Considering how top-line dependent the Calgary Flames have been this season, it’s time for the franchise to go all-in on the playoffs. Because that top line may be missing its top playmaker as early as next season.
The season after that, Elias Lindholm may be all that’s left.
Johnny Gaudreau is set to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of this year. Matthew Tkachuk will be a restricted free agent who can sign his fat $9-million qualifying offer this summer and spend one last season as a member of the Calgary Flames before also choosing his next destination as a UFA.
Neither player has any reason to commit to Calgary before their deals expire. Hearing agents like Ritch Winter (who represents Flames winger Andrew Mangiapane and former Flames captain Mark Giordano) talk about the benefit of players exploring their options tells you how unlikely it is for players to show loyalty to the franchises who frequently remind them it’s a business.
Nothing beyond this season is guaranteed. And both Mangiapane and Oliver Kylington are due new deals this summer as well. None of those four will come at a discount after establishing themselves as important pieces of any Calgary Flames success so far.
The lack of uncertainty for the future and the fact the Flames have shown at times this season they can hang with the best and embarrass the worst even while relying on one line to do all the offensive heavy lifting is why the Flames need to add a couple of solid pieces to the lineup before the NHL trade deadline.
Scoring, defensive depth obvious needs
And that certainly seems to be a possibility, with Calgary Flames GM Brad Treliving diving into the NHL trade block at the moment. And the NHL trade rumours are going to fly fast and furious for the foreseeable future.
The needs are obvious. The Flames need a complement to their secondary scoring. Missing out on Jack Eichel can be overcome, but Gaudreau, Tkachuk and Lindholm need more help than what they’ve seen from the somewhat streaky Mangiapane, Blake Coleman and recently hot Mikael Backlund.
Yes, Mangiapane has scored 19 times this season and is doing his share. But as Thursday’s 5-1 loss to St. Louis showed, the Flames’ success is often linked to Gaudreau and Tkachuk producing.
“They’ve been great for us this year. They’ve carried the team,” Backlund said of Gaudreau, Lindholm and Tkachuk after the game against the Blues. “The three of them, combined with our special teams and goaltending, has been our biggest key factor to why we’ve been successful and why we have a good record.”
Dillon Dube, a young Calgary Flames forward expected to pick up more of the offensive slack this season, said something similar on Friday afternoon.
“They’re one of the top lines in the league, for sure,” Dube said. “I think when they’re going, our whole team is. They create so much momentum and a lot of goals for our team.”
Future bleak without stars like Gaudreau and Tkachuk
Imagine this team without Gaudreau and Tkachuk.
On second thought, don’t. You won’t like it.
So while they’re here. While the Flames have a top tier goaltender in Jacob Markstrom still capable of a long playoff groove. With a team buying into a structure that can be successful. And while they still have a top four core on defence that should be able to handle the heavy lifting at crunch time. It’s time to add the pieces that can help them make their best shot at the Stanley Cup.
You’re already hearing the NHL trade chatter on Treliving and the Calgary Flames being linked to defenceman Ben Chiarot of the Montreal Canadiens and forwards like Jordan Eberle of the Seattle Kraken. We’ve speculated about a possible Giordano reunion.
And on Elliotte Friedman’s latest podcast, he suggested the Flames were curious about Evander Kane, too.
We’ve looked at some of the fits. And the Calgary Flames seem to be exploring every option.
As they should. The future of their forwards is very much in question.