After the 2018-19 season, Johnny Gaudreau of the Calgary Flames was viewed as one of the best wingers in the game after posting career highs with 36 goals and 99 points. Being just 25-years-old at the time, many believed ‘Johnny Hockey’ was capable of continuing that success for many more seasons ahead.
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Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Gaudreau struggled for his standards in 2019-20, putting up a career-worst 58 points through 70 games. A bounce-back seemed promising, but he again failed to produce as he had in 2018-19, recording 49 points in the 56-game 2021-22 season.
As a result of these struggles, there was plenty of trade speculation regarding Gaudreau. Many also doubted he was the type of player who would thrive under Darryl Sutter, a coach who has an old-school mentality and preaches defensive play. Any casting doubt in that regard are being proven wrong in a hurry, however, as Gaudreau is having not only the best season of his career, but one that is worthy of Hart Trophy discussion.
Back to the Johnny of Old
Through 47 games, Gaudreau is already up to 20 goals and 63 points, both of which have surpassed his entire 2019-20 output despite playing in 23 fewer games. He is currently fourth in league scoring, trailing just Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl by five for the top spot.
It hasn’t just been his offensive game that has improved, either. Recently, Sutter had huge praise for Gaudreau, calling him one of the best 200-foot players in the entire league. While that talk may be slightly biased given their relationship, Gaudreau does own a league-best plus/minus of +39, indicating just how great his two-way play has been.
Turning the Flames Around
Even more importantly, and why he deserves some serious recognition for the Hart, is that his play has turned the Flames around. When Gaudreau struggled in 2020-21, so did his team, as they finished fifth in the all-Canadian North Division with just 26 wins in 56 games, and as a result, missed the postseason. Due to their struggles, there wasn’t a ton of optimism regarding this team heading into 2021-22, but that has changed very quickly.
Through their 47 games, the Flames own an impressive 28-13-6 record, which has them sitting first in the Pacific. They are also currently riding a league-best eight game win streak. Non coincidentally, Gaudreau is on an eight-game point streak and has accumulated 12 points total over that span. His play has been directly responsible for his team’s success, which is exactly what the Hart Trophy represents.
Currently, there are the usual players getting most of the conversation when regarding potential Hart winners such as Connor McDavid and Alex Ovechkin, while goaltender Igor Shesterkin is also getting plenty of love himself. Though Gaudreau hasn’t received the same, if any attention in that regard, he could (and should) be put into that conversation.
Crucial Stretch Ahead
If Gaudreau is to generate more discussion as a Hart Trophy candidate, he will need to continue the current surge he is on through the month of March, which is a very big month for his team. Due to having several games postponed due to a COVID-19 outbreak in December, the Flames have 16 games scheduled over just a 31-day stretch. It won’t be easy, but this team has proven to be resilient to this point in the 2021-22 campaign. For Gaudreau, he just needs to keep doing what he has been all season long, and if he is able to, he may catapult himself to the top of the list as a Hart nominee.