EDMONTON – They promised this time it would be different.
They were right.
This time, instead of going out with a whimper the Calgary Flames exited the bubble with a thud – a final game collapse so monumental the reverberations are sure to be felt until the league drops the puck again who-knows-when.
Until then GM Brad Treliving will have no choice but to put in motion significant personnel changes.
And that starts with Johnny Gaudreau.
He’s likely played his last game as a Calgary Flame.
Predictably, the core just couldn’t get it done, but no man was more of an enigma than No. 13.
Gaudreau’s annual disappearance can best be explained by the simple fact his style of game doesn’t mesh with playoff hockey.
When time and space get taken away, and when teams collapse their defence and the intensity gets ramped up, the 5-foot-7, 165-pound Jersey native has been neutralized year after year.
Gaudreau’s best showing in the Dallas series came in the first period of Thursday’s 7-3 humiliation when his power play goal was one of three Flames tallies in the opening six minutes. Exhibiting noticeable jump in his step in their do-or-die moment, he was thwarted on two great wraparound chances and would later turn on the jets to catch and stop Corey Perry’s breakaway.
Too little, too late.
When the final horn sounded on the six-game series, Gaudreau didn’t have a single even-strength point.
His only contributions all playoff long came on the power play, where six of his seven points came. (The other point came on an empty-net goal).
Five-on-five, he might as well have been on the fourth line, which is the latest in a series of indictments on a former 99-point regular season player who makes $6.75 million a year.
Although he has two years left at a price tag considered team-friendly when he was a Hart Trophy candidate two years ago, it’s not going to be easy to move him now.
Every GM in the league saw his latest playoff disappearance, and while there’s merit for some teams to acquire marketable players like Gaudreau who can sell plenty of jerseys during the season, most teams try building for playoff success.
He can’t help there in a leading role.
One playoff assist last year.
Two years earlier he had just two helpers.
He’s not an emotional leader, nor can he contribute defensively or kill penalties.
He’s an offensively dynamic player who has shown an enraging inability to have a positive impact when it matters most.
Healthy debate has raged since the team’s last playoff faceplant around whether his linemate and best pal, Sean Monahan, should also be shopped as part of the necessary altering of the team’s core.
Perhaps he should, but in a flat cap world it’s going to be hard enough to swap out Gaudreau for any meaningful return, let alone a man making $6.375 million.
Potentially, a perennial 30-goal scorer like Monahan needs to be included in any deal involving Gaudreau to sweeten the take.
That would be a blockbuster in a cap era where moves of that significance rarely occur.
They really are the two most obvious candidates to go, but surely Treliving would rather keep the 25-year-old centre here to see if he can build chemistry with someone other than Gaudreau.
TJ Brodie remerged as a solid, top-pairing defenceman this year, which may have priced him out of Calgary as an unrestricted free agent.
Bennett’s stock and popularity just rose to a point where trading him would prompt pitchfork-toting mobs outside the Dome. Not happening.
Youngsters like Dillon Dube and Andrew Mangiapane are clearly destined to be big parts of the future here, alongside Matthew Tkachuk and Lindholm, who also has plenty to atone for after coming up empty offensively this summer.
Which brings us back to Gaudreau, who turned 27 during the team’s 10-game bubble run.
It wasn’t all that long ago the Flames organization learned a valuable lesson about waiting too long to trade a star like Jarome Iginla.
Shortly afterward they had nothing to show for it.
There is no chance Gaudreau would re-sign in Calgary when his contract expires in the summer of 2022, which means he needs to be dealt well before then.
Now is the time.
If the Flames wait another year, Gaudreau has a modified no-trade clause that allows him to limit the Flames options by submitting a list of five teams he would agree to go to.
Iginla all over again.
And while the return almost certainly won’t include anyone with the type of gaudy numbers Gaudreau has posted in recent regular seasons, the goal would almost certainly be to acquire character, moxie and leadership.
Gaudreau has been a top-line player and regular season offensive leader on this team for six years, but he’s too often been a passenger in the playoffs. After 30 playoff games with Calgary amounting to just 19 points, it’s time for him to get off the bus.