Remember back when the Flames had Jarome Iginla? He carried a $7 million cap hit, and absolutely nobody else topped that. Iginla was the face of the team, so he got to be its highest-paid player, too.
Now, it’s Mark Giordano who’s the leader, and his $6.75 million cap hit tops everyone else’s. (Though Sean Monahan’s $6.375 million comes close.) Or at least, it does for now – because Johnny Gaudreau remains unsigned, though he’s going to get paid for this season.
Remember that Gaudreau has stated he’s not interested in negotiating contract deals while he’s at the World Cup of Hockey – which he currently is – so Waiting For Gaudreau has been put on pause.
But via Eric Francis, Gaudreau’s camp and the Flames may be about $1.5 million apart, with Gaudreau wanting $8 million, and the Flames preferring to sandwich him in between Giordano and Monahan.
Which is, quite frankly, stupid.
Pay your stars
Who’s the best player on the Flames? That’s a bit of a loaded question open to a lot of debate. It could be Giordano. It could be his underpaid partner, T.J. Brodie.
Perhaps a better way of phrasing this would be: who’s the Flames’ top scorer?
There we go. There’s no question, no debate to be had here. Gaudreau scored 78 points in 79 games in 2015-16, 15 more points than second-place Monahan. He was 12 points back of Jiri Hudler in team scoring with 64 in 80 as a rookie. Gaudreau is where the Flames’ offence lives.
It took him two seasons to get to point-per-game status. He’s 17 points back of being a career point-per-game player. He puts the puck in the net, and if he isn’t the one doing it, then he’s setting someone else up to do just that. Point is, Gaudreau scores.
And players who can score get paid.
Only two seasons
You would think, by now, that people would have learned to stop underestimating Gaudreau.
He was a top player in the USHL during his draft year, but fell to the fourth round because who knew if he would be able to translate his abilities to the next level? He put together one of the best collegiate seasons in recent history, but who knew if he’d be able to stand up to the rigours of the NHL?
Now he’s basically a point per game player at the highest level in the world, and we’re still questioning whether or not he’s capable? Where do these new doubts keep coming from? Haven’t we been through this already?
Is it because he’s small, he’s likely to be injured? Let’s not forget the only time he’s missed in the NHL due to injury was last season – and he didn’t start missing time until the season was effectively hopeless. And he missed all of two games, at that.
Perpetuating a stereotype that he’s defensively irresponsible because he’s small and scores a lot is, itself, irresponsible. He and Monahan play in similar circumstances (they’re normally linemates, after all), and yet last season Gaudreau’s 5v5 CA60 was 56.46, while Monahan’s was 58.33. If you’re in position to score, you aren’t getting scored on; not many more players were in position to score than Gaudreau was last year.
There’s no precedent to pay a player as young as Gaudreau what he’s worth? (Other than Vladimir Tarasenko, who fully earned his eight-year, $7.5 million AAV deal?) Then set it. Is anyone going to think locking down one of the most exciting, offensively talented players in the entire league at an $8 million cap hit is somehow a bad deal?
Is $1.5 million really worth squabbling over when we’re talking about possibly the most key of key players in this lineup?
Giordano carries his own baggage that saw his cap hit knocked down a bit from his initial ask: his age. Giordano will be 38 when his contract ends. If Gaudreau signs an eight-year deal, he’ll be 31. Fact is, as valuable as Giordano is to the Flames – and he would be incredibly valuable to any team in the league – Gaudreau is more so.
The rest of the cap
The Flames have a little over $8 million left in cap space. They can afford to meet Gaudreau’s camp’s (entirely reasonable) ask.
If the hang-up is in part over and ensuring the cap is kept stable for the future, then there’s really only one thing to say to that: that’s a Flames problem, not a Gaudreau problem.
Gaudreau is under no obligation to take one for the team. Professional athletes have a short amount of time to capitalize on their earnings compared to other careers. He should go after it while he can.
It’s not Gaudreau’s fault the Flames previously threw money around on players like Dennis Wideman, Ladislav Smid, and Deryk Engelland. Gaudreau wasn’t the one who inked Matt Stajan to the extension he got. Gaudreau wasn’t the one shelling out $4.5 million a year for a 31-year-old forward on July 1 knowing two young stars were due for massive raises at the exact same time.
Gaudreau’s earnings don’t deserve to be slashed because the team who holds his rights made a number of questionable decisions.
In the current era of the Flames, Gaudreau is already the face of the franchise. He’s the one who gets people into seats, then out of them when he does something amazing. That’s the guy you pay, because that’s the guy people want to see. Without him, your team probably isn’t going to have much success.
If he ends up signed before the season starts – and if it’s for under $8 million for a substantial term, at that – then all of this is no harm, no foul.
If this extends into the season, though – and the clock is going to be ticking very, very loudly the second his World Cup is over – then that’s an unforgivable, entirely avoidable fumble by the Flames.