CALGARY – The handshakes with the Avalanche had almost concluded and the crowd awaited the Flames salute for a season that had been brilliant, until spring.
As Mike Smith joined the sullen group standing on their blue line, the chant that peppered their final game returned.
"Smit-ty, Smit-ty, Smit-ty."
From goat to hero in five playoff games, it will be fascinating to see where the curious path of Mike Smith goes next.
Asked after the game if he wanted to return to the Flames next year, the pending unrestricted free agent was non-committal.
"This is a great group in here," he said.
"We’ve got a good group of guys that care. It just didn’t pan out this year."
Read into that what you’d like, but keep in mind how frustrating the 37-year-old found coach Bill Peters’ handling of him throughout an up and down season.
After being wildly unpopular here the bulk of the last two years with irrational treatment by a critical fan base, can a five-game run change his or the team’s mind about a possible return?
"I think for everything that has gone on in the season, where I’ve been and where I’ve got to, it obviously feels good in a disappointing game," he said of the season-ending chants of support for him.
"The fans showing support like that is a nice sendoff."
Have Flames fans indeed seen the last of Smith in red and gold?
It’s just one of the many questions surrounding a team that will look at every single player to determine what lies ahead.
A glimpse at the questions to be asked of every player moving forward:
Will the Flames consider bringing him back?
At 37 years of age, and with a recent history of injuries, it appeared through Smith’s early-season struggles that his days in the NHL (and certainly Calgary) were numbered.
However, his playoff brilliance turned the table on fan sentiment and kept the door open for a return to a league where he could serve as a mentor to a young goalie (like David Rittich perhaps) while also being capable of playing 40 games for a couple million dollars.
Given the payday due Matthew Tkachuk, can the Flames afford anything other than Rittich and a discounted Smith again? Or is it time to sign another proven starter?
Will he be the Flames starter next season?
He’s earned that chance, but it will largely be decided by who his tandem-mate is.
The 26-year-old is a restricted free agent (with arbitration rights), who is in for a considerable raise from the $800,000 he made this year.
That part won’t be a problem, as he is unquestionably a big part of the Flames’ future following his best season yet.
Definitely the People’s Choice.
Can he return to any semblance of the dominance he exhibited this season?
At 35 the fitness freak shattered all previous career highs to be the Norris Trophy frontrunner. What does he do for an encore?
Will the Flames trade him?
A brilliant skater whose career got back on track by returning to Giordano’s side, Brodie’s high-risk game makes him unpopular with fans at times, while remaining a valuable commodity league-wide. With one year left on his contract, is it time to cash in to address other needs and make room for the emerging young blue liners?
We’re betting he’ll be shipped out.
Is there a bigger warrior in the NHL?
He’s the ultimate teammate and ambassador, who found the perfect pairing with Noah Hanifin. It took him a year to get settled in as a Flames, and it was worth the wait.
Is he capable of contributing more offensively?
No one is worried about it at all, as 33 points from a second pairing defenceman who doesn’t play the power play is a solid season that mirrors his output the previous two campaigns.
A bigger question is whether he or Juuso Valimaki will eventually be the team’s top blue liner.
Will he start next season on the top pairing next to Mark Giordano?
His dramatic rise to prominence this year made it evident he can be a top-two defenceman.
How long until he’s ready to be the team’s No. 1 defenceman?
With Giordano signed for three more years it will still be a while, but the poise and skill he showed in limited time with the Flames this season proved the first rounder is the real deal.
Is he capable of being a difference-maker in the playoffs?
You don’t consider trading him just because he has three assists in his last nine playoff games.
However, it must be determined why he was so ineffective his last two playoffs, so he can start adapting.
Is he a true No. 1 centre?
His numbers suggest he is, but there appear to be too many stretches where he’s not immersed in the fabric of the game.
Perhaps a better question revolves around whether he was playing injured, which would explain his disappearance the last couple months.
Where does he fit into this lineup moving forward?
The beauty is the 24-year-old Swedish Beast can do it all, whether it’s as a top-line winger, a part-time centre or a 200-foot shut down player on the second line.
He essentially doubled all his previous highs offensively and proved to be one of the club’s most valuable assets.
He was also solid in the playoffs.
How rich will he get this summer?
It all depends on how long he wants to sign for.
Like Gaudreau, it’s likely the 21-year-old American eventually wants to ply his trade closer to home, so a five-year pact could be the max he’s looking for.
Will that cost the Flames $7 million, $8 million, $9 million?
Every team in the league would love him, so is he offer sheet material?
Can his hair possibly look any better?
Truth is, no one has any concerns with Backlund, who is as steady, reliable and hardworking a Flame as there is.
We could ask if he’ll eventually get more Selke Trophy consideration in the future, but the sweet coif of the man teammates call Mr. Perfect is far more interesting
Will he be a Flame next fall?
The 31-year-old has one year left on his deal at $4.3 million and given how unhappy he was with his lot in life under Bill Peters (see his agent’s tweets) you can bet discussions will be had about both sides agreeing it’s time to part ways.
What sort of a raise is he in line for?
While he had yet another quiet season, there’s no denying the team’s penalty-minute leader was the Flames best skater in the playoffs once again.
Based on that, the 22-year-old muckraker will be looking for more than the $1.95 million he made each of the last two years.
Can he resurrect his career?
His first year in Calgary was a colossal flop in every possible way, spilling over to an on-ice spat between him and the coach before Game 3 and ending with the humiliation of being scratched for the final game.
It’s an ugly situation on the ice and the events of the last week won’t make it any better off of it.
How he responds will say plenty about him as a pro.
Four more years at $5.75 million puts the onus on him to re-dedicate himself so he arrives in camp with a new attitude and approach to a game that sped right past him this year.
What is his ceiling?
The big 24-year-old followed up a 17-goal season with 14 as the Flames’ third-line pivot, while also contributing as one of the team’s best penalty killers.
Is he a 20-goal scorer with more consistent linemates?
Did he do enough to prove he’s an everyday NHLer?
It says here he did.
There’s an upside to this two-time 50-goal scorer in junior that may see him playing a top-six role in the next year or two.
Can the Flames afford to keep him?
The unrestricted free proved he’s an everyday NHLer, albeit as a fourth-line wrecking ball with 11 goals who will attract attention from many teams this summer.
A raise of any significance from the $850,000 the 27-year-old made this year may price him out of town.
Is he a third or fourth line centre?
Whatever role he lands, he has proven to be a brilliant signing who may be the only one in the lineup who could literally play every forward position.
From special teams to filling in on the top line, there’s nothing the ultimate utility man can’t do.
Can he be an everyday NHLer?
In and out of the lineup all season long, there were certainly signs the diminutive winger could take that step next year.