Johnny Gaudreau’s Departure Leaves Flames in a Horrible Spot

To many people’s surprise, Johnny Gaudreau is officially a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets – but there was a lot of thing pulling him there. Regardless, he leaves the Calgary Flames in a very tough spot, not only because he left, but by the way he did so, influencing the moves and leaving them with few options left to replace him. Let’s get into it.

Gaudreau’s Choice to Leave Came Much Too Late for Flames

To begin things, you can’t blame general manager Brad Treliving for not landing Gaudreau, as it was a family decision and Calgary was just not the spot he wanted to spend seven to eight more years. It’s also not fully on him for coming up short after putting everything he had to bring back the former face of the franchise and not having much of a backup plan.

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

The decision to move on came less than 24 hours before free agency opened, giving the Flames very little time to transfer all their efforts to a player who could replace some of what Gaudreau provided to the team. They weren’t going to find a 115-point scorer in free agency, as that is a very rare occurrence. Elliotte Friedman reported that the average annual value (AAV) on his eight-year deal was around $10.5 million and he ended up taking $9.75 million for seven years instead in Columbus.

Related: Blue Jackets’ Gaudreau Choosing Columbus is Great Win For NHL

The Flames were willing to move around pieces and do what they had to do after they signed Gaudreau if that was the case. But for another player like Nazem Kadri, who may get close to the same dollar amount as Gaudreau, I’m not so sure. The Flames stood idly by as most of the big names have now found new teams and they don’t seem to have any intention of going for Kadri, who could have been the best replacement if the Flames wanted to remain just as competitive as last season.

The Flames Did Almost Nothing in Free Agency

The Flames had a few minor signings in free agency, but other than that, they were one of the quietest teams. They signed Kevin Rooney to a two-year, $2.6 million deal, re-signed Trevor Lewis to a one-year, $800,000 deal, brought back Nikita Zadorov for two years at $3.75 million AAV, and signed a couple of depth/American Hockey League defencemen as well in Nicolas Meloche and Dennis Gilbert.

The Flames still have to sign Matthew Tkachuk, Andrew Mangiapane and Oliver Kylington, who are all restricted free agents. One of these three, one of the latter two most likely, may have been in the plans of the Flames to move out if Gaudreau did indeed sign with them. They have just enough cap space to sign these three players now with a bit left over, but they have a huge hole to fill on the top line that they aren’t going to be able to fill this offseason. The Flames not having cap space is a bad excuse, considering Gaudreau took less money than they offered him to stay and for less term, while you must do everything possible to keep players like that around.

As I mentioned above, there is still a player like Kadri who can replace what the Flames lost in Gaudreau, and he was the best of what is and even was available when free agency opened. The problem was, that the team likely didn’t make a hard push for anybody else since they put all of their efforts and confidence in Gaudreau coming back. Another possibility would have been Ondrej Palat, who wasn’t signed at the very start of free agency and has a ton of playoff experience while playing the same position as Gaudreau does.

Has Gaudreau’s Decision Swayed Tkachuk?

Gaudreau decided it was time for a change after 12 years with the organization and nothing more than two second-round exits to show for it. He is coming off a career year, and so is Tkachuk who finished last season with 42 goals and 104 points. If you remember, Tkachuk has had more trouble than most signing his last contract, as it has become a trend with the Tkachuk brothers.

Matthew Tkachuk Calgary Flames
Matthew Tkachuk, Calgary Flames (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Flames took a big hit to their team by losing the league’s second-highest scorer, and Tkachuk’s linemate who helped him establish career numbers across the board last season. The line of Gaudreau, Tkachuk and Elias Lindholm was also the best in hockey and was able to carry the team on many occasions. His stats will surely drop from last season, so there’s the question of if he even wants to remain in Calgary at all, whether it’s short- or long-term. The thought is that he will want to head to an American team at one point as well, then the trickle-down effect that Gaudreau started will really hurt the Flames in the long run.

Flames Will Regress From Last Season

There is almost no debating that the Flames will regress next season, as they are missing 115 points that weren’t replaced even one bit. The top line is now broken up after each of the three members finished top three in the NHL by a decent margin in plus/minus. They were also effective on the power play, but having that much of an advantage at five-on-five was deadly for the team. There will have to be a new member for that top line too, which will definitely take time to get some chemistry established. Also, whoever fills that internally won’t be on the same level as Gaudreau.

The Flames didn’t start the season the best but ended up being one of the top teams in the league during the second half of the season and in total, finishing first in their division and sixth in the league. The only thing rivals in their division like the Edmonton Oilers and Los Angeles Kings did was get better, while the Vegas Golden Knights should be healthier and as a result, improved as well. The Flames without Gaudreau will have a tough time competing for a place among the top three in their division next season, even with the rest of the pieces they have.

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