Vent all you want about Darryl Sutter’s hesitance to play more prospects, or his logic behind starting Jacob Markstrom in these pointless pond hockey games.
It matters not.
The team is three sleeps away from starting to dig into much bigger debates facing this franchise as it tries recovering from one of the most disappointing campaigns in Flames lore.
Following two more meaningless matinees against the Canucks, the Flames will conduct exit meetings Thursday with an eye on getting to the bottom of where it all went wrong.
So many questions to be answered:
Who will be calling all the shots moving forward?
The first decision ownership has to make is whether Brad Treliving is the man to continue running the team he’s overseen for seven seasons.
Known as one of the league’s most tireless workers, Treliving has had plenty of time this season to contemplate how best to start moving on from a core that has proven repeatedly it is incapable of winning when it matters most.
But will he get that chance?
No one knows this team better than Treliving and given his history of swinging some of the league’s bigger trades in his time, a strong argument can be made he’s the best man to make the tough decisions and moves necessary.
He isn’t scared to swing for the fences, which is what this situation requires.
But after bringing in his fifth coach in a desperate move to try salvaging yet another lost season it’s fair to wonder if ownership will decide whether it’s better for a fresh set of eyes to evaluate and re-shape this bunch.
Treliving still has two years left on his contract.
What’s the best way to describe what the Flames need this summer?
They don’t need a rebuild or a teardown, but what this team requires is more than a few tweaks.
They need an overhaul.
There are several solid pillars around which to build here, but several moves of significance are essential to try selling an increasingly frustrated fan base to return to the Dome next fall.
Anything less is a fail.
When the team scuffles along the first half of a season with persistent work ethic issues, there’s clearly something wrong with this mix.
Will Johnny Gaudreau be back?
This was the biggest question last summer as well.
The 27-year-old has one year left on his contract before he can walk into free agency.
In a sports world where asset management is everything, the Flames can’t risk losing Gaudreau for next to nothing as it did when they gave away Jarome Iginla.
Is extending his deal a possibility, or something he or the team wants?
There are no restrictions on trading Gaudreau now, but on July 28 a clause in his contract limits the number of possible trade destinations to the five teams of his choosing.
Gaudreau has had his playoff problems, but he’s also the best playmaker on a team that will be in search of offence more than anything else this summer.
Following early struggles under Sutter, Gaudreau has once again found his stride as of late, meshing well the last three weeks alongside Matthew Tkachuk and Elias Lindholm. The formidable top line is brought back en masse next year.
Trading stars isn’t easy in a flat cap era, especially when a player's stock has been low for the bulk of two seasons.
Will Mark Giordano be a Flame next year?
It has been well documented the Flames 37-year-old captain is unlikely to be one of the three defencemen protected ahead of Chris Tanev, Rasmus Andersson and Noah Hanifin for Seattle’s expansion draft.
If so, he’s a no-brainer to be snapped up by the Kraken, who will have no issue with the one year left on his deal paying him $6.75 million.
Question is whether the Flames will be willing to pay the toll required to sway Seattle GM Ron Francis from taking one of the greatest feel-good stories in Flames lore.
Or is it prudent to cough up a significant asset or two to keep Giordano around?
Not to suggest at all that he’s part of the problem, but if changing the culture is indeed a priority in Calgary, losing the captain is certainly one way to do so.
Losing his best and most dependable defender certainly wouldn’t make Sutter very happy.
Are there any White Knight prospects ready to step in as saviours next year?
As talented and exciting as first rounders Jakob Pelletier and Connor Zary are, this lost season certainly didn’t help either of them climb much closer to jumping into the NHL next year.
Players who are grabbing a few late look-sees like Adam Ruzicka, Glenn Gawdin and Connor Mackey continue to trend in the right direction, but it will be some time before any should be counted on to be every day NHLers, let alone impact players.
Given a choice, it's clear Sutter would prefer playing veterans over youngsters anyway.
Are there any tough, in-house contract decisions to be made this summer?
Not particularly, unless the GM is contemplating trying to extend Gaudreau's deal past next season.
Juuso Valimaki and Dillon Dube are restricted free agents who need new deals, which won’t be an issue at all. Gawdin, Mackey and Artyom Zagidulin will surely be made qualifying offers.
Oliver Kylington’s future is an interesting one, as it’s likely the restricted free agent will want to move on from an organization that hasn’t given him much of an opportunity.
As far as unrestricted free agents go, Michael Stone may have played his way back into yet another contract with the club.
Brett Ritchie and Joakim Nordstrom also seem to be Sutter favourites, making one of them the most likely target to re-sign to satisfy the league’s expansion draft requirement of having two experience forwards available. (The other being Milan Lucic).
Pretty safe to assume unrestricted free agents Derek Ryan, Josh Leivo, Buddy Robinson, Louis Domingue and Nikita Nesterov will play elsewhere next season.
Could Jack Eichel be a Flame next year?
Sure is nice to dream if you’re a Flames fan.
But the reality is, even if the Sabres star centre is shopped around there are at least a half dozen teams that would be in the running with far superior assets to include in a deal.
The Flames just don’t have the sort of star players and top prospects needed to compete for a player of Eichel’s ilk.