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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski/USA TODAY Sports

Johnny Gaudreau played some of his best hockey last season (2021 year in review)

Johnny Gaudreau is an extremely good hockey player. Unfortunately, for the latter part of the 2018–19 season and most of 2019–20, he struggled to produce on a consistent basis and took a step back in terms of his overall effectiveness.

Fear not: Gaudreau returned to his peak form in 2020–21, putting forth one of the best single-season offensive performances of his career (both in terms of counting statistics and underlying figures).

This offseason will be critical towards determining Gaudreau’s future in Calgary. The 5’9″ winger has just one year left on his deal and will soon assume a significant amount of control over where he elects to play.

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If the Flames want to maximize their value on a potential Gaudreau trade, they’d best act fast. If they want to re-sign him, they have a bit more time to weigh their options.

The past

After three outstanding years at Boston College, Gaudreau turned professional with the Flames in time for the final game of the 2013–14 season and almost immediately emerged as a star in 2014–15. He scored 64 points (24 goals, 40 assists) in 80 games, helping the Flames make the playoffs for the first time in six seasons and earning a nod as a finalist for the Calder Trophy.

In 2018–19, Gaudreau scored a career-high 99 points en route to the Flames’ first Pacific Division championship since 1995. Calgary earned 107 points and went into the playoffs as the top seed in the Western Conference. It’s probably best not to mention what happened after that.

On Jan. 26, 2019, Gaudreau played in the NHL All-Star Game. Prior to that, he ranked third in the league with 73 points (29 goals, 44 assists) in 51 games. After the break, he scored just 26 points (seven goals, 19 assists) in the season’s final 32 contests and barely missed out on becoming the first Flame to crack the century mark since 1992–93.

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Gaudreau scored just one point in the Flames’ five-game loss to the Colorado Avalanche in the 2019 playoffs. He posted some of the worst numbers of his career the following season, recording just 58 points (18 goals, 40 assists) in 70 games. Evolving-Hockey assessed Gaudreau’s play in 2019–20 as being worth just 4.5 expected goals above replacement, by far and away the lowest mark of his seven full seasons.

In the 2020 playoffs, Gaudreau scored four goals and seven points in 10 games. All but one of those points came on the power play.

The present

Despite playing with a variety of different linemates in 2020–21 — including, for an extended period of time, Brett Ritchie — Gaudreau enjoyed a renaissance and scored at a 28-goal and 72-point pace on the year.

With Gaudreau on the ice at even strength, the Flames outscored their opponents 36-29 and controlled 54.07% of the expected goals (up from a minus-2 goal differential and a 49.02% expected goal share in 2019–20).

Without Gaudreau, the Flames scored 76 goals to their opponents’ 75; among Calgary regulars, only Andrew Mangiapane, Derek Ryan, Mikael Backlund, and Michael Stone (?) were on the ice for more expected goals-per-60 in 2020–21 than Gaudreau’s 2.40.

Gaudreau scored 2.85 points-per-60 in all situations last year, good enough to rank in a tie with Pavel Buchnevich and Anthony Duclair for 48th in the NHL (min. 100:00 TOI). He provided the Flames with a team-leading 16.5 expected goals above replacement, the ninth-most in the entire NHL.

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The future

Gaudreau is entering the final season of a six-year deal he signed with the Flames back in 2016. As was the case in the first five years of the contract, Gaudreau will earn $6.75 million in 2021–22.

Starting on July 28, Gaudreau will take control of a modified no-trade clause. For the first time in his career, he’ll be able to provide Flames general manager Brad Treliving with a list of just five teams to which he would accept a trade.

In short: Calgary can currently negotiate deals involving Gaudreau with any team. If such a trade was consummated today, Gaudreau would have no choice but to accept the deal and become a member of a team of Calgary’s choice. The Flames would theoretically be able to negotiate with every team in the league to try and achieve the best possible return for their star winger.

Once the 2021–22 season begins, Gaudreau will assume far more control over his destiny. The Flames will still be able to negotiate with whomever they desire but there would be no guarantee Gaudreau would agree to move to a team not included on his list.

The Flames will be able to exclusively work with Gaudreau on a contract extension until the start of the 2022 free agency period. Even after Gaudreau’s modified no-trade clause kicks in, Calgary management will retain the ability to negotiate with Gaudreau for an additional year.

Gaudreau is clearly capable of being a top player in the NHL and he showed much of his upside in 2020–21. The Flames would be smart to look at extending him on a long-term deal.

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The entire situation ultimately depends on Gaudreau’s priorities and aspirations. He’s publicly expressed a desire to remain a Flame; we should soon know whether that sentiment can translate into a concrete commitment.

2021 year in review

Milan Lucic | Andrew Mangiapane | Dillon Dube | Derek Ryan | Matthew Tkachuk | Chris Tanev | Jacob Markstrom | Sean Monahan | Mikael Backlund | Juuso Valimaki