Less than three weeks from free agency, there’s a real possibility Johnny Gaudreau won’t re-sign with the Calgary Flames. As we know, what Gaudreau decides will define and determine how this offseason plays out for this team.
Knowing that, I see three paths Calgary could venture down this summer.

The best case scenario

The best outcome for the Flames is simple, at least for me: both Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk sign long-term contracts this summer.
I know there are varying opinions on how both players performed in the playoffs and what their next contracts should look like. But you can’t convince me not having one or both is good for Calgary.
Retaining drafted and developed stars is always the best option, if it exists. These days, knowing how uneven the playing field is market to market, it’s even more important in small, Canadian markets.
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The Flames did a lot of good things this season and they’ve got a chance to run it back and build on that success by bringing back their 215-point duo.
I understand the concerns some have when thinking about multiple max term deals with AAV’s in the double digit millions. But the alternatives are worse.

The quick reload

So let’s say Gaudreau does indeed leave in free agency. The first path that exists involves a quick pivot on the fly to try and remain competitive while still building on what was accomplished this season.
For that to happen, at least for me, signing Tkachuk to a long-term deal would have to be part of the equation.
Retaining Tkachuk would at least allow the Flames to keep two-thirds of their top line, along with Elias Lindholm. Obviously replacing Gaudreau is essentially impossible, but Calgary would then have the option to look for a suitable complement to that line, either in free agency of via trade.
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Depending on who that player is, a line already including Lindholm and Tkachuk could still be a very effective one.
Who could that be? Names like Filip Forsberg, Vincent Trocheck, and Valeri Nichushkin immediately come to mind in free agency, for instance. In this scenario, the Flames would have some flexibility with Gaudreau’s $6.75 million coming off the cap and a slight increase to the league’s upper limit.
It’s not as ideal as retaining both Gaudreau and Tkachuk, but keeping the latter if the former leaves gives Calgary the chance to be a factor again next season.

The full reset

Many believe a Gaudreau departure alone would be enough to go down this road. For me, I start talking about words like “rebuild”, “retool”, and “reset” if Gaudreau leaves AND it becomes apparent a long-term extension with Tkachuk isn’t in the cards.
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Tkachuk and Gaudreau are Calgary’s offensive catalysts. They combined for 215 points this season, and both are bordering on superstar status, if they haven’t attained that already (depending on your definition, obviously).
Having neither long-term is the absolute worst case scenario and would lead me to believe a rethink of the team’s direction is the best way to go.
Of course, all of that is easy to say on the outside. Tkachuk isn’t obligated to tell the Flames what he is or isn’t going to do, so a lot could come down to general manager Brad Treliving’s read on the situation.
The good news in this scenario is Calgary would still have time to trade Tkachuk for significant assets instead of losing him for nothing. The only cautionary tale would be how Ottawa handled a similar situation with Mark Stone during the 2018-19 season.
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