With Wednesday’s free-agency deadline just a couple days away, it’s getting harder and harder to envision Johnny Gaudreau in a Flames uniform this season.
Make no mistake, if Gaudreau chooses to sign closer to home, you can bet the Flames’ Plan B will include swinging for the fence by replacing him with another star forward.
There is no other option.
The club has clearly set aside roughly $10 million a year to keep the face of the franchise, and if he leaves, the team will undoubtedly try to use that money on a player who can help keep the Flames amongst the west’s top outfits.
Just like Gaudreau, there’s no guarantee any of the big boys are interested in relocating to Alberta, but the organization would need to make every effort to immediately respond to such a devastating loss.
Up against the salary cap, the Flames would obviously have to be mindful of setting aside enough to try signing Matthew Tkachuk long term.
We take a look at the top candidates:
Salary cap space: $26.925 million (excluding Monahan’s $6.375 million)
Roster size 12/23
Salary committed to forwards: $26.9 million (excluding Monahan on IR)
Salary committed to defence: $15.55 million
Salary committed to goalies: $6.75 million
Potential UFA targets
Nazem Kadri, C
Well, we certainly know the Flames have long coveted the gritty veteran, as evidenced by the trade he nixed in July 2019 that would have sent him and Connor Brown to Calgary for TJ Brodie and Mark Jankowski.
He later told Sportsnet he refused to take Calgary off his no-trade list as he hoped to stay with the Leafs. They traded him anyway, and he went on to be a lynchpin in the Avs’ Stanley Cup run.
Ultimately the Leafs got Brodie, so perhaps it’s destiny that Kadri could see the Flames as a contender who could use his snarl and experience up the middle.
The Flames have long been trying to add depth at centre, and Kadri brings leadership and several other intangibles, along with a touch that saw him score 28 times and add 59 assists in 71 games behind Nathan MacKinnon in Colorado this season.
Thus, the 29-year-old will be pricey, likely commanding in or around $8.5 million on a seven-year deal.
But if teams don’t like his price tag, they can kiss his, well, you know.
Evgeni Malkin, C
It’s hard to imagine a legend like Geno would consider a) leaving the Penguins; b) being a Flame.
However, admit it, you could never have imagined Jaromir Jagr in Calgary either.
Obviously, at age 35 (10 years younger than Jagr was!) this would be a radically different signing at a significantly higher price.
When healthy, this guy can still play at the highest of levels.
If Malkin does indeed hit the open market, he might consider the fact that if he plugs a significant hole Calgary has long had up the middle, the team could contend.
The money could be there for him, but only if he can see the fit.
Vincent Trochek, C
Trochek would be much cheaper than the aforementioned studs, but brings plenty of the things the Flames desire as a second line centre.
The 29-year-old has twice flirted with point-per game seasons, including a 31-goal campaign in Florida, but is generally a 50-point producer, as was Kadri before this season’s breakout.
He’s had trouble staying healthy throughout his career, but so has Malkin.
Ondrej Palat, LW
A dependable, two-way winger who has a proven track record as a key difference-maker at both ends of the ice.
Sounds like something the Flames, and every other team in the league, would love to add.
You can bet Blake Coleman has already reached out to see if his former teammate in Tampa would be interested in a move out west, should Gaudreau depart.
The two-time Cup winner is loved by teammates and seems to elevate his game when it matters most each spring.
Darryl Sutter would love adding the 31-year-old veteran who has decent size at six-feet, 194-pounds.