Flames’ Gaudreau Should Not Rush to Sign an Extension

Fans have been asking how long Johnny Gaudreau will stay in Calgary ever since he signed his entry-level contract and played his first NHL game with the Calgary Flames.

After eight fantastic seasons, he has cemented himself as one of the premier playmakers in the game, and the former Hobey Baker winner is now looking down the barrel of becoming an unrestricted free agent this summer. Flames fans have long fretted about losing Gaudreau in free agency.

Calgary Flames Johnny Gaudreau
Calgary Flames Johnny Gaudreau (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

By all accounts, Gaudreau wants to be a Flame. He has publicly expressed his desire to stay in Calgary long-term and, as recently as a few days ago, The Athletic’s Pierre Lebrun reported that Gaudreau and the Flames have kept contract talks open since he would rather not test the open market (from ‘Why the Season should start earlier, Dylan Strome trade talks and Johnny Gaudreau’s future,’ The Athletic, 10/13/21).

However, it is in Gaudreau’s best interest to wait.

Gaudreau Would Get Paid on the Open Market

Firstly, the Flames are in a precarious salary cap situation and may not be able or willing to offer Gaudreau what he is worth. General manager Brad Treliving and company have put themselves in the difficult position of having to re-sign three of their top players – Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk and Andrew Mangiapane – to shiny new deals in the summer of 2022.

Having signed Jacob Markstrom and Blake Coleman to big-money contracts recently and being anchored by other deals, like Milan Lucic’s contract, Calgary has a lot of cash tied up next season. Even though Tkachuk and Mangiapane will be restricted free agents, granting team control, they will be looking for a big payday.

Calgary Flames' Matthew Tkachuk
Calgary Flames Matthew Tkachuk is a pending restricted free agent (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh)

Undoubtedly, Tkachuk will be commanding upwards of $9 million. Mangiapane has solidified himself as one the strongest two-way skaters in the game, and a potential career year will equate to a huge raise and good term.

Related: Breaking Down a Fair Johnny Gaudreau Extension

If Gaudreau becomes a free agent, he would be one of the most valuable commodities on the market. Since he entered the league in 2014, only ten players have more points than the New Jersey native. Among those in a similar age group who have signed extensions recently, Gaudreau is one of the most productive over the last five seasons.

Comparables include Sean Couturier, Aleksander Barkov, Mika Zibandejad, and Gabriel Landeskog.

PlayerSeasonAgeDraft YrGPPointsAAVYear SignedTerm
Nikita Kucherov16-2023-262011304398$9,500,000.0020198
Artemi Panarin16-2124-282010353396$11,642,857.0020197
Johnny Gaudreau16-2123-272011360351Pending UFA
Aleksander Barkov16-2121-252013338346$10,000,000.0020218
Mark Stone16-2124-282010326313$9,500,000.0020198
Sean Couturier16-2123-272011342286$7,750,000.0020218
Mika Zibanejad16-2123-272011323283$8,500,000.0020218
Taylor Hall16-2124-282010299268$6,000,000.0020214
Gabriel Landeskog16-2123-272011331266$7,000,000.0020218
Data from Evolving Hockey. Salary data from CapFriendly.

Gaudreau will likely sign a similar deal to Couturier or Zibanejad’s. While not perfect comparables, given their roles, Gaudreau has been more productive than both players over the last five seasons, so a deal north of $8.5 million would not be out of line. It’s also worth noting that only one of the players listed above (other than Taylor Hall), and not surprisingly the highest paid, Artemi Panarin, tested the open market.

Mika Zibanejad New York Rangers
Mika Zibanejad, New York Rangers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Regardless of projected term and dollar, the main question after money is what would convince Gaudreau to stick with the Flames long-term? A hometown discount for Gabriel Landeskog (Colorado Avalanche) and Nikita Kucherov (Tampa Bay Lightning) were easy sells. If I were in Gaudreau’s shoes, I’d be hesitant to take less than market value to stay long-term on a team that has been middling for years and, barring a Darryl Sutter-led turnaround, projects to be hitting a rebuilding phase shortly. 

Flames Window to Win Is Closing Fast

Before putting pen to paper, Gaudreau and his agent should employ a wait-and-see strategy. The Flames have had back-to-back disappointing seasons, are already tight against the salary cap, and have Sutter and general manager under contract for this season and next. If 2021-22 is more of the same, then major changes and rebuilding plans could be in the works. If not this season, then the next one will likely be the last kick at the can for the Treliving group. Would Gaudreau be up for taking less money only to have to endure another rebuild? Likely, not.

Conversely, Gaudreau could wait and see if the Flames start to gain some ground under Sutter this season and look poised to break the chain of mediocre results. If management decides to seriously commit to winning now – maybe by landing a big fish like Jack Eichel – Gaudreau might feel more secure in his decision to pledge long-term to Calgary.

Johnny Gaudreau Calgary Flames
Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Ultimately, if this Flames group does not produce winning results this season, it will be time to blow it up and start again. Gaudreau wants to be in Calgary, that much is clear, but at what cost? His agent, Lewis Gross, whom he shares with star William Nylander, had no problem playing hardball with Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas.

Gaudreau’s camp has stated they will not comment on contract talks during the season. Despite his desire to remain a Flame, the 28-year-old shouldn’t charge into anything before ensuring the team can and will pay him what he is worth and confirm that the team is headed in the right direction.

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