To say it’s been a disastrous offseason for the Calgary Flames would be an understatement. The team is quite frankly in the midst of arguably the worst offseason in not just franchise history, but in NHL history. Yes it’s been that bad.
With news that Matthew Tkachuk has told the team he won’t re-sign, the Flames are set to lose two 100-point players in the same offseason after Johnny Gaudreau left just over a week ago. They would be the first franchise to have this happen in NHL history.
It’s also the first time any 100-point player has left their team in the offseason in 16 years.
It seems like just yesterday Gaudreau and Tkachuk were lighting up the Oilers on a line together in Game 1 of the second round. Yet here we are just two months later with the future of the Flames in more doubt than ever. Perhaps in another timeline the Flames close out the rest of that series, make the Western Conference Final, and Gaudreau and Tkachuk sign matching long-term extensions.
Unfortunately the exact opposite has happened as the Flames are currently in their darkest timeline. Everything that could’ve gone wrong this offseason has. It didn’t just start in the offseason though. Despite the Flames’ strong play on the ice, this past year has been full of bad news and gut punches to Flames fans.
Summer 2021 – Disappointing offseason
It may not even come close to rivaling this year’s disaster of an offseason, but there’s no doubt that the Flames’ body of work during the 2021 offseason fell well short of expectations. The Flames were coming off a season in which they managed to miss the playoffs in the weak Canadian Division and fired their head coach. To make up for that they went out and had an extremely underwhelming offseason.
The Flames had arguably the worst 2021 offseason in the entire NHL, as they brought in -3.2 GAR and lost 20.5 GAR. In particular they lost their long-time captain and face of the franchise Mark Giordano for nothing in the expansion draft, then proceeded to add nothing but spare parts to the roster.
After finishing 20th in the NHL for goals scored in 2020–21, the Flames inexplicably traded a fourth-round pick for Tyler Pitlick, and also signed Brad Richardson while letting Derek Ryan walk to their biggest rival the Oilers in free agency. Pitlick scored a total of zero goals with the Flames and was traded as a cap dump in the Toffoli trade. Richardson was lost on waivers in March.
Somehow Darryl Sutter managed to take the team to the Pacific Division crown after the 2021 offseason, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a disaster. To cap it all off they failed to extend Gaudreau before the 2021–22 season started which led to him walking into free agency this summer.
November 2021 – Lose out on Jack Eichel
To follow up their terrible 2021 offseason, the Flames decided to then turn around and give their fans hope that they could finally land a superstar centre, something the franchise had needed for over 20 years.
With Jack Eichel on the trade market after requesting a trade from the Buffalo Sabres in 2020, the Flames were talked about as a frontrunner in the Eichel sweepstakes for months. With no deal made all offseason, the rumours continued into the start of the 2021–22 season. Still, the Flames remained one of the reported favourites to land the superstar.
In November 2021, reports came out that the Eichel sweepstakes were down to two teams. The Flames, and their divisional rival, the Vegas Golden Knights. Then on November 4, news broke that Eichel was headed to Vegas as the collective hope of Flames fans came crashing down. The deal to send him there was underwhelming to say the least and one the Flames certainly could’ve topped.
To rub salt in the wound, Pierre LeBrun reported that there was a point the night before the trade went down that the Flames and Vegas fully believed that Eichel was on his way to Calgary. Instead, Vegas stepped in at the last moment and left the Flames empty handed just like they did with Mark Stone two years prior.
December 2021 – COVID Outbreak
Without a doubt the scariest moment of the past year for the Flames was their organization-wide COVID outbreak that occurred in December of 2021. A year after the NHL was shutdown due to COVID, the Flames experienced a massive outbreak that stemmed an entire NHL-wide shutdown at the end of 2021.
The Flames outbreak would reach a total of 20 players, with just three players unaffected by the outbreak. On top of that head coach Sutter along with multiple other staff members went into the league’s COVID protocol. Overall, the Flames outbreak was the largest recorded across every major sport.
At a time in which the team was experiencing a solid start to the season, the COVID outbreak came at the worst time for the team. The Flames wouldn’t play a single game from December 11 through to December 30. Upon their return from the long break in their schedule, they would post a record of 2–4–0, matching the losing trend of COVID-affect teams.
January 2022 – Arena deal falls through
What a great way to kick off a year of bad news for the Flames. Three years after the original agreement was made, the Flames deal for a new arena seemed set in place to finally get the city and the team a new arena. Construction on the new arena was even set to begin in early 2022, with mock-ups of the design and surrounding area revealed to the public.
In late December it was revealed that the sides to the deal (the City of Calgary and the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation) had hit an impasse and the arena deal was in jeopardy. Unfortunately the Flames just can’t have nice things as the deal was officially terminated as soon as January 1, 2022 hit and no decision had been made on when to begin construction.
The feud between the city and Flames ownership went public, and became a topic of conversation across the entire league. So far so that even league commissioner Gary Bettman was asked about the Flames arena situation in May. In that interview he said that Calgary will not receive any NHL events until they have a new arena.
To make matters even more painful, Moshe Lander who works in the department of economics at Concordia University had this to say about the Flames getting a new area back in May
I think that once (Flames ownership) can imagine there’s going to be that steady revenue stream coming again, then they can say, ‘alright, how much of that revenue stream can we allocate towards the arena?’ That’s the thing that can close that gap on them.”Moshe Lander on the Flames getting a new arena
Now it’s worth noting this quote is from May 4, the day after the Flames went up 1–0 in their first round series against the Dallas Stars and seemed set to be cup contenders for years to come after finishing first in the Pacific Division.
Well with how the following two months have gone that outlook has changed dramatically. In other words don’t expect the Flames to be collecting a lot of playoff revenue over the next couple years. No playoff revenue also very likely means no new arena deal anytime soon.
March 2022 – Jarnkrok deal falls flat
This one seems a little unfair to list, but it can’t be denied how little of a return the Flames got on this deal. To refresh your memory, the team was still in need of another bottom-six piece to round out their forward core before the playoffs and looked to the trade market. Enter Calle Jarnkrok. In what was a impressive start for Jarnkrok, he ultimately failed to live up to expectations in Calgary to say the least.
To make things even tougher, the Flames gave up quite the haul for the presumed rental. The Flames moved a 2022 second-round pick, 2023 third-round pick, and a 2024 seventh-round pick. Quite the package for a bottom-six centre. However at the time the price seemed palatable because of how perfect of a fit Jarnkrok was. He’s Swedish, he’s the cousin of Elias Lindholm, and he seemed like a perfect complement to the Flames’ bottom-six.
Well fast forward a couple months and Jarnkrok mustered up all of one single goal for the Flames spread across 17 regular season games and 12 playoff games. The goal came in the Flames final game of the season. All said, he put up one goal and eight points in 29 games with the team. A disastrous output for the price that was paid.
There were thoughts he could potentially be retained as a free agent, however last week he signed a four-year contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, making him a pure rental for the Flames all while crashing out in the second round of the playoffs anyways. I’m sure they’d love to have those valuable draft picks back now.
May 2022 – Embarrassed in the Battle of Alberta
What’s worse than losing in the playoffs? How about losing to your bitter rival? Even worse, how about getting absolutely crushed by your bitter rival in the playoffs? The Flames managed that impressive feat this season as they were embarrassed to the tune of a 4–1 series loss to the Edmonton Oilers.
After breaking the Oettinger curse in Round 1 and finally getting over the hump, it seemed like this was finally the year for the Flames to go on a deep run. A dominating 9–6 Game 1 victory over the Oilers only reaffirmed that. These Flames were for real and the clear favourites over a flawed Edmonton team. Or so it seemed.
The Flames would come out to another dominating early lead in Game 2, further providing hope for Flames fans that it was all finally coming together. Enter Connor McDavid. After McDavid seemingly willed an Oilers goal into existence to make it a 3–2 game, everything went downhill for the Flames after that.
Their Vezina finalist goalie fell off a cliff, their dominant top line disappeared as Tkachuk managed zero goals after Game 1, and their solid defensive game that made them a cup contender disappeared in the blink of an eye.
This is the Flame we’re talking about though, so they of course managed to provide a sliver of hope to fans before crushing that hope. How about in Game 4 when Mike Smith gifted the Flames a goal to complete their comeback from being down 3–0 only to then allow a late goal and lose anyways?
Or how about jumping out to a 2–0 lead in a must-win Game 5, only to blow that lead, then retake a 4–3 lead to then blow that one too. To complete the cycle of pain, the Flames would score what seemed like the go-ahead goal late in the game, only for it to be disallowed in a controversial manner. They’d end their season losing the series in overtime to none other McDavid.
Just about everything that could’ve gone wrong after Game 1 did in this series for the Flames, and it signalled the end of a tremendous season. The Flames will just run it back next year though, right? Anyone can look at the Flames and come to the conclusion that running it back was a given… right?
July 2022 – A draft to forget
So begins perhaps the worst month in Flames history. To kick it all of, the Flames went out and had one of their worst drafts likely ever. With low expectations to begin with holding only three picks in the draft and only one in the first three rounds, they somehow managed to make things even worse.
Now of course the draft is less than a month old and we won’t truly know how their draft class turns out for many years, but I think it’s fair to say right off the bat that it doesn’t look very promising. The Flames went into the draft holding just a second-round pick, a fifth-round pick, and a seventh-round pick. They didn’t come away with a single exciting prospect of note.
In what seemed like a classic Darryl Sutter draft of old, the Flames fully embraced size over skill. A bold strategy from the team that picked the likes of Gaudreau, Andrew Mangiapane, Matthew Phillips, and Jakob Pelletier to great success in recent years.
The Flames’ first pick of the draft came in the form of Topi Ronni, a player who managed four points in 19 games in Liiga last season. He’s 6’2″ though. They passed on the likes of Lane Hutson who went three picks later and was dubbed one of the steals of the draft. Hutson’s merely 5’9″.
With their remaining two picks the Flames walked away with 6’4″ Parker Bell, and 6’3″ Cade Littler. Bell managed just 49 points in 64 games in the WHL last season, while Littler put up 45 points in 50 games in the BCHL. It’s clear what the Flames main target in this draft was. Drafting for size over skill is almost never a good strategy, especially in today’s NHL.
Who knows where these players are a couple years from now, but’s fair to say the odds of the Flames getting any value from this draft are slim to none.
July 2022 – Johnny Gaudreau leaves for free agency
The wound is still very much open for this one. It may take months, maybe even years for Flames fans to get over what happened with Gaudreau. Anger, sadness, confusion are just a couple words to describe what the fanbase and team felt when Gaudreau announced he was leaving the franchise for good.
Despite the constant outside rumours that Gaudreau wanted to return home as soon as he became a free agent, there was still plenty of hope around Calgary that Gaudreau would remain with the Flames long-term. He even said himself at his end of season press conference that him and his family loved the city and could see themselves here for a long time.
That hope remained until just about the very last minute as Gaudreau announced a mere hours before free agency began that he would be testing the free agent market. As if Flames fans needed to take any more hits, any hope of him returning in free agency was quickly squashed soon after.
By losing Gaudreau, the Flames became just the third team in NHL history to lose an 100-point player in free agency, and the first since 1996 when Wayne Gretzky left the St. Louis Blues.
A franchise player coming off a career-high 115-point season in which he finished second in the NHL in points, losing Gaudreau was one of the darkest moments in Calgary Flames history. Losing him for nothing made things that much worse. It will take the Flames years and maybe even a decade to find another player of his calibre.
His decision to leave the franchise quite frankly set the team back years, and triggered another massive decision that followed soon after.
July 2022 – Matthew Tkachuk refuses to re-sign
Well even with Gaudreau gone, the Flames can build around their other 100-point player right? Wrong. With Matthew Tkachuk a restricted free agent (RFA) this summer, the odds of him sticking around after the Gaudreau news were quite low. The hope of signing Tkachuk to a long-term extension and building around him lasted all of approximately one week before it was reported that Tkachuk wanted out.
Just six days after Gaudreau announced he would be leaving the Flames to test free agency and with Flames fans still processing that news, reports surfaced that now Tkachuk also wanted out and would not re-sign with the team. If there was any sliver of hope remaining it was completely put to bed on Wednesday when it was fully confirmed Tkachuk had told the Flames he would not be signing with them.
Gaudreau was a free agent and could do whatever he wanted this offseason, but Tkachuk flat out refusing to sign long-term in Calgary as an RFA was a gut punch to all Flames fans. After Gaudreau walked out the door, the plan was to build around Tkachuk. Well that plan lasted all of six days and now the Flames will have to find the best value they can for their 24-year-old superstar.
You can probably work out a way to recover from losing Gaudreau, but losing him and Tkachuk? Good luck.
A year for the Flames to forget
Despite all the success the Flames had on the ice season, it’s a sad truth that no one will remember the past year for that. Their absolutely disastrous year off the ice is the only thing people will remember now as it’s completely altered the path of the franchise for years to come.
To think just two months ago, Calgary was celebrating a Game 1 win over the Oilers. Now the Flames and their fans stare down a long and painful road back to contention as this is truly the darkest timeline right now. It’s fair to say Flames fans are witnessing perhaps the worst offseason in NHL history.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire