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Success is bottom line in Gaudreau negotiations now

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Calgary Flames Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk are two stars on a top heavy team

A week removed from the NHL trade deadline, more people should be talking about the move the Calgary Flames didn’t make.

Given how strong the Flames have been this season, few believed it was a real possibility. But the chatter that the league’s second star last week, Johnny Gaudreau, could be moved because of his impending contract expiry didn’t entirely disappear until the deadline passed.

Both camps said before the season that they would avoid discussion dollars in order to avoid distractions during the year.

The negotiations, however, are happening.

Just not in the way you may think.

Calgary Flames GM Brad Treliving wants to sign Johnny Gaudreau long-term. That’s not new or surprising. And while the front office and agent are sticking to their vows of silence, there is plenty of noise being made on the ice.

It’s from Gaudreau himself.

The Calgary Flames’ MVP this year, Gaudreau deserves some serious consideration for the Hart Trophy.

He’s strengthening his bargaining position with every strong performance.

That hit a new level of volume in the dominant five-assist performance on Saturday when Gaudreau led the Flames to a 9-5 win over the Edmonton Oilers.

Stealing the spotlight from Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl – on a night the latter had a hat-trick, no less – Gaudreau used his speed, skill and savvy to pace the Calgary Flames in a frenzied victory.

Anyone worried about Gaudreau not being a playoff proven player needs only to pay attention to the way he has risen to the occasion in big games recently.

The Oilers game. A hat-trick against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning the previous week.

With 90 points in 65 games, the 28-year-old impending unrestricted free agent doesn’t need to speak a word to secure a massive raise from his current $6.75 million cap hit.

“He’s a top player in the league,” Calgary Flames head coach Darryl Sutter said a few days before the deadline, taking offence to a question asking if Gaudreau can now be considered in that category. “How’s he not a top player in the league? He has a chance of winning the scoring race. On a good team. Top guys play on good teams. It makes a difference. That’s what their job is.”

Sutter doubled down on his praise on Monday, addressing the idea so many conjured when the new head coach came to town. Pessimists said Gaudreau wouldn’t fit in with Sutter’s check-heavy philosophy.

“Most of that would come from trickle-down or echo journalism, correct? So how much is actually truth that’s put out there? Very little,” Sutter suggested.

“Why does it work? If you’ve got great hockey IQ … checking is about having a good stick if you’re not 200 pounds. And if you can position yourself well, then why can’t you? (Gaudreau has) done that, he’s grabbed that, and that’s how he’s played.”

In fact, Sutter said after the Oilers game that Gaudreau is the Calgary Flames’ best checker.

He’s also becoming a clutch performer. In tougher times for gifted offensive players as the games get down into the teens.

“What you see is those teams that are used to having playoff success, their games really tighten up. There’s less space, less time. There’s not as much done on the rush. It’s a deeper game,” Sutter said. “That’s eventually where guys get judged in the next part (the playoffs). But I think that’s where Johnny’s played really well since the all-star break.

“It’s not about what he did last year or what he did two years ago. The guys who score big goals are way more important than the guys who score lots of goals.”

Gaudreau’s impact at even strength says a lot about his value to the team and underlies his serious stake on the Hart.

He’s third in the Art Ross race behind only the two Oilers dynamos. But at even strength, Gaudreau has a heavy upper hand. With 70 points at five-on-five hockey, the Calgary Flames star has a 10-point lead over Auston Matthews and Kirill Kaprizov. A dozen over McDavid – whose league-leading point-per-game average is heavily padded by powerplay contributions.

For the first time in his career, Gaudreau is going to get paid as an elite player. That is non-negotiable.

So what have the Calgary Flames got to offer?

During their silent bargaining period, they have no choice but to bank on the success that often comes with having players like Gaudreau performing at their best.

A lengthy playoff run and the commitment of other core pieces like linemate Matthew Tkachuk are really the only bargaining chips the Flames have.

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