If the Calgary Flames aspire to be a playoff team in 2021–22, they’ll need to have a healthy Johnny Gaudreau for the entire season.
Gaudreau, 28, is likely the Flames’ best offensive player. He’s been a fixture on the team’s top line since he entered the league in 2014–15 and led the Flames with 19 goals and 49 points last season.
According to Evolving-Hockey, Gaudreau led all forwards on the 2020–21 Flames with 11.3 total goals above replacement (GAR) and provided the team with $8.0 million of total value against his $6.75 million cap hit.
Among Flames skaters, only Elias Lindholm surpassed Gaudreau’s 8.4 total offensive GAR in 2020–21.
The Flames are a much better team with Johnny Gaudreau in the lineup than without. pic.twitter.com/K8Q6fEOR6k
— Mike Gould (@miketgould) October 5, 2021
Playing alongside Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk, Gaudreau looked like his usual self in Monday’s game against the Edmonton Oilers.
In just 11:04 (all at 5-on-5), Gaudreau took two shots, ranked among the team leaders in individual expected goals (according to Natural Stat Trick), and beat Oilers goaltender Mikko Koskinen on a breakaway with a high glove-side wrister.
Talk about an efficient performance. Despite playing the second-fewest even-strength minutes on the Flames, Gaudreau posted a team-leading 93.61 on-ice expected goals percentage at 5-on-5. The Flames surrendered zero scoring chances, three shot attempts, and only 0.05 expected goals with Gaudreau on the ice.
Why did Gaudreau play so little, though?
#Flames vs. Oilers Update: Johnny Gaudreau will not return tonight (precautionary).
— Calgary Flames (@NHLFlames) October 5, 2021
Gaudreau sat out the entire third period of Monday’s game, taking his final shift in the last minute of the middle frame. Calgary led 3-2 at the time of Gaudreau’s departure; despite controlling 57.77% of the expected goals at 5-on-5 in the third period, the Flames surrendered two power-play goals and ultimately fell by a 4-3 score.
Forget the game, though — how’s Johnny?
“He’s fine,” said Flames head coach Darryl Sutter in his post-game availability. “It’s the pre-season, right?”
Well, that’s a relief.
It is, indeed, the pre-season. With all due respect to the other 17 forwards currently in Calgary for training camp, they’re not going to bump Johnny Gaudreau out of his spot.
The Flames will undoubtedly want Gaudreau to be healthy for their season opener against the Edmonton Oilers on Oct. 16. If they felt there was even a slight chance he could jeopardize that by continuing to play in Monday’s game, pulling him was the right call.
Even if we don’t see Gaudreau again in the pre-season, Flames fans can still get their Johnny Hockey fix by watching this goal on repeat:
— Calgary Flames (@NHLFlames) October 5, 2021
- This is a new section intended to house some stray thoughts about the game that don’t quite fit in the main column.
- Get the pun? “Rapid Fire“? Pretty good, right?
- Will this section replace the recurring “Three Gould Stars” bit? Probably. It seemed to be pretty confusing and unpopular. Oh, well.
- Anyway, Milan Lucic had a goal taken away in the first period of this game after an offside review. Lucic had an otherwise solid game, finishing with a 57.06 on-ice expected goals percentage at 5-on-5 and three individual scoring chances.
- Jacob Markstrom’s defencemen and penalty killers didn’t really do him any favours in this one. He made 31 saves in the loss, including this tremendous pad stop on Zack Kassian (who, believe it or not, still has three years left on his $3.2 million AAV contract):
— Taranjot Vining (@Str8OuttaCGY) October 5, 2021
- Nikita Zadorov and Chris Tanev don’t seem to work together nearly as effectively as Oliver Kylington and Chris Tanev. Playing alongside Zadorov on Monday, Tanev posted a very ordinary 48.77 on-ice expected goals percentage at 5-on-5 — a far cry from the gaudy numbers he was putting up while paired with Kylington.
- Meanwhile, the Flames opted to pair Kylington with Erik Gudbranson on Monday. Kylington miraculously remained largely afloat while Gudbranson struggled to move the puck forward more than everybody else on the team. It’s genuinely puzzling how the Flames ever decided to give Gudbranson $1.95 million.
- Tanev and Kylington absolutely should be reunited. Noah Hanifin and Rasmus Andersson should also form a pair (they were effective together on Monday). Zadorov is probably too expensive not to play, so he’s likely Juuso Välimäki’s partner. That makes three pairings, each with a little bit of size, speed, youth, and experience. Now, it’s time to wait and see how the Flames will fit Gudbranson into their lineup on opening night.
- Finally, Sean Monahan appeared in his first pre-season game of the Darryl Sutter era on Monday. Primarily centering Andrew Mangiapane and Trevor Lewis (the latter of whom likely served as a placeholder for Blake Coleman), Monahan played 12:06 at 5-on-5 and took one shot on the power play. While he certainly wasn’t bad in his return, Monahan still has a long way to go before he can even be safely characterized as a top-six centre.
The Flames will return to action on the road for an exhibition clash with the Winnipeg Jets on Oct. 6 at 6:00 p.m. MT.