Despite being arguably the team’s best player for nearly a decade now, Calgary Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau has taken his fair share of criticism over the years. Most who weren’t a fan of the undersized winger would bring up his lack of success in the postseason, suggesting he doesn’t have what it takes to get it done when the games matter most.
Criticism picked up even more for Gaudreau after a disappointing 2019-20 season in which he had a career-low 58 points in 70 games. That, paired with another disappointing playoff exit, led many to believe he may be traded, though such a move never came to fruition. Instead, he was back in Calgary for the 2020-21 season and appeared to be back to the Johnny of old with five goals and nine points through his first seven games.
Unfortunately for Gaudreau, his play, much like that of his team, turned inconsistent midway through the year, capped off by a rough stretch in March in which he had just 7 points in 15 games. Thankfully, that turned out to be short-lived, as he was able to elevate his play once again for the final two months of the season. Considering his team missed the playoffs by just four points, however, you have to think that if he would have been able to produce in March that the Flames very well may have snuck into the playoffs ahead of the Montreal Canadiens.
Rough Transition to Sutter’s Style
When it was announced in early March that the Flames had hired Darryl Sutter, many questioned how Gaudreau would fare under an old-school coach. Early on, the results didn’t look great. As mentioned above, he struggled through the month of March, and many viewed it as a reflection of struggling to adapt to his new head coach’s system.
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In part of his struggles as well as the team’s, Sutter chose to shake up the lines and split Gaudreau and Sean Monahan up. This appeared to be a wake-up call for Gaudreau, who was much better soon after. By the time the regular season had come to an end, he was playing his best hockey of the year with 11 points in his last 7 games. In fact, if you were to take the month of March out completely, he had 42 points in 41 games. Instead, he ended the year with 49 points in 56 games. Not a bad season by any means, but disappointing totals compared to what he has proved he can do in the past.
Bounce Back Year
Overall, it was a much better season for Gaudreau than the year prior. His 19 points on the power play topped last season’s output, despite him playing in 14 fewer games, and his shooting percentage nearly doubled. That goes to show just how much more confident he was this season with the puck on his stick, as well as the somewhat unlucky season he had in 2019-20.
Thanks in large part to the better year, the rumors of him being traded have died down, and have actually changed to many hoping he and the Flames can agree on a contract extension in the near future. It will be interesting to see what comes of that, given that he will likely look to cash in on a big payday after signing a very team-friendly six-year, $40.5 million deal on his last contract.
Despite the better year on a personal note, the Flames’ struggles this season have had many calling for changes. While the player that seems to have the most trade rumors surrounding his name is Monahan, Gaudreau certainly isn’t untouchable, nor is any player on this roster right now. It will be very interesting to see what the team looks like headed into training camp for the 2021-22 season, as well as whether or not Brad Treliving is still the man in charge.
Regardless of what happens, it was a solid season for Gaudreau as he was able to silence many of his doubters. Unfortunately, one bad month made his stats look somewhat underwhelming from what we’ve seen of him in the past, but given how good he played down the stretch he very well could have ended up with a point per game season had it been a regular 82-game schedule.
FINAL GRADE: B+
Colton Pankiw is a former Jr. A hockey player who now provides his knowledge of the game through writing. He’s been a very active and reliable source for nearly two years at The Hockey Writers. He is a credentialed writer for the Calgary Flames but also does features on other teams throughout the league. Other writing contributions include: Oil On Whyte, NHLtradetalk.com, and Markerzone.com. Colton is also a co-host of both Oilers Overtime and Flames Faceoff podcasts. Any interview requests or content info can be made through him on Twitter. Take a look at his work here.