Friends, as we’re writing this, Johnny Gaudreau remains a pending free agent and has yet to sign a new deal with the Calgary Flames. There’s a possibility that he’s played his final game with the hockey club.
If that happens, how do you replace him?
Well, you don’t.
The simple truth is there’s no single player out there that’s capable of being a one-for-one replacement for Gaudreau. But as Michael Lewis’ book Moneyball (and its film adaptation) illustrated, rather than trying to go nuts to replace Gaudreau with one impossible transaction, the Flames could attempt to replace him with a few moves.
Let’s see which players could help the Flames fill the big hole their smallest player could leave.

Big splashes

These guys are fairly big-name players and could help replace some of Gaudreau’s lost marquee value.
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Nazem Kadri
Back in the summer of 2019, Brad Treliving almost acquired Kadri from the Toronto Maple Leafs before Kadri used his no-trade clause to nix it – Kadri later admitted that it was nothing against Calgary, he just wanted to remain a Leaf. Now a 31-year-old free agent, Kadri has a Stanley Cup ring and a lot of cache as a big-time playoff performer. And adding him gives the Flames a lot of different looks for their top six and top nine.
Of all the pending UFAs this off-season who aren’t named Gaudreau, Kadri had the best Goals Above Replacement (GAR) according to Evolving-Hockey’s model. But he’s 31, and he’s projected to receive a seven year, $8.469 million AAV deal (per EH). That’s hefty and might not age well.
Andre Burakovsky
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How about another Avalanche forward? Burakovsky is younger than Kadri and not quite as big a game-breaker as his teammate, but he’s good and will likely come in at a lower cap hit – Evolving Hockey projects him at seven years at a $6.9 million AAV.
Ondrej Palat
Like Kadri, he’s 31. But Palat has been a low-key great player for awhile and has two Stanley Cup rings to his credit (and oodles of playoff games). Evolving-Hockey has him projected at three years with a $5.556 million AAV. So you’re not tied to him for too long, and you still have some cap space to add something else. You can have your cake and eat it too.
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Nino Niederreiter
Niederreiter is good but he arguably hasn’t had a breakout yet. Imagine a top six (or top nine) that featured wingers like Niederreiter, Matthew Tkachuk, Blake Coleman, Tyler Toffoli, Dillon Dube and Andrew Mangiapane. Man, you can mix and match and do a lot of different things on the wings. Evolving-Hockey has him projected at seven years at $5.724 million AAV.

Medium splashes

These guys might not be “big names,” but they’re good at ice hockey.
Mason Marchment
Marchment has really come on of late, emerging as a really effective secondary scorer for the Panthers. His Goals Above Replacement (via Evolving-Hockey) was only a little lower than Kadri’s, he’s younger than Kadri, and he’s expected to be way less expensive: EH has him projected at three years at $2.456 million AAV. The Flames had him in training camp in 2015 on a try-out, so he’s not a stranger to them, so perhaps that could give them an edge?
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Dylan Strome
The younger and less expensive of the Stromes, Dylan is coming off a weird few seasons, ending with him not receiving a qualifying offer from Chicago. He’s projected by Evolving-Hockey to be getting three years at $4.59 million, but he can score goals and play all over the place, proving a good amount of lineup flexibility.
Andrew Copp
A rightie that can play centre or wing, the Flames saw a good amount of Copp during their many games against the Jets in recent years. Evolving-Hockey projects him at four years at $5.768 million.
Other names to keep in mind: Ilya Mikheyev, Frank Vatrano (the Flames had him in development camp years back), and Vincent Trocheck.
Of course, the easiest way to replace Gaudreau is to keep him (and not actually have to replace him). We’ll see what happens as we inch towards free agency opening on July 13.
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