of simplicity – it was easy to assume Sean Monahan would be getting the same deal as Gaudreau. They’ve been likened to Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, who have identical contracts; they scored at similar rates in 2014-15. It made sense.
But as this season has gone on, Monahan has, comparatively, fallen by the wayside. It’s not that he’s a bad player, it’s that he’s not on Gaudreau’s level. He’s second in team scoring, and he’s still five goals and 16 points back of his frequent linemate.
They play in similar circumstances, but this season, Gaudreau has a 49.4% 5v5 CF; Monahan sits at 48.11%. Gaudreau’s 5v5 CF% rel is +2.32; Monahan’s is +0.41. This season, when playing together, they sit at a 49.9% CF; away from Monahan, Gaudreau is a 47.6% CF player, while Monahan is a 38.4% guy.
Gaudreau is, quite simply, better. He scores more. He has the puck more. He doesn’t necessarily need Monahan centring him – and with Sam Bennett now getting a shot down the middle, not to mention the possibility the Flames pick up another high quality centre this upcoming draft, it’s possible Monahan shouldn’t be his linemate of the future at all.
We’re buzzing about Gaudreau’s agent being in town, but there hasn’t been a peep about Monahan’s guy.
That’s not to say Monahan’s impending deal isn’t important. Until we know both his and Gaudreau’s upcoming cap hits, the Flames’ salary structure going forward is incredibly murky. But Monahan is no longer a first priority kind of guy – and identical deals are probably no longer in the cards, nor should they be.