The Calgary Flames’ entire 2022 off-season hinges on Johnny Gaudreau’s decision
Photo credit:Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports
By Ryan Pike1 year ago
Since the Calgary Flames were eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs, we’ve gotten a lot of really thoughtful, smart questions for our weekly mailbag segment here at FlamesNation. As you can imagine, most of those questions have centred around what the Flames – a very good hockey team in 2021-22 – will do this off-season to hopefully remain a very good team in 2022-23.
But for better or for worse, the club’s entire approach to the off-season depends on what Johnny Gaudreau decides to do: whether he stays a Flame or signs elsewhere.
Let’s get one thing out of the way: the Flames would really like to keep Gaudreau for the rest of his career. He’s the team’s best player and has established himself as (a) one of the best offensive drivers in the National Hockey League and (b) one of the best offensive players in the storied history of the Flames franchise. He might not have the longevity of Jarome Iginla yet, but Gaudreau’s numbers are comparable with the Hall of Famer’s so far through his Flames career.
But let’s get another thing out there: Gaudreau is a top player and deserves to be paid like a top player. Relative to his production, you could make a strong argument that he’s been underpaid throughout his most recent contract, and this summer’s new deal will probably correct that to a large extent. Whatever he gets, his cap hit will probably make some fans wince at first glance because it’ll be a big jump from the current $6.75 million cap hit he currently carries – if he re-ups with the Flames, it’ll undoubtedly be the richest deal in club history, far exceeding what Iginla or Miikka Kiprusoff ever earned as Flames.
But it’s the “if” that creates the fork in the road for the Flames’ big summer plans.
Gaudreau is the Flames’ most prominent unrestricted free agent – heck, he’s the league‘s most prominent potential UFA – but he’s not the only player they need to make a decision on. And Gaudreau’s decision to stay or move on will have massive ripples.
Realistically, Gaudreau’s cap hit will probably be in excess of $10 million a season. If he gets that cap hit, it makes it challenging to lock up Matthew Tkachuk long-term. Or to lock up Andrew Mangiapane or Oliver Kylington long-term. Or to even think about bringing back Erik Gudbranson or Nikita Zadorov on the blueline, or Calle Jarnkrok within the forward ranks. Heck, to make the cap hits work to retain Gaudreau and the three big RFAs (Tkachuk, Mangiapane and Kylington), the Flames will probably need to do some cap Cirque du Soleil, to steal a phrase that general manager Brad Treliving has used in the past.
If Gaudreau is not coming back, suddenly there’s $10 million (or more) to work with, and the need for extensive roster surgery to make things work becomes lessened. However, if Gaudreau isn’t coming back, then the Flames need to find a way to at least partially replace some of his offense in some form. (I hate to break it to you, friends, but there just isn’t another player with his scoring prowess available in the market this summer.)
For now, as they play the waiting game and negotiate with Gaudreau on a potential long-term deal, the Flames are likely exploring parallel paths: a future with Gaudreau and one without him. And they probably would like a strong indication of which future is the likelier one before the NHL Draft in Montreal, because that’s historically been the setting where Treliving does his wheeling and dealing to set the table for the upcoming season.
So the clock is ticking. How the Flames’ off-season unfolds is largely not up to them, but rather to Gaudreau. His decision to stay or go will determine how the rest of the summer looks for the Flames, and probably will be the key factor determining how the on-ice product looks for several seasons to come.
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