Photo Credit: Sergei Belski / USA Today Sports

FlamesNation Player Evaluation: Johnny Gaudreau

Like the Flames’ season in general, Johnny Gaudreau went through something of a rollercoaster ride in 2016-17. The Flames’ leading scorer last year, Gaudreau’s new contract negotiation lasted all summer long, even stretching into fall and training camp. Gaudreau and Brad Treliving managed to ink a deal before the first puck drop, but the long impasse seemed to set his play back a non-trivial degree.

Although he once again finished the year as the club’s leading scorer, Gaudreau battled injury and frustrating inconsistency in the shadow of his new, expensive contract.

2016-17 season summary

It’s hard to stress how bad linemates Gaudreau and Sean Monahan were to start the year. For the first six weeks of the year, both kids seemed to struggle to adapt to the weight of their new deals, as well as the tactics of the new coaching staff. By the middle of November, both guys boasted some of the worst scoring chance and expected goal ratios on the Flames. Glen Gulutzan even broke up the previously reliable duo for long stretches in the first third of the season. It didn’t help much.

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Unfortunately, just as Gaudreau started to find his legs and put together a strong series of games, he was shunted to the IR by the infamous 21 slash night in Minnesota.

Gaudreau returned in early December and seemed to be back to his old self, putting together an eight-game, 12-point streak while helping pace the Flames during their first big turnaround of the season. His improved play continued in January, although the points didn’t come as easily when the calendar flipped. As noted in this article, Gaudreau and Monahan were putting up well above average shot and scoring chance numbers, but their offence was being suppressed by poor shooting percentages.

The dry spell caused fans and media alike to ask what was wrong with Johnny, but in reality he was playing better than any other point in the season, aside from pucks not going in the net for himself and Monahan. The Flames’ most dangerous line starting getting the bounces again in February, and from there on Gaudreau re-established himself as the club’s leading scorer heading into the playoffs.

The end of Gaudreau’s season was almost as disappointing as the start of it. Although he and Monahan roundly outplayed their counterparts during the first round series (66% SCF%, 55% XGF%), neither guy could seem to find the net at even strength. On top of that, Gaudreau suffered from some frustrating stretches and lackluster giveaways, which were amplified by his personal dry spell. Aside from Brian Elliott’s obvious struggles, it was the top line’s inability to score at 5on5 that ultimately doomed the Flames.

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Compared to last season

Via Corsica (5on5):

Again, like the team as a whole, Gaudreau’s year was a tale of two seasons: The first half (particularly the quarter) was horrendous. He was roundly outplayed and put up some of his worst results in the NHL so far. After that, though, Gaudreau put up better underlying numbers than last year, including corsi and expected goal ratios. The improvement was vast and marked, only camouflaged by a dry spell where his percentages less than half of his career norms.

It may not seem like it, but this is actually good news moving forward. The big problem for Monahan and Gaudreau under Hartley was they relied on favourable circumstances and better than average percentages to get by. The duo will be much more dependable – and effective – if they can start to reliably outshoot and out chance the bad guys as well.

That didn’t help them in the series versus the Ducks, but then the first round was marked by an unlikely bout of poor luck for Calgary. If Gaudreau can avoid another slow start next season, he should be poised to become an even better player than the one who scored 30 goals and 78 points as a sophomore.

Most common linemates

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As you can see, playing with Gaudreau was a bit of mixed bag. Most good players were better with him, including Dougie Hamilton, Mark Giordano, and Monahan. Gaudreau also tended to sink with the bottom of the rotation as well, struggling alongside guys like Jyrki Jokipakka, Deryk Engelland, and, (strangely) Sam Bennett.

The big takeaway for the coaching staff here may be that Gaudreau should play with the top-end as much as possible – especially Dougie Hamilton, apparently.

What’s next?

Development isn’t always linear and sometimes even good players can struggle for long stretches. Both were true of Johnny Gaudreau this year. It took the Flames’ young star the first quarter of the season to find his legs and then the puck stopped going in for him just as he and Monahan finally started to turn things around.

Despite all this adversity, Gaudreau finished with a team-best 61 points, even while missing 10 games with a broken finger. He remains Calgary’s most potent weapon and perhaps biggest game breaking talent. If he and Monahan can build on the fundamental improvement they displayed in the second half of the year – and if Gaudreau can find a way to stay healthy through all of the hacks and whacks – he should be in line for a rebound season next year.

#1 – Brian Elliott #5 – Mark Giordano
#6 – Dennis Wideman #7 – T.J. Brodie
#10 – Kris Versteeg #11 – Mikael Backlund

  • class1div1

    Not trying to sound ignorant,but shouldn’t Corsi add a element of where the puck is being possessed.Im referring to playing the Ducks and being forced to play on the perimeter.Our presence in the slot and front of net was limited, yet we had a better Corsi.What am I missing?

    • Nick24

      Corsi wasn’t developed to see where shots were coming from, but to see who was doing the shooting, and further more, to shed some light on who may be able to produce future goals. Scoring chance data and expected goal metrics are other tools that can be used with corsi to create a better picture of whats going on on the ice. However, by every scoring chance metric the Flames quite convincingly out played the Ducks, so it wasn’t just a better corsi. The perception that the Ducks were keeping the Flames to the perimeter simply wasn’t true. Even if the Flames were kept to the outside, allowing shot volume form the outside is still a bad idea, as it can lead still lead to goals and keeps the puck in the defensive zone .

      In actuality, the Flames ran into a hot goaltender and in turn, had awful luck in both areas of goal scoring and goal tending.

  • HOFer_dirty30

    If gaudreau can put on a little muscle and aquire a skilled rw to play with (i love ferly but he isnt a long term top liner) I fully believe he can return to the top 6 in points.

  • buts

    What if we traded JH and our first for NJ’s first (overall) and Hall. JH wants to play our east close to home. Just some thoughts…..throwing this out there.

  • Raffydog

    Don’t care what they get for him, so long as they trade him somewhere. Never in my life have I seen a hockey player so terrified to get the puck, as Gaudreau was against Anaheim. You could almost here him muttering to himself “don’t pass me the puck, don’t pass me the puck, don’t pass me the puck”

  • Just.Visiting

    I liked the way that he played once Ferland was moved to his line. That being said, I move Tkachuk to that line, as he belongs on the first line and has played the right side before with London. This would then see Janko or Ferland with the Mikes and the other with Bennett. I think that the choice of linemates really hurt JG for most of the year and that the PP set up didn’t help either. I don’t have the data in front of me, but I think his PP totals were off significantly relative to last year. As regards Anaheim, he wasn’t alone in not having a great series. I dislike them immensely, but Getzlaf and Kessler killed us. Perhaps the NHL could look at enforcing the rule book too. The slashing of the star players is outrageous, particularly during the playoffs.

  • HOFer_dirty30

    I’m going to list some recent to active players smaller than gaudreau and you tell me if they are playoff performers:
    Cam atkinson
    Mats zuccarello
    Martin st.louis
    Big difference being they have 20-30lbs on gaudreau
    Im just clearing up the idea shorter players can’t excel in the playoffs, and so can we agree not to trade for a statistically worse and older taylor hall who hasn’t even played in the playoffs

    • I love 23

      Agreed. But, it would be nice to see Johnny fill out and add a little “Theo Fleury” into his game. He’s got the talent already. Time to add another dimension for the future.

  • Derzie

    Not sure I would trot out ‘weight of new contracts’ as a factor. The new coach is a Corsi guy. The first half of the year, only the Corsi guys thrived. 3M in particular. Once the system was more mature, the scorers came into their own. I would blame Treliving sweating Johnny, much more than I would blame dollars.