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.
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.
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
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.
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|