The Calgary Flames are off to a truly rough start in the 2019-20 season. A year removed from a 50-25-7 season that saw them finish first in the Western Conference and second overall in the NHL, the Flames have yet to find that same magic as they traverse their opening 23 games to this season.
Currently holding a 10-10-3 record, and sitting in fifth place in the Pacific Division, the Flames are nowhere near being removed from the playoff conversation, but that being said, they are not establishing themselves as a contender either.
After a weekend road trip that saw the Flames lose in back-to-back shutout losses to the Arizona Coyotes and Vegas Golden Knights, the team is in complete disarray. The same can be said for the fan base. It’s hard to distinguish exactly what the team will be over the next few months, but many think that change needs to happen in order for the Flames to reach their eventual goal of a Stanley Cup.
On the subject of change, many appear to be floating Johnny Gaudreau‘s name as a possibility for the Flames to move in order to change things up. That idea set fire to the Flames fan base yesterday as many mulled over the idea of trading #13 in order to inject some life into the season.
I am here to tell you that that idea is simply asinine.
It’s abundantly clear that no player on the Flames is having a tougher start to the season than Gaudreau. However, trading away a player of Gaudreau’s calibre for simply a rough quarter start to the season would do much more harm than good. Here’s why.
Since entering the league full time during the 2014-15 season, Gaudreau has been the Flames’ best offensive driver. His dynamic talent with the puck is unparalleled and the teammates who play with him are instantly made better because of his style of play. He is the cog that makes the Flames offence tick:
|Year||G||A||P/GP||SH%||% contributed |
to team goals
There is no doubt that Gaudreau has sported All-Star numbers ever since he stepped on the ice for the Flames. Last season, he set career highs in goals and assists and finished just one point shy of the 100 mark.
After that level of a career year, a little bit of a step back is not surprising, but this season it’s a bit bigger than many would have expected. Through 23 games this season, Gaudreau is currently sitting at the lowest points per game output of his career, and almost a full half a point lower than last season’s ridiculous 1.21 P/GP output.
Cause for concern? Sure, but Gaudreau is no stranger to scoring slumps in his career thus far. Last season he started with an impressive 20 points in 20 games. A blazing hot start but well below a 99 point pace.
On top of that, from January 13th to March 10th, he posted just 17 points over 23 games. This equates to a pace that is even lower than this season’s production. That may be cherry picking, but it goes to show that even during a 99 point season, Gaudreau still had inconsistencies. Recall that he exploded for a six point night against New Jersey, which ultimately broke him out of his slump.
Gaudreau also has simply not been able to find any luck this season. His shooting percentage of 7.9% is almost half it was last season, and a career low by a wide margin. His PDO? .948, which, you guessed it, is also a career low. Gaudreau has not been able to find the back of the net, and the stats show it. That proverbial dam surely will break, and with it a return to Gaudreau’s true form.
In four of his five full NHL seasons, Gaudreau led the Flames in points. Of those seasons, his lowest total contribution to team goals came in 2016-17 when he was only in on 27.0% of the goals. That’s right, even in the lowest contributing seasons he still scored or assisted on over a quarter of the team’s goals. So far this season? 30.0%. Even though he is having an off-year, so is the Flames’ overall offence.
Another area where Gaudreau is criticized heavily for is how he handles the puck, and that is totally fair. The best playmakers see high shares of turnovers. Unfortunately, this season has seen Gaudreau on the wrong end of a number of his own turnovers that eventually found their way into the back of the Flames’ net.
Gaudreau’s style of play with the puck simply leaves him more exposed to turning the puck over, but of course more often than not he’s able to make plays that few on the roster can. One of the best in the league for offensive zone entries with puck carry-ins, you can live with some of the giveaways.
This season his turnovers have been much more noticeable, but in terms of actual giveaways per game, his numbers are actually the lowest of his career. Sure you can say it’s only 23 games, but then wouldn’t that same logic apply to his offensive production as well?
Trading stars rarely works
In today’s NHL the trading of top stars simply just doesn’t happen. Teams are more likely to see a player leave through free agency, rather than moving players between mutually agreed upon transactions between teams.
Since entering the league, Gaudreau ranked ninth in the NHL in total points over that period with 404 in 419 games. That’s right, ninth in the entire NHL. If we look at the top 50 NHL scorers over that same period, only 10 players were traded during that period: Phil Kessel, Erik Karlsson, Mark Stone, Ryan O’Reilly, Ryan Johansen, Mike Hoffman, Taylor Hall, Brayden Schenn, Matt Duchene, and Max Pacioretty.
This is not a critique of those other trades, but looking back at those trades how many ended up in the former team winning the trade?
Johansen was traded for Seth Jones, a trade that is as close to a win-win for both teams as you can get, and Duchene netted Colorado an absolute haul thanks to Ottawa’s collapse the next season. Tomas Tatar has worked out great for Montreal, but at the expense of losing Pacioretty who has followed up a red hot playoffs with an even hotter start to the season. The rest were simply not great over this period of time for the team trading away their star player, and there is no reason why the Flames should even entertain taking the risk.
On top of that, the Flames are also notorious for making bad trades with their stars. Of course the Jarome Iginla trade is well documented and Jay Bouwmeester at the time netted the Flames next to nothing. Yes, the Flames received Iginla in a separate superstar trade for Joe Nieuwendyk, but that that trade did not materialize into immediate short term success for the Flames. If jump-starting the team is the goal, trading Gaudreau won’t fulfill this goal.
Even if Gaudreau is having an tougher year offensively, is it a good idea to give up on a guy after just one lousy season? It’s almost like the Flames have experienced this type of pain recently.
Is there a case for trading Gaudreau?
Christian Roatis of FlamesNation had a series of tweets yesterday that summarized the situation perfectly. He noted that the Flames handling of Jarome Iginla was the preface to considering trading #13. The combination of the Flames play this season, combined with how the Flames have recouped value from stars in the past, romanticizes the false notion that this is the ideal time to part ways with Gaudreau.
In reality, trading Gaudreau is far far away from the optimal situation. Even if the Flames would consider trading Gaudreau at some point in his Flames tenure, they surely wouldn’t do so now when his value is ultimately low due to his current production.
That combined with Gaudreau’s steal of a contract make him somewhat of a paradox for management to deal with in terms of a trade. Would he fetch a high price on the trade market? Absolutely. Would any of that return produce an immediate enough impact to bring the Flames out of their slump? Highly unlikely.
Unless the Flames were trading Gaudreau straight up for another top star in this league of equal contract value, then it wouldn’t make sense. Last time I checked, I don’t think other teams are interested in trading away their young stars either.
Roatis summarized the situation flawlessly in his tweets yesterday and it would make more sense to use his words than my own.
Trading Gaudreau is not happening
The Flames will never know if they can win with Gaudreau if they trade him away after a tough 23 game start. How many times did people question if the Capitals could win with Alex Ovechkin? Was it not this same time last season the St. Louis Blues considered moving Vladimir Tarasenko? The same narrative will always exist until a team overcomes that hump and the player can extinguish the reputation.
The Flames are in an extremely tough spot right now after the weekend’s games, which can cause all types of negative reactions. Do the Flames need to make a change to their lineup? Most likely the answer is yes. Does it mean they should trade Gaudreau? Absolutely not. The Flames are definitely better off with him during his current struggles than they would be without him at all.
There is no doubt things are tough right now, but the remedy for the Flames issues does not center around them trading their best player. Who knows, maybe Flames management see’s something different and for all we know it could happen. If Wayne Gretzky can be traded, than anyone can be traded. That being said, as we have often seen, getting rid of player after a lousy season may work out better for the other team than for your own.
There is no reason to believe that Gaudreau will bear anything other than the Flaming C on his chest. He should be, and likely will be here for the foreseeable future.
Do you think the Flames should trade Gaudreau? Let us know in the comments below.
Photo By: Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images