So it actually happened. The day the Calgary Flames and their fans have been fearing for years has finally arrived and Johnny Gaudreau has chosen to hit the free market as an unrestricted free agent.
After spending weeks supposedly being undecided on whether or not to to leave Calgary and even supposedly being offered an max length eight-year contract with an AAV north of 10 million dollars. Last night at 8:04 pm Elliotte Friedman reported that Gaudreau would go on to test free agency.
And to those of you who think there might still be a chance Gaudreau comes back to play in Calgary depending on what he finds out there in free agency, according to Frank Seravalli that’s not gonna be the case.
So now after the Flames are fresh off of one of their most successful seasons in franchise history, they face a set of crossroads without the star player that helped them to have such a successful season.
There are a few different options for the Flames to consider, and right now we are gonna take a look at what the Flames might be able to do to try and replace some of what Johnny Gaudreau brought to the team.
Possible targets in free agency
Considering how much money the Flames were supposedly willing to spend on Johnny Gaudreau, it would seem like one of the most likely scenarios for what the Flames will do next is to try and swing big at one of the other free agents on the market.
With many players already off the board like Filip Forsberg, it seems like the best remaining option for the Flames is recent Stanley Cup Champion: Nazem Kadri. While it’s true that Kadri has previously blocked a trade to Calgary, it’s believed that wasn’t necessarily out of spite against Calgary but more just done so in an attempt to stay with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
As we previously pointed out Kadri (1.23 P/GP) is the only player available on the market with a point-per-game rate even close to Gaudreau (1.40 P/GP) this past season. So while he doesn’t quite fill the shoes that Gaudreau is leaving, Kadri is a strong option.
Kadri also would also help to address the team’s need for a true centre. While Elias Lindholm made it work as the team’s first line centre this past season alongside Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk, Kadri would give Lindholm the chance to return to the wing alongside Matthew Tkachuk, and would work well with Tkachuk to create one of the grittiest lines in the NHL.
Having Kadri on the team would also give the Flames some of the strongest centre depth in the league with him sharing the position with both Mikael Backlund, and Blake Coleman.
The biggest concern though with Kadri is that he’s 31 and expected to get a seven-year deal, around $8.5 million AAV.
If you were one of the Flames fans concerned about giving Johnny a large-long term contract, the idea of doing that with Kadri is all the more concerning.
Another player from Colorado for the Flames to consider is Andrew Burakovsky. He’s likely to be cheaper than his teammate, but he still would provide a lot of value. Burakovsky is only 27, and he had 61 points (22 goals, 39 assists) in 80 games last season. Clearly, it isn’t close to Gaudreau’s 115, but the plus side is that he would only cost the Flames a fraction of what Gaudreau originally would have cost.
He is also a two-time Stanley Cup winner and having that Stanley Cup pedigree in the locker room can make a huge difference as we’ve seen recently in Calgary after bringing in players like Blake Coleman and Tyler Toffoli alongside head coach Darryl Sutter.
Palat is another player with recent Stanley Cup experience that the Flames could target in free agency.
He’s no Gaudreau, or even Kadri, but Palat is still a very skilled player with a ton of experience. He’s coming off a 49 point season (18 goals, 31 assists), and is expected to cost around $5 million AAV, which would give the Flames some space to sign another player around this same level instead of just getting either Kadri or Burakovsky.
Plus Palat’s familiar with former teammate Blake Coleman so he’d likely have a somewhat easier time adjusting to the Flames locker room than other players.
This a bit more out of left field, but due to the cap problems in Toronto, Ilya Mikheyev is someone that could be an interesting UFA acquisition. He’s a riskier player to bet on then Kadri or Burakovsky, but he’s also going to be quite a bit cheaper. He’s only expected to make around $5 million AAV, which would put him close to where Andrew Mangiapane might end up signing for.
Mikheyev didn’t play for a large chunk of last season due to injuries, but in only 53 games played, he had 32 points (21 goals, 11 assists).
I’m not trying to argue that Mikheyev would fill the Gaudreau sized hole being left in the Flames roster, but he could help to deepen the roster at a decent price, while still bringing some of the offensive output the team is now going to be in desperate search of.
The Flames don’t just have Colorado Avalanche players to look at though, and as Brad Treliving said himself last night during his press availability: “Tomorrow isn’t about signing the guy who replaces Johnny.”
So we could see the Flames look to the large pool of unqualified RFAs to try and fill up the roster in more creative ways.
Some of the most interesting RFAs that didn’t receive qualifying offers include:
2015 third-overall pick Dylan Strome who’s 6’3 and fresh off a 48 point season but didn’t quite fit Chicago’s plans to tank for Connor Bedard.
Or Sonny Milano who finished the 2021–22 season with 14 goals and 34 points, who you probably remember from this highlight goal last season:
At the end of the day though, panic signing someone tomorrow might not be the right move for the Flames. “You don’t just go out and sign someone for the sake of signing someone. If there’s something there that makes sense and fits for us, we’ll try,” said Treliving when asked about what’s next.
Signing a big fish isn’t the only option for the Flames, even if it might be the most instantly gratifying option for a a very dejected fan base.
If the Flames are willing to be a bit more patient as it seems they are based on Treliving’s recent press availability. They can also look to try and acquire players like Vladimir Tarasenko, Jesse Puljujarvi, Connor Garland (as we explored earlier this year), or even look at targeting a player like Dylan Larkin who was previously in some trade rumours last offseason.
Trades will take time to figure out, but might be the better way to approach readjusting this roster in the post-Johnny Gaudreau era.
Big decisions ahead
No matter what the Flames choose to do in free agency, the organization is going to have to do some serious thinking about whether or not it sees itself as a contender or not following the departure of Johnny Gaudreau.
A team centred around Tkachuk might still be able to do some damage in the NHL but he’s gonna need some support, and Treliving better have some ideas on how to get Tkachuk exactly that, otherwise this team is bound to return to the mediocrity it’s found itself in far too many times over the last decade.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire