There’s no scenario where Johnny Gaudreau leaving helps the Calgary Flames.
You don’t lose a 115-point player and celebrate the cap space. That monetary savings isn’t going to bring another Johnny Hockey into the fold.
The 28-year-old winger with the wicked vision and slick puck skills is virtually impossible to replace. Ask former linemates Matthew Tkachuk and Elias Lindholm which of the trio was primarily responsible for each of them finishing with 40 goals this season. Two of them cracking the 100-point threshold. Neither would be looking for a mirror.
But after getting the difficult news about Gaudreau’s decision to leave on Tuesday, the Calgary Flames have a gargantuan hole to fill from a player standpoint. They put all their energy into negotiating a massive monetary contract, which puts them behind in any commitments to other free agents on the team they were hoping to keep. Leverage now lands with those who were on the backburner who get to field every offer coming their way from across the league first.
Gaudreau occupied a lot of time and energy
Needless to say, Plan B is a bit of a scrambled mess in spite of best attempts to stay organized during the tight window of Gaudreau negotiations.
“When you’re dealing with a negotiation and a contract the size of this one, it limits you,” Calgary Flames GM Brad Treliving said Tuesday in sharing the Gaudreau news. “It would be common sense that before you spend anywhere else, you have to know what this one was going to come in at.”
There’s money to be spent but a number of restricted free agents to sign — including Matthew Tkachuk, who has a $9-million qualifying offer in front of him right now — Andrew Mangiapane and Oliver Kylington.
Unrestricted internals like Erik Gudbranson are already leaving for greener pastures — the colour of the money thrown at them by other teams.
Meanwhile the list of external UFAs and NHL trade rumour names is shrinking by the minute. The Pittsburgh Penguins managed to keep Evgeni Malkin, David Perron, Andre Burakovksy and Vincent Trocheck all found new homes quickly. Boom or bust secondary players like Mason Marchment and Nico Sturm also got scooped up.
But there are still some candidates who can help salvage Plan B.
Here are a few:
Nazem Kadri, C — The Flames had a deal on the table to bring Kadri in when he was still a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2019. Kadri spiked it with his no-trade clause because he wanted to stay in Toronto. But things are different now and Kadri may be swayed by both money and a chance to win.
Losing Gaudreau doesn’t help the Flames’ attractiveness on the open market but a player with confidence in his abilities as someone who can fill that void should still see the Calgary crew as a competitor for next season and beyond.
Patrick Kane, LW — Although reports suggest Kane is staying put in Chicago for now while waiting for the dust to settle amid the Blackhawks demolition, you can bet the Calgary Flames would be interested in adding his skills to the mix. If there was a perfect scenario in terms of what the Flames have lost in Gaudreau and what they could bring in to fill that void, Kane would be it.
This would have to come via trade, which means other players, prospects and picks would need to be sacrificed. That makes things a bit more complicated but not impossible.
Ondrej Palat, LW — Already the list becomes more of a by-committee fill as opposed to someone who can step in and contribute on a similar level as Gaudreau. But Palat has championship pedigree and could find a fit in the top nine if the Flames focus on more balanced scoring.
Dylan/Ryan Strome, C — The Strome in brothers are both skilled but inconsistent players over their careers. Could Calgary Flames head coach Darryl Sutter get the best out of one of them for a couple of seasons?
Nino Niederreiter, LW/RW — He doesn’t get a lot of praise but he plays the game with intelligence and has scored at least 20 goals in three of his last four seasons with the Carolina Hurricanes/Minnesota Wild.
Low risk darts
Sonny Milano, LW — The recipient of the Zegras ‘Dishigan’ play with the Anaheim Ducks laset year, Milano had a comeback season of sorts with 14 goals in 66 games. The cost could be low and he fits in as a low-risk, decent-upside category.
Sam Steel, C — Steel is another former Ducks player taken in the first round (2016) who didn’t get a qualifying offer this month. Could the Ardrossan, Alberta product use a fresh start in his home province to his advantage?
So far, the Flames have added depth on the free agent market. Bottom-six forward Kevin Rooney (a natural centre) was the first signing of the day. The team also brought back veteran Trevor Lewis. Defencemen Dennis Gilbert and Nicolas Meloche were inked to one-way deals to compete for spots on the blueline. Centre Clark Bishop and goaltender Oscar Dansk were signed to two-way deals. They also locked up their own AHL prospects in defencemen Nick Desimone and Colton Poolman.