Johnny Gaudreau is having the best season by a Calgary Flames player in decades. He sits at 99 points in 72 games, and is all but certain to surpass the century mark. It will be the first time a Flames player hits 100 points since Theo Fleury did it in 83 games during the 1992-93 season. Without Gaudreau this season, Calgary may not be anywhere close to sitting atop the Pacific Division.
This year’s race for the Hart Memorial Trophy will wage many debates among TV analysts, hockey media and the general public across many internet forums. Players like Auston Matthews, Connor McDavid and Igor Shesterkin are all worthy candidates. But in the back half of the season, Gaudreau has solidified himself as a top-three candidate for the award. He’s been doing it individually — and with his linemates — as he, Matthew Tkachuk and Elias Lindholm are having career years.
Career Year for Gaudreau
Calling it a career year for ‘Johnny Hockey’ may almost be an understatement at this point, considering he has managed to put up one of the best seasons individually in franchise history. Gaudreau won’t come close to Kent Nilsson’s franchise record of 131 points in 80 games, but as it stands, he’s on pace for 112 points in 82 games. That would be the second-best season in Flames’ history, and a level of scoring not seen by a Flame since the late 80s and early 90s.
This season Gaudreau has been the most productive forward in the NHL. While he sits in fourth for total points, his 3.70 points per 60 minutes at five-on-five (p/60) are the best in the league by a decent margin. Only Toronto Maple Leafs’ forward Mitch Marner comes close, sitting second in the league at 3.54 p/60. Gaudreau’s pace is not only leading the league this year, but it is actually the best p/60 by any player since his first season in Calgary in 2014-15. He sits well ahead compared to other possible candidates like Matthews, McDavid and Jonathan Huberdeau, who pace at 3.38, 2.43 and 3.09 p/60, respectively. The incredible part of Gaudreau’s game this year has been his play at five-on-five.
One part of Nilsson’s 131 points season Gaudreau can pass is in even-strength points. In 1980-81 he collected 78 points, a Calgary Flame best, at even-strength while Gaudreau sits at the same 78 points with 10 games to go. Guy Chouinard holds the franchise all-time mark when he registered 81 even-strength points with the Atlanta Flames in 1978-79. Since the 2000-01 season only four players have had more even-strength points in a season and with 10 games to go, Gaudreau only needs seven more to pass McDavid’s high of 84 in 2017-18. This season he currently sits at seven, 10 and 12 even-strength points respectively ahead of Matthews, McDavid and Huberdeau.
It’s been an incredible year for Gaudreau individually, but he has also had some help while forming one of the best lines in the NHL.
Flames’ Top Line Unstoppable
Calgary’s top line of Gaudreau, Tkachuk and Lindholm has been one of the best trios in the league since October. According to Money Puck, their 64 goals at even strength is the best in the league, and well out in front, as Toronto’s top line is behind in second with 56 goals. Their goals-for percentage (GF%) of 70.3 is third in the NHL of lines to play more than 400 minutes together, and in 851 minutes, the line has allowed just 27 even-strength goals against.
The line’s Corsi for (CF%) and expected goals percentage (xGF%) of 58.5 and 63.2, respectively, rank them both fifth in the NHL. The lines ahead of them have also not played nearly as much as the 851 minutes that Calgary’s top line has played, and only one other line has played over 600 minutes together. Not only do the numbers look good, but any Flames fan will tell you when they step on the ice, they take over the game. They effectively can exit their own zone, they easily gain control in the offensive zone and suffocate opponents.
While the top line has been successful from contributions from all three players, the absence of Gaudreau is felt by Tkachuk and Lindholm. The two have played just 43 minutes away from Gaudreau, but the numbers take a dramatic dive in those minutes. The line’s 58.73 CF% drops to 53.25, while their sparkling 61.27 xGF% plummets to 44.46. It doesn’t necessarily say they are dependent on Gaudreau, however, he is a large part of what is driving the line.
Gaudreau is a Top 3 Candidate for the Hart
Gaudreau is playing the best hockey of his career, looking miles better than he did in 2018-19 when he recorded his career-best 99 points. Both individually, and with the help of his linemates, he is going to smash his previous career best. The final stretch of the season is going to give the hockey world much to discuss, especially with Matthews breaking records in Toronto.
As it stands right now, Gaudreau should be a finalist for the Hart Trophy. What he is doing this season for the Flames has been nothing short of spectacular, and he has helped catapult the Flames into the playoff picture. He has been the motor for this team for most of the season, and is very noticeable on the ice during every shift. What he has been able to do at five-on-five this season has been incredible to watch, and should be taken into consideration come voting time. He is projected to reach 89 even-strength points, which is a number not seen since the 1995-96 season, when Jaromir Jagr had 95.
He’s been the story of the season in Calgary, driving the bus on the top line and projected to collect more points than he did in 127 games across the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons. Looking at each of the candidates that will be worthy of a vote, taking Gaudreau out of the Flames’ lineup probably has a bigger impact than any other player in the league. He’ll be in tough to win the award, but the body of work he’s displayed compared to other viable candidates this season should make him a finalist after the voting has completed.
Brett is a freelance writer covering the Calgary Flames here at The Hockey Writers. He is an enthusiast of hockey stats and continues to learn every day about the sports analytics movement. Brett enjoys using both statistical analysis and the old-fashioned eye test in his writing to create the best content for readers. His work at THW has been featured on the Calgary Flames’ news feed for The Score and on Yardbarker. Brett is also part of THW’s Flames Faceoff YouTube/podcast show where he brings his opinions each week on the team’s current state of affairs.