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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski/USA TODAY Sports

Why extending Johnny Gaudreau makes sense

Johnny Gaudreau’s future in Calgary is perhaps the team’s biggest storyline this summer, of which there are many. It has been my belief for some time Gaudreau and the Flames would end up agreeing on an extension, and that remains the case today. I believe it’ll happen and if/when it does, assuming a fair deal for both sides, I think it’ll be a good thing for the organization and the city.

I know there are skeptics about a Gaudreau extension. Some don’t believe he wants to stay in Calgary long-term, despite his numerous public comments affirming his desire to do just that. Others don’t think keeping Gaudreau into his 30’s is the way to go for an organization lacking playoff success since his entry into the league.

I’m on the other side of both arguments. First of all, I firmly believe Gaudreau is keen on staying with the Flames. His most recent comments about the subject certainly haven’t swayed my stance.

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“If (GM Brad Treliving) and the owners are happy with the way I’ve played here the past six, seven years, then it’s something we can figure out this upcoming summer,” Gaudreau said on locker clean out day in May. “I would love to do that. I love the city of Calgary, I love playing here. I don’t think I’ve ever not once said I haven’t wanted to be here.”

You can believe those comments are lip service from Gaudreau. I’m quite confident they’re not. As far as the other part, I’ve got a few reasons why a long-term extension makes sense for the Flames.

On the ice

There are three feasible options for Calgary: let Johnny walk in a year, re-sign him, or trade him at some point before this coming season’s trade deadline. Practically, the first option makes very little sense, so it really comes down to either trading Gaudreau or locking him up beyond 2021-22.

For me, a trade is the less desirable of the two options and something to be explored only if it becomes clear a deal can’t be struck. Gaudreau has a five-team trade list that kicks in on Wednesday, which is a hard deadline for some and a tad softer for others. I lean the latter, as I don’t think it’s a prohibitive clause. It’s not irrelevant, of course, but we’ve seen many players waive when a trade is on the table. Long story short: I don’t see Wednesday as a drop dead date for Calgary to make a decision.

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It’s true, if a deal can’t get done, a trade has to be explored at some point before the deadline. However, for the sake of this article, let’s continue with the belief common ground can be found on a fair extension. When it comes down to an actual choice between a trade and re-signing a player of Gaudreau’s caliber, I think the decision is clear.

If the Flames were to trade Gaudreau, they’d almost certainly be giving up the best player in the deal, at least in the immediacy. And, knowing what Gaudreau has accomplished in his seven full NHL seasons, getting a player to match his level in the future is anything but a sure thing. I’m skeptical, mainly because Gaudreau has been one of the league’s most productive players since his rookie season in 2014-15, as charted below.

All strengths Even strength
Rank Player PTS Rank Player PTS
1. Patrick Kane 595 1. Patrick Kane 416
2. Connor McDavid 574 2. Connor McDavid 392
3. Sidney Crosby 556 3. Sidney Crosby 367
4. Brad Marchand 529 4. Brad Marchand 357
4. Nikita Kucherov 529 5. Artemi Panarin 351
6. Alex Ovechkin 506 6. Mark Scheifele 349
6. Blake Wheeler 506 7. John Tavares 348
6. Leon Draisaitl 506 8. Nikita Kucherov 348
9. John Tavares 504 9. Johnny Gaudreau 347
10. Nathan MacKinnon 497 10. Leon Draisaitl 344
11. Johnny Gaudreau 493 11. Nathan MacKinnon 331

Earlier this month, Hailey at The Athletic also outlined where Gaudreau sat compared to the rest of the NHL since entering the league. Only ten players have put up more points during that time, which is impressive. Even more significant, though, is Gaudreau’s production at even strength, where he’s a top nine player in elite company. That effectively dispels the “powerplay specialist” narrative that exists for some.

We can talk about Gaudreau’s limitations, which is fair. He’s likely not competing for a Selke Trophy at any point and Gaudreau is well aware performance hasn’t been where it needs to be in recent postseasons. But production over seven years like what you see above is something that isn’t easily replaced. Generating offence in today’s NHL is hard and Gaudreau’s track record in that category is outstanding.

A small market win

Here’s the tipping point for me. When Ryan Nugent-Hopkins signed his eight-year extension with Edmonton last month, it was a win for a small market Canadian team. Nugent-Hopkins was a pending unrestricted free agent facing a bevy of offers from larger, potentially more attractive spots. He opted to take a fair deal (and a pay cut) to remain in one of the league’s smallest markets.

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Let’s be honest: the way things stand right now, teams in smaller NHL centres are at a disadvantage. Like it or not, the Lightning, Rangers, Kings, and Blackhawks are currently more attractive to players when given the choice. Spots like Calgary, Columbus, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Buffalo, and Ottawa just aren’t considered on the same level. To make matters worse, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman suggested last week playing in Canada is not the favourite choice of many NHLers right now, making it a double whammy for the Flames.

Now let’s apply this to Johnny. We’re talking about a bona fide American superstar here. He’s a Hobey Baker winner, a World Junior gold medalist, and one of the most recognizable homegrown names south of the border. While I think the “he wants to play in Philly” angle is overdone, I do buy into one thing: an unrestricted Gaudreau would have multiple suitors residing in the league’s biggest, most attractive spots.

For him to ultimately stay in Calgary, the league’s fifth-smallest market, would be a significant development. It would end up being three contracts for Gaudreau and the Flames, including one leading up to his first crack at unrestricted free agency. Essentially, a long-term extension would associate Gaudreau with Calgary for the vast majority of his career.

From Rick Nash to Dany Heatley and more, we’ve seen high profile players ask out of smaller markets before. It looks like it’s going to happen again with Jack Eichel and the Sabres. Knowing the uneven playing field that exists, the same thing not happening with the Flames and Gaudreau would be a big time win for the organization.

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