The title of this column poses a serious question.
The short answer is, yes, it is probably time to sit the supremely talented but clearly underperforming Johnny Gaudreau.
But there’s a lot to unpack when you’re talking about giving arguably your most talented franchise player a bag of popcorn and a seat in the press box.
First, you have to ask yourself why you’re doing it. Leaving an offensive weapon out of the lineup after the team has gone six periods without a goal doesn’t really make a lot of sense on paper. After all, he and his partner-in-crime Sean Monahan are both suffering a real dip in shooting percentages at even strength this season — almost a 10 percent dip for Monahan and a more than an eight percent dip for Gaudreau from last year — and should inevitably climb.
You’re doing it to send a message to the 26-year-old Gaudreau. That message is simple: Work harder. Work smarter.
Don’t rely on your talent. The effort has to match. See Matthew Tkachuk.
You’re doing it to send a message to the entire team. No one gets a free pass. Give all that you have in every area of the ice, in every situation, or find yourself in the embarrassing situation of taking a turn watching from above.
Although it usually happens with the league’s top-end talents as they either wind down their careers (like Mike Modano, Vinny Lecavlaier and now Jason Spezza), or with young stars still forming their work habits (like when Barry Trotz suggested Jakob Vrana was in “passenger mode” with the Washington Capitals two years ago), it is something that happens with other players that are being counted on to produce.
Los Angeles Kings head coach Todd McLellan sat Tyler Toffoli this year and very emphatically shared his strategy.
“Tyler was a really good player for a good period this season, then things kind of fell off for him,” McLellan told the Los Angeles Times.
“He’s got so much to give this team and to give himself, that maybe an opportunity to get a little angry – whether he’s angry at the coach or whoever – and then come and give us what he has, that’s what we’re looking for.”
Motivation. Intensity without frustration. Those are some of the things outside of the team’s systems that coaches are supposed to help their players with. But a lot of that has to be driven internally, too. The player’s own desire is the most powerful weapon they have.
Toffoli is in a lot of trade talks right now. And for the first time, so is Gaudreau.
Trade talk is premature on the Gaudreau front. Barring some miraculously easy old-timey hockey swap that has equal cap expenditures and uniquely talented individuals going both ways, the Flames will not win any deal involving a player coming off a 99-point season.
Making him a healthy scratch and seeing how he reacts may go a long way when it comes to GM Brad Treliving’s long-term strategy with Gaudreau, however.
He’s got this season and then two more before he can become an unrestricted free agent, with a $6.75 million cap hit.
A modified No Trade Clause that allows him to submit a five-team trade list (according to CapFriendly.com) kicks in in his final season.
So how Gaudreau responds to some adversity that extends well beyond the frustrating first portion of this season could give the team the most clarity it can expect on the player and what he’s capable of from a holistic perspective — as a player, as a leader, where his emotional intelligence is at and what his level of desire and commitment to the franchise might be.
If Gaudreau handles a healthy scratch professionally, takes a step back from the frustration and bounces back with more fire and perspective, he’s probably a keeper. If he pouts and stomps his feet behind closed doors, then you know you’re probably not going to win with this guy anyway.
Gaudreau and Monahan’s struggles are not the only reason this team is struggling right now. It takes a team effort — or lack thereof —– to lose by a combined score of 9-0 over a weekend. Then again, there are few people like Gaudreau capable of ensuring that shutting out the Calgary Flames is next to impossible.
It might be unpopular to suggest sitting your most capable point producer, but it might also be the kind of shakeup the team needs. A much less invasive approach than trading him.